Chickens can be very creative at keeping themselves entertained. But, when space or weather limit them, problems arise. Like siblings on a long road trip, bored chickens can turn on each other. Have you heard the expression “cooped up”?
That expression comes from chickens. Just like people, chickens can get bored and when they get bored many problems arise.
It can affect your whole coop and be detrimental to their health.
Do Chickens Get Bored? Chickens get bored just like people and pets can get bored. Bored chickens are bad because it causes three negative behaviors and it affects their health and behavior.
One of the most common symptoms of boredom is unhealthy bullying, which can lead to death and cannibalism. Boredom also increases egg eating and broodiness in adult chickens.
While all chickens will establish a pecking order within the flock, bullying is extreme pecking that negatively affects the confidence, happiness, and health of specific chickens.
When does chicken pecking turn into bullying?
When bored chickens peck at each other so frequently that it draws blood, it encourages the rest of the flock to peck at the injured chicken. Unless intervention comes quickly, that pecking will eventually kill the harmed bird.
After that, it is common for chickens to turn to cannibals and eat their flockmate. Something that started as boredom and innocent pecking has turned deadly and created a dangerous precedent.
Once bullying is introduced, it is taught to younger chicks. It can be a hard habit to break and becomes part of the flock’s temperament.
But, if caught early, bullying can be corrected and your flock’s peace and happiness preserved. One of the key steps to prevent or stop bullying is to provide the right entertainment for them.
Other Signs Of Bullying
In addition to injured chickens, watch for chickens that are losing weight or aren’t gaining weight as fast as the others. Bullying can lead to control over food and water and leave some chickens starving.
Another sign of bullying is fearful-acting chickens. When a few specific chickens cower and run from other chickens, you can know that things are going on you may not be catching. We found that 3 of our younger chickens climbed over each other in the corner of the coop to escape a few of our Leghorn hens, only 2 weeks older.
I quickly took several bully prevention measures. For more information on how to top bullying check out this article.
Skip Ahead For The Information You Need:
In this article, I will cover easy ways to keep your chickens entertained. You can click to jump straight to easy ways to entertain chickens, how to keep baby chicks entertained, special fall and winter ideas, or ideas city or suburban chickens for ideas that work especially well in small spaces. Don’t forget to check out the section on using food for entertainment or how to make chicken toys. You can also check out my resources page for my favorite pre-made chicken toys and supplies.
How Do I Stop My Chickens From Being Bored?
Bored chickens are unhappy chickens and can become unhealthy. Although you can spend a lot of money on entertainment for your chickens, there are tons of great ideas that don’t cost much, or that you can do that are completely free.
Free Range Your Chickens And Provide Endless Entertainment
Chickens are great at entertaining themselves. They rule at foraging and free-ranging. One of the best ways you can provide entertainment for your chickens is to simply let them out into the yard for a few hours a day.
Free-ranging will allow them to poke in and around your bushes and to perch in the lower branches of trees. It will allow them to scratch and peck for food, bugs, and worms.
The other morning one of our chickens found a fat worm and after a lot of tugging, there was a game of tag as the winning chicken ran as fast as her little legs could carry her with another 5 or 6 chickens chasing rapidly behind.
Free-ranging allows your flock to peck and investigate under gravel, rocks, and sticks. They can dust bath and explore. Chickens are endlessly curious and they enjoy exploring the world around them.
Allow Chickens Access To Your Compost Pile
Chickens love piles. They love to scratch and dig. A compost pile is perfect because they can rummage for tasty and edible scraps to eat. They will also love digging for worms and bugs that are naturally also attracted to your compost pile.
Plus the healthy bacteria that are breaking down your compost is also good for their digestion. It’s some of the same benefits that deep layer bedding offers.
In the past, I always kept my compost pile on the far side of my garden. Now, I’ve moved it by the coop so that the chickens can have access to it all year around.
Even if you live in the city and have a small coop, consider starting a small compost pile in their coop to provide them with added entertainment.
Add A Bale Of Hay Or Straw To Create Hours Of Entertainment
You can use a pile of wood chips, the bag of cut grass after mowing, or other piles. Your chickens will love to scratch away and level the pile. They will dig and move it around.
In fact, instead of adding new bedding to their coop and spreading it out, just dump it all in. Let them do the work for you and have hours of fun in the meanwhile.
Be creative. If you have a pile of weeds from the garden, or old newspapers don’t be afraid to use them.
Use A Treat Toy To Add Hours Of Play
Treats are an easy way to provide entertainment to your flock. Scatter seeds among your grass weeds, or in the coop and make them hunt for them. Give them mealworms or other bugs to eat.
Hang herbs, leafy greens or frozen treats for them to peck at.
You can also provide treat toys that hide the treat inside and cause them to roll to toy around to get access to the treat.
These toys can be purchased or made by hand from everyday items. In the summer, freeze the treats to cool down your chickens. In the winter, consider heating or cooking them to give your ladies a little more warmth.
Add Perches of Various Sizes and Heights To Create A Jungle Gym
Chickens love to perch. They love to get as high as they can, although some breeds shouldn’t get as high or it can cause leg problems when they land.
They also love to see the world from different angles. Adding various perches allows them to change their perspective and to go from one perch to another.
Having varied perches such as branches gives them a little more variety in their perching and allows them entertainment in moving along the perch.
You can add perches inside the coop for added winter entertainment, or outside for more sunlight.
Provide A Fun Dirt Bath For Them To Clean Themselves
Chickens love to dirt bathe. It gives them a way to clean the bugs and mites out of their feathers. It entertains them, and it provides grit, which helps with digestion.
If your chickens don’t free-range, then they have probably stripped their coop and run of all plants and will have plenty of dirt to dirt bathe in.
But, you can still add a novel area by adding a bowl filled with sand and dirt in a corner for extra fun. Or, use a kiddie swimming pool filled with sand for the same use. An old tire filled with dirt will provide a perch, a special place to dirt bathe, and a warm spot in the cold weather.
Plant Bushes And Sod In Their Coop For More Variety
It can be especially hard to keep grass growing in their coop, especially if they are can’t free range part of the day, or if you have limited space.
Add a chunk of sod to their coop and watch them have a blast digging through it. Consider planting bushes or trees inside their coop to provide them with shade and shelter.
It will also give them the most things to scratch around and explore.
Freeze Treats For Refreshing Summer Fun
Summer is the best time to offer frozen treats to your chickens. It will cool them down and give them longer fun as they have to peck through the treat to eat.
You can freeze treats in ice cube trays, pie tins, or disposable food containers. Place it in their feeding dish and watch them go at it.
Or, consider hanging the treats so that it sways every time someone pecks at it. If you do that, just add a little twine to the middle of the treat before you freeze it so you have an easy way to tie it up.
Reuse Old Balls For Bird Soccer
Your ladies will love to chase around and old ball. It should be lightweight so that they can push it around and chase after it.
Small and large lightweight balls are perfect for a flock of chickens. If you don’t have any on hand, just check out the local thrift store for a cheap option.
(add the YOUTUBE video)
Provide Old Tree Stumps For Added Variety
Summer is a great time to collect tree stumps and logs while you are doing yard work. Don’t throw or toss out cut down trees.
Just cut the stumps into different sized logs. Your chickens will love to perch and hop from stump to stump.
After about a week of having the stumps, just rotate them to the other end or to the side. Then watch as your ladies scramble to eat all the tasty bugs that have gathered under the stumps.
If you have several stumps, you can move one of them each day to provide daily treats for your flock.
Hang A Sunflower For Fun And Food
Summer is a great time to grab some large sunflowers for your birds. Hand the heads upside down and watch your chooks go to town on the seeds.
Sunflower seeds are a great treat to feed your girls and they will love jumping for them, trying to catch them, and searching for them on the ground.
Plus, all you have to do is designate a little portion of your flowerbed and you can easily grow sunflowers each summer.
Hang Old CD Around The Coop And Chicken Run
Hanging CDs will entertain your flock in several ways. Chickens love watching and chasing the colorful light around the yard as the CDs sway in the breeze and reflect the sun’s light.
And, if some of the CD’s are low enough that they can see their reflection, your chickens will love it even more.
An added plus, the CDs can help to protect your flock against air predators by reflecting and disorienting hawks and eagles bent on making your chickens a morning meal.
Easy Ways To Keep Baby Chicks Entertained
Boredom can start with chicks. Even at a young age, chicks will sense a weak or a timid chick and alleviate their boredom by picking on it.
Keeping chicks happy is easy and simple.
Use Larger Boxes To Provide Enough Space
It starts with allowing them enough room. It’s easy to assume that baby chicks don’t need much space, and they don’t need nearly as much as fully grown chickens need.
But, they grow fast and quickly need more space. Initially, I start out with a large Rubbermaid rubber tub for baby chicks. But, with 6-7 chicks, I find that I have to upgrade within two weeks to a mini chick mansion made out of cardboard boxes that are taped together.
Make An Easter Egg Chick Toy For Great Entertainment
Use an old easter egg to create a chick toy. Drill holes around the plastic egg and fill it with little seeds and treats for your chicks.
They will push it around and have fun picking up the treats.
Make Mini Roosts For Little Ones
Baby chicks will be the happiest and constantly occupied if they have a chance to roost. They can’t fly high but take a couple of 2x2s or 2×4 to make little perches. I made one that was only about 8 inches high and my baby chicks loved it.
There was always 4 out of the 6 chicks on it at any given time. The chicks not on it were usually eating or drinking before getting right back up on it.
Use An Oatmeal Container As A Chick Toy
The round oatmeal canisters make a great tunnel for baby chicks. It gives them more to explore. If you use cardboard boxes for your brooding boxes, you can connect the boxes with oatmeal boxes.
This will create a fun maze for chicks. If you do use cardboard as I did, make sure that the heating lamp isn’t close to the cardboard.
Mini Dust Bath Chick Toy
Baby chicks don’t actually need to dust bathe yet because they aren’t outside and catching all the mites and other bothersome bugs that adult chicks do.
But, they will love to play in a little sandbox and dust bathe anyway.
You can create a dust bath for them out of a pie tin. Used yogurt, sour cream, and butter containers also work. Plus it gives them another edge to perch on.
Sand and dirt make a good mixture for chicks.
Add Sod To Nurture Chicks Curiosity
Add a chunk of sod to your brooders box. The babies can scratch and dig and look for hidden bugs and seeds.
It teaches them good instincts, which will help to reduce your feeding bill if you plan to let them free range in the future.
The first time I raised chicks, I fed them 100% chick feed. When I let them out to free-range, it took them weeks before they were able to start scrounging for food on their own.
As a result, they continued to eat a bag of feed a week. That was $20 a week!
When I let the new batch learn how to forage at a younger age, their bag of food lasted well over a month at the same age as my first batch.
It can be a great idea to get them used to scratching and digging earlier.
Spend Time With Your Chicks
Spending time with your chicks from a young age is important if you want to save yourself time and effort later.
Chickens will be much more mellow and tame if they spend time with their owners from the onset.
This will mean that they come running when you come by. It will make it easier to gather them in the evenings if you free range them. Or to call them if you sense danger.
It will also mean milder chickens if you have young children. Even your roosters will be friendly and non-aggressive if you spend time with them as chicks.
The extent of their mildness will depend in part on the breed of chicken that you have.
How To Keep Chickens Entertained During Fall & Winter Months
As the weather cools and the days shorten, it becomes more difficult to ward off boredom with your chickens.
Chicken owners often see an increase in mean activities among their flock. Here are several easy things you can do during the winter to keep your chickens from feeling cooped up and stifled. Many of these ideas take advantage of human winter activities so it’s easy to implement.
Provide A Pumpkin, Jack-O-Lantern, Gourd, Or Large Squash
Chickens love to peck at a pumpkin or squash. If you have any jumbo sized zucchini from your garden throw them to your chickens.
They will spend hours picking it apart until only the shell is left.
You can do the same with old gourds and other autumn decoration items.
Halloween jack-o-lanterns provide something to explore as well as to peck. Plus the vegetables will give your flock’s eggs a nutrient-rich yolk.
Add Mirrors To The Coop And Watch The Preening Begin
Hens love to look at themselves in the mirror. Once you add a mirror or two, sit back and watch them discover it.
Your chickens will have hours of fun strutting in front of the mirror and admiring the hen opposite of them. I don’t know if they realize it’s themselves, but they love to look in the mirror.
If you want a little extra safety, or if you have roosters, consider a bird mirror or a toddler mirror. They are usually beak proof and will withstand pecking. Roosters are likely to peck at themselves in the mirror.
They don’t like to have other males in the flock!
Gather Your Autumn Leaves For Fall And Winter Entertainment
Nothing will make your chickens happier than to scratch and dig through a pile of autumn leaves. You can also save grass clippings from the summer to throw into the coop in the winter.
Just make sure they aren’t moldy. I usually let the grass dry before I rake and bag it.
It helps your coop if you use the deep layer method.
Another benefit of providing autumn leaves to your girls, they will be able to grab more bugs and insects during a colder time when bugs are harder to find!
Let Them Out To Forage Through Your Dying Garden
I don’t allow my chickens into my garden during the summer. If I do, they’d eat all my ripe tomatoes, peas, corn, and other vegetables.
But, I do let them in during the fall and winter. This allows them to pick off the rest of the plants after I have harvested. It also allows them to clean up the bugs and extra seeds that are on the ground.
They even clean up weed seeds, which makes the next spring a little easier to weed.
Make Use Of Your Dried Out Christmas Tree
Don’t throw away your old Christmas Tree after the season is over. Give it to your hens. They will love playing in and around it. Pine needles and wood is a healthy wood for chickens so they can play in it as long as you want to keep the tree in their coop.
At least let them play in it for a few weeks for some winter entertainment during what is usually the coldest and darkest part of the winter.
If you don’t have a live Christmas Tree, then it’s definitely worth the effort to pick up your neighbors and save them the hassle of throwing it away.
Give Them A Mini Hoop House So They Can Enjoy More Sunlight.
Borrow the concept of a greenhouse, and make your chickens a full or mini hoop house. I wrote about how to do it in my article on caring for chickens in extreme cold.
Basically, you can use fencing to frame a hoop. Wrap it in plastic and let your ladies enjoy some outside time.
The plastic will keep the snow from getting on the ground inside the hoop house and at the same time, warm up the air a little.
Your chickens can scratch and dig around and won’t be as timid walking around as they will on the snow. The hoop house is a great place to put a tire dust bath.
You can also use the hoop house idea to make a chicken tractor hoop house. I made mine out of a tomato cage that I opened and wrapped plastic around. (add a picture)
Use A Tire To Keep Your Water Thawed And Provide A Perch In The Cold
Use an old tire to put your watering container in. Before you do, fill the inside of the tire with wrapping material, old newspaper or other material.
This will insulate it and help to keep the watering container above freezing. The black of the tire will absorb the sun’s light and help to warm it.
It will also be one of the first things to melt and will provide a snow-free area for your chickens to perch on.
Use A Cabbage To Make A Chicken Pinata
Hang a cabbage or a bunch of kale from a rope in the coop. As your chickens peck at it, it will swing, making it harder for them to eat it.
They will have fun following it with their beaks and eating it. Kale and cabbage are winter veggies and usually pretty cheap during the cold season.
Don’t forget to check out the next section on entertaining chickens in limited space.
Best Ways To Cure Boredom In City Chickens
City or suburban chickens can’t usually roam around. There are laws and restrictions. Plus neighborhood dogs, cars, and angry neighbors often limit their space.
As a result, city flocks usually have to be kept in a specific space and can easily get bored over time.
Happily, there are still things you can do to entertain your chickens in the city.
Reuse Your Grass Clippings
In the city, there are usually someplace close that has a lawn. If it’s not your own yard, talk to the owner of the lawn and see if you can get some of their grass clippings.
It has become very popular to throw away grass clippings. But you can help landfills by tossing them to your chickens instead.
They will love digging through them, scratching, and eating them. And, you’ll be helping the environment!
Create A Compost Pile In The Chicken Run
Chickens love to eat table scraps. They should have a limited salt diet, but other table scraps including old bread, fruit and vegetable peels and even meat scraps will be loved by your flock.
Take it easy on your trash by sending your food waste outside and creating a compost pile. If you garden, you may already have one, but consider moving part of it into the chicken run.
Your birds will help to move and rotate it around and will love to eat the bugs and food scraps. It will also cut down on feed cost for you.
Add Layers To Add More Space
It can be very difficult in a small lot or city apartment to give your chickens enough space to ward off boredom.
Adding layers to the coop can help. By adding layers, it gives your chickens more space and more floor space to cover and explore. It also adds an area that’s has shade and that is more protected in the winter.
Use Old Chairs Or Ladders For Perch Space
Upcycle old chairs or ladders and put them in your chicken coop. It will give your girls more places to perch and offer them different views of the world.
They will love the various spots and you will notice that specific birds will claim different areas.
Get A Straw Bale And Let Them Go At It
Chickens love piles. Have I said that a lot? It’s true. They love straw and one of their favorite things to do is to dig through a straw bale. They can flatten it through a lot of entertainment.
Throw one in and watch them have a blast!
Add A Chicken Swing
Chickens never get tired of the fun of perching while swinging. You can purchase a chicken swing or make one of your own. Use an old board or tree branch.
It may take your chickens a little while to figure the swing out, but once they do, they will love it!
Add An Old Ball Into The Coop
Have you seen the video of the chickens playing soccer in an old city lot? That’s what your chickens will look like when you throw a ball into their coop.
They will love it and since chickens are more simple than people, it will continue to provide them with lots of fun as it rolls all over the place.
Add A Novel Dust Bath
Chickens love dust baths and giving them a place to dust bathe is a gift to them. Use an old tire and fill it with dirt and sand. Or, recycle an old bowl or container.
Your chickens aren’t picky, but they will love a new place to get clean and roll in the dirt.
Enjoy A Touch Of “Spring” With Wheat Grass
Winter feels like the perfect time to grow an easy crop of wheatgrass. Wheat is easy to grow. All you have to do is throw it in a little dirt container.
It can be grown in empty eggshells, used food containers, or a cookie sheet. Wheatgrass sprouts quickly and will grow a couple of inches high within a week.
And, it takes almost no work. It’s the perfect winter crop for you and your chickens.
It brings a little green and plant life into winter. Once you have grown wheatgrass give it to your chickens.
They will love the fresh grass and benefit from the vitamins too!
Throw Overgrown Vegetables To Your Chickens
If you grow a garden, you probably get some vegetables that become overgrown and overripe. Zucchini is one of the most famous of these veggies.
Don’t just throw them to your compost pile, toss them to your chickens and watch them go to town on them.
You can do the same with a frozen watermelon or squash.
Don’t forget to check out the article on raising chickens in the city.
Best Food Treats To Ward Off Boredom With Your Flock
Chickens will always love treats. I saved the food entertainment for last because it shouldn’t be the first thing you turn to when you have bored chickens.
Too many treats can make your chickens unhealthy and lazy. But I do use treats to reward good behavior and to nurse picked on chickens to health or to give them extra care.
Here are several ways you can use food for treats:
- Roll a hard roll to keep them entertained.
- Hang a loaf of french bread from the ceiling
- Scatter rice on a log for them to peck at
- Hang up cooked pasta and let them go at it
- Hang yogurt in a bag. Poke a hole and watch them try to catch the drips.
- Throw out your leftover bones for them to pick the meat off
- Roll a pinecone in peanut butter and then in birdseed. Hang it up.
- Give them some warm oatmeal on a chilly morning
How To Make Chicken Toys From Everyday Items
There are a lot of ways you can turn everyday items into toys for your chickens. All you need is a little creativity and a few minutes.
- Easter Egg Chicken Ball: Making this chicken ball is easy. Drill holes into an old easter egg. Fill it with seeds and watch your chickens roll around. Or purchase a ready-made item here
- Soda Bottle Or Water Battle Chicken Toy: To make this toy, drill holes around the bottle. As with the Easter egg, fill it with treats for your chickens and let them follow it around feasting.
- Homemade Bird Feeder: This is about the same concept to make, except you also drill a hole in the top and bottom of the bottle. Use a rope to tie it at the end and hang the bottle. Then let your chooks go to town.
- Chicken Pinata Toy: Just tie a rope around a cabbage or drill a hole in it and hang it. If you don’t feel like going through the hassle, you can pick up a cabbage holder here.
- Make A Chicken Swing: To make a chicken swing is easy. It doesn’t have to hold much weight. Find a 2×4 or a strong tree branch. Drill a hole on both ends of the board. Thread a rope through it and tie a knot in the bottom side of the board. Do that to both ends and hang the ropes with the board parallel. If you have a sturdy tree branch, just tie the rope around it on both ends and hang.
- Tire Dust Bath: To make a tire dust bath, fill an old tire with ½ sand and ½ dirt. You can also mix in a small amount of dichotomous earth. Ashes can also be mixed in. Place it in a sunny or shady place, depending on your climate and let your ladies preen themselves.
- Make A Chicken Jungle Gym: This chicken toy takes a little more time. You will need to collect between 5-10 sturdy tree branches. Cut them down to a size that will fit easily in your chicken coop or chicken run. Nail or screw them into the sides of your chicken coop to provide a maize of perches for your chickens to enjoy. You can also tie them to swing.
Chicken boredom can cause a lot of problems with your flock, but it isn’t hard to cure. Chickens can be easily entertained with everyday items that are usually thrown away or put into landfills. By upcycling many household items, you help to extend a product’s life and can add fun to your flock.
To learn more about chickens, check out our article on which chickens are usually the most stress-free chickens to own.