Winter can be a rough time of year for everyone, including your chickens. Chicken pecking (where your formerly docile hens start taking a bite out of their neighbors) is one problem likely to arise when environmental stimulation is at a low point. You can prevent excessive boredom in chickens by making a few strategic changes to their habitat. Because boredom can lead to depression, irritability, egg eating, and a range of other behavioral problems, planning ahead to prevent this problem can make winter a much easier season for everyone.
Exercise Stimulation to Reduce Chicken Pecking
Physical activity is one of the best boredom busters for chickens and people alike. In the cooler months, chickens are less likely to stick with their normal busy schedule of scratching and walking about. Give them a little motivation to stay active by covering up the cold ground with some fresh straw. Ground cover protects their feet from getting too chilly and will encourage more daytime activity. Simply strew straw over the rocks and dirt that are within their usual area of activity. Leaves and pine needles are other great ground cover ideas. Chickens will readily walk on this insulating layer and will likely find a few hidden snacks, too.
A new variety of perches is another great way to encourage activity during cold weather. Arrange perches at different heights or try switching up the material that the perches are made of. These can be placed anywhere your chickens are likely to spend time.
Cabbages are excellent food sources for chickens, providing lots of vitamins and other nutrients. To make a cabbage tetherball, simply tie a string securely around a cabbage and suspend it a short distance above beak height. This way the chickens will have to work just a little bit to get those tasty greens.
Adding Variety to the Coop
Part of what fuels chicken pecking is spending more time inside their coop during the winter, so changing up this environment will help prevent boredom and provide valuable motivation to stay active. Try these options:
- Create quiet spaces for chickens that prefer alone time by propping tilted boards or pallets against vertical surfaces.
- Angle tarps or pieces of canvas to create small tents or lean-tos
- Create interest to bedding and scratching area by spreading leaves or pine needles collected earlier in the season
- Toss a handful of corn or other treats for the chickens to hunt for once each day
Corn and other chicken treats add some exciting variety, and provide a distraction from chicken pecking, but these snacks should be provided in moderation. Chickens can easily gain too much weight in winter as a result of decreased activity. A sprinkling of dried corn is all that is needed to cause quite a bit of activity each day.
Space and Variety
Like all birds, chickens like to have space to spend quiet time alone. Coops and runs can get a little claustrophobic in cold weather, so adding some variety to that environment will help create new spaces for quiet rest. New perches and other interesting features will help encourage healthy activity and deter boredom and chicken pecking. Plan ahead to keep your chickens happy and stimulated this winter.