It’s exciting to see more and more families choosing to raise backyard chickens. Chickens are a great way to get your family involved in producing your own food because they’re easy to care for and have surprisingly wonderful personalities. That said, there’s more to keeping chickens than providing them with good food, water, and housing. Chickens that are kept active and busy are chickens that are healthy and happy, creating less work and more enjoyment for you. Here are a few ways you can keep your chickens engaged even if you have a small backyard.
For some reason, chickens love to hop up and walk on stumps. As stumps rot, they're also an excellent place for chickens to find bugs — one of their favorite snacks. Including a few stumps in the chicken run or using them to border a path is a great way to keep your chickens busy.
While chickens are often seen as farmyard animals, they’re actually a forest-dwelling species. Just like their closest living ancestors, jungle fowl, chickens love to hang out underbrush and bushes. You can plant trees or shrubs in their run — just be sure to protect the base of each plants as chickens tend to scratch and dig up roots. Alternatively, you can use dead material like old Christmas trees or branches from pruning your trees to create a little chicken fort.
Compost in the Chicken Yard
Placing your compost pile in your chicken yard can be a great way to keep chickens entertained and lower your feed bill. The chickens will help you make compost even faster by turning the compost over as they look for insects. They’ll also contribute their manure. To keep the chickens from spreading compost across the entire yard, place your compost within a fence or bin that the chickens can easily hop into but not push material out of.
Hang a Chicken Swing
It may sound a bit odd, but chickens love to perch on things and will in fact perch on swings. You can make a simple swing with just a bit of rope and a branch. Just wait — you’ll have as much fun watching the chickens on the swing as they’ll have swinging.
Just like other animals, chickens love treats. Great treat options include cooked oatmeal, greens like kale and spinach, pumpkin, and scratch grains. You can also occasionally hang things like heads of cabbage or suet blocks in their run for the chickens to peck.
If you don’t have a large enough property to offer your chickens a constant supply of fresh grass, you might consider growing fodder. Fodder is simply trays of sprouted seeds. Depending on the variety, such as barley, you’ll need to soak the seeds and then continue to rinse them and keep them moist for several days before they sprout. Growing fodder is also a great winter activity to bring some green to your home and your chickens!
Create Dust Baths
Dust baths are even more important than other chicken “toys.” Through dust bathing, chickens clean their feathers and keep themselves free from external parasites like mites. A dust bath doesn’t need to be anything special — just a spot where your chickens can always access dry dirt. Some people fill old tires, containers, or even a circle of logs or rocks within the coop or run.
Build a Run
Chickens need space to move. Even if you have a small backyard or don’t want to deal with chicken manure throughout the backyard, if you’re going to keep chickens, you need to provide them with space. Having space to explore, fresh grass available, and insects to eat will help you keep your flock healthy.
You can find more information on how to care for your backyard chickens with this note on biosecurity. Or come visit Homestead Gardens to speak with an expert