If you’re a flock owner, you know that chickens are smart! And keeping them mentally and physically stimulated is important for their overall health and well-being. There are many ways you can keep your flock engaged by using chicken enrichment toys and activities. Not only do toys and enrichment activities keep your flock entertained and prevent behavior issues, but they also provide you with some entertainment too! Need some chicken engagement inspiration? We have plenty for you!
What is Chicken Enrichment?
Chicken enrichment is stimulation that keeps chickens active or entertained. Animal enrichment is often used by zoos, aquariums, and animal sanctuaries to keep their animals mentally and physically stimulated. While our flocks don’t always have to be confined (free-ranging can be a form of enrichment), keeping our flock’s daily lives interesting through enrichment can help prevent bad behaviors and promote overall good health for your chickens.
How Does Enrichment Benefit Your Flock?
As intelligent animals, chickens can get bored if they are not mentally or physically stimulated. Boredom can then lead to chickens developing unwanted behaviors.
Chicken enrichment can help prevent bad behaviors such as:
- Bullying: Without a release for their excess energy, dominant hens may start bullying subordinate hens. Sometimes, they’ll even begin picking on birds that look different from other flock members.
- Feather Pulling: Chickens may pull out each other’s feathers, especially around the face and vent, if they are bored.
- Boredom Eating: If there is nothing else to do, chickens may resort to eating more or as they forage through their feed.
- Stress: A bored flock can result in higher levels of stress and nervousness, leading to health issues and lower quality of life.
Enrichment doesn’t just prevent bad behaviors, it also stimulates and fosters natural behaviors. By using natural behaviors to keep your chickens stimulated, you help them build problem-solving skills and keep them healthy.
Types of Enrichment for Chickens
There are several different types of activities you can provide for your flock. Like kids, your flock can get bored with the same form of enrichment over and over. Providing varied types of enrichment keeps your chickens engaged and excited in the long term. For best results, cycle through forms of enrichment and offer different options simultaneously.
Here are the most common types of chicken enrichment:
- Auditory enrichment (sound)
- Visual enrichment (sight)
- Mental enrichment (thinking)
- Environmental enrichment (chicken coop enrichment, free-ranging)
- Food-based enrichment (using snacks, treats)
5 DIY Toys for Chicken Enrichment
Keeping chickens stimulated and active is great for our flocks! But how do we go about providing chicken enrichment? There are many ways you can keep your girls having a blast! Anything that promotes an instinctual behavior or physically engages your chickens will turn a boring day into an adventure.
Here are 5 easy DIY toys you can make for your flock to keep them entertained:
#1. A Chicken Swing
Chickens love to perch, so wouldn’t they like to swing too? You may be surprised to learn that some chickens absolutely love swinging perches! Of course, it takes a little getting used to and does require some talent (staying balanced on a swinging perch is challenging), but some of your hens will master the acrobatics and love it.
Get into the Swing of Things
You can easily provide your flock with a chicken swing by purchasing one online or building your own. To build a chicken swing, you just need a sturdy perch and some strong rope to hang the perch from.
- For the perch itself, a wide, strong tree branch works well or a flat board can also be used.
- Simply attach the rope to the perch by securely knotting the rope around either end of the perch. Or drill holes at either end of the perch to put the knotted rope through.
- Hang the swing low to the ground to start off. Once your chickens get used to the low, swinging perch, gradually increase the height of the swing for more challenging enrichment.
You may need to teach your chickens how to use the swing by placing them on the swing and holding it still. Once they learn that it is a safe perch, you can start slowly swinging the perch back and forth. Using snacks like Grubblies as a reward helps too!
Soon your chickens won’t mind their swinging perch and will be using it on their own!
A few safety precautions to keep in mind include making sure the swing is located in a spacious area and away from any other objects in the chicken coop enclosure. You don’t want the swing to hit a wall, feeders, or waterers while your chickens are using it!
The perch you use for the swing should also have enough grip and be wide enough that a chicken can easily stand and grip the perch. Slippery or thin perches don’t work well for swinging.
#2. DIY Snack or Treat Dispenser
Active enrichment, like a chicken swing, is great, but chickens also benefit from food-based enrichment! A DIY treat dispenser is the perfect way to keep your flock entertained while giving them a healthy snack at the same time.
To make a DIY chicken treat dispenser you will need a daily healthy snack that works with the size of your drill bit or holes, a clean plastic water bottle, a sharp knife or drill, and some sturdy rope.
- Cut or drill holes into the plastic water bottle that are big enough to let chicken treats fall through.
- Then attach the water bottle to a sturdy rope for hanging it or simply leave it on the ground at first. Hanging the water bottle up like a treat pinata (see next section) is a good idea to prevent it from rolling through dirt and droppings.
- Fill the water bottle about ½ full with your flock’s favorite healthy snack and watch as they quickly learn to peck the water bottle to get treats to fall out!
If you use the DIY chicken treat dispenser on a regular basis, fill it with healthy snacks that your flock can have on a daily basis. Scratch grains can be used during the winter when your flock can benefit from the additional energy for staying warm.
#3. DIY Chicken Treat Piñata
Similar to the water bottle treat dispenser, a homemade treat piñata offers a fiesta of fun for your flock. A treat piñata can be used to provide your flock with entertainment using table or garden scraps versus dried insects or scratch grains.
To make a homemade chicken treat piñata you will need a dog toy ball called a ‘Hol-ee roller’ (or something similar) and some sturdy rope.
- Attach the Hol-ee roller to the rope and hang it in your flock’s enclosure.
- Fill the ball with fruit or vegetable scraps that your flock can enjoy! Cabbage, chunks of zucchini, summer squash, carrot peelings, berries, apples, and watermelon all make great piñata fillers that chickens love!
- Give your flock some time to get used to the new object hanging in their enclosure. Once they learn that the piñata is often filled with delicious goodies, they won’t find it so scary!
#4. Tree Branch Gazebo
If you are feeling a little more crafty, you can attempt to build your flock a tree branch gazebo. A tree branch gazebo is a great way to provide your flock with environmental enrichment. It offers unique surfaces to perch on at varying heights and acts as a source of protection if your flock free-ranges.
To make a tree branch gazebo you obviously need lots of tree branches that are roughly similar in size and some sturdy twine.
- Choose four thick branches to use as the corner posts for the gazebo. Make sure they are as tall as you want the gazebo to be.
- Begin to attach additional tree branches horizontally between the four tree branch posts.
- Leave spaces between the branches so that the chickens can perch on the branches.
- You can then make a roof for the gazebo by stacking and fastening more branches together for a peaked or domed roof.
- If you’re handy with power tools and want to ensure the gazebo is as sturdy as possible, consider using an electric screwdriver and some small screws to attach the tree branches together for both the sides and the roof of the gazebo.
Your flock will love their homemade tree branch gazebo! This long-lasting structure provides countless perching options, shade from the sun, and can protect your flock from aerial predators!
#5. DIY Dust Bath
Another environmental enrichment activity you can provide for your flock is a dust bath. A dust bath acts as enrichment that also encourages the instinctual behavior of dust bathing. Dust bathing is how a chicken stays clean and it helps prevent external parasites. It can also be used for cooling off during hot weather or simply for the enjoyment of rolling around in the dirt!
To make a chicken dust bath you just need some loose, clean, native dirt and an area to locate the dust bath!
- Your flock may have already chosen a dust bath location, in which case you may just want to adapt their chosen spot into a full-blown dust bathing spa area.
- Surround the dust bath area with rocks, boards, or logs.
- Then make sure the dust bath area always has a thick layer of loose dirt in it.
- Your flock will instinctively know how to keep themselves entertained with a dust bath spot!
For more information on why chickens dust bath, how it benefits them, and ways to upgrade the dust bath spot, check out this article on Why Do Chickens Dust Bathe?
Additional Chicken Enrichment Activities
Those 5 DIY chicken enrichment toys are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keeping your flock happy and having fun! There are so many more options for keeping your flock both mentally and physically stimulated.
Here are a few other ideas to keep your flock filled with joy and wonder:
- An Obstacle Course: Teach your chickens to do an obstacle course that may include a teeter-totter, jumps, a tunnel, weave poles, or a balance beam!
- Treat Balls: Use a chicken tether ball or hen treat balls to provide a stimulating way of giving your flock healthy snacks.
- Dog Puzzle Toys: Treat dispensers and other puzzle toys made for dogs can also be engaging and challenging for chickens to learn too!
- Hanging Snack Dispensers: A Hentastic hanging snack toy, hanging skewers of veggies, or fruit stuffed suit cages can all be interactive ways of giving your flock healthy table or garden scraps.
- Auditory Enrichment: Playing classical music, mimicking chicken noises, providing a toy xylophone, or hanging bells in the enclosure are all ways of providing auditory enrichment.
- Chicken Coop Enrichment: Make the chicken coop an engaging place to live by decorating it with perches at various heights, ladders, dirt-filled flowerpots, hanging mirrors and old cds, or making a forage box.
Another way to provide enrichment for your flock without any additional supplies is to simply let them free-range if this is possible for you. Free-range chickens will find also endless ways to keep themselves entertained naturally!
Enrichment Ideas for Chicks
Enrichment for chicks is a good idea to prevent bad behaviors from forming in the brooder. Keeping your chicks engaged and entertained from a young age not only helps prevent negative behaviors and habits, but it also helps improve their cognitive health as they grow. Providing chicks with enrichment at a young age aids in developing neural connectivity and mental thought processes.
You can keep your chicks engaged through some of the same activities you would provide for the adult flock. A few chick enrichment ideas that especially work well in the brooder include:
- Dust Baths: A mini dust bath promotes the natural behavior of dust bathing.
- Weed Clumps: Bringing the outdoors in by introducing some of your weeds to the brooder encourages foraging and introduces your chicks to environmental elements.
- Perches: Once your chicks are 4 weeks old, you can provide them with perches and other entertaining elements to walk on or practice their grip strength and coordination.
- Mirrors: Hanging small mirrors in the brooder will perk your brood’s curiosity and engages them mentally and visually
- Auditory Enrichment: playing classical music or recordings of chicken noises can be peaceful and a learning experience for chicks (note: don’t play alarming or stressed chicken noises).
Engaged Chickens Are Happy Chickens
Providing your flock with chicken enrichment toys and activities is a simple way to promote the best quality of life. Chicken enrichment can prevent bad behaviors like bullying and boredom pecking. Plus, watching your flock engage with new toys and activities can be entertaining to watch and fill your heart with joy, too! As you increase your flock’s toys and activities, remember to have fun and take pride in your chickens’ capabilities as they learn!