Beating boredom in the coop

Keeping chickens occupied in the winter can be a tough task.

Warm months delight chickens that are fortunate enough to have the run of a yard. There are bugs to chase and devour tasty earthworms to scratch up under fallen leaves, tender grass to snack on, and interesting places to explore.

That changes with winter’s frigid confinement. Chickens shun snow while enduring the cold months indoors. Rather than dining on summer’s diverse outdoor banquet their winter diet is limited to nutritious but unexciting commercial crumbles or pelletized feed. They have no wondrous places to explore while being cooped up with their peers.

It’s unknown if chickens get bored, but they respond with gusto when people add diversity to their winter lives. That usually means treats and snacks to vary the diet.

Although commercial feed is an important mainstay for winter chickens, ambitious owners sprout grain to give their flock a winter treat of greenery. Table scraps also add diet variety but be careful as wet soggy foods can dampen the coop litter and create odor.

Among the best table scraps for indoor feeding are small amounts of salad greens, pumpkin and squash seeds, and bits of vegetables, popcorn, and almost any other food that’s relatively dry. Only put in as much as the birds can clean up in a few minutes.

Chickens love a snack of scratch grain or cracked corn, but only a few handfuls daily are all a small flock should have. Too much grain causes chicken obesity! A NatureWise Scratch Block of compressed grain sold at feed stores and left in the coop helps to provide exercise and diversion as the birds gradually peck the blocks apart.

Perhaps the most important help a flock owner can give birds is space. Cramming hens together in winter guarantees squabbling, pecking, and other social problems. Four square feet of floor space per birds is an absolute minimum. The more room the better, and a coop that has an array of perches and roosts at different heights and angles gives the hens a place to exercise, while adding three dimensions to a coop.

If your birds are all cooped up this winter (pun intended), consider giving them a distraction from winter boredom in the form of a special treat – and make sure there is enough room in the coop to help combat cabin fever!