Chickens are a lot more like toddlers than I could have ever imagined. They like shiny objects and can be distracted by a meager peace offering of dry cereal. They like to play and sometimes even fight with each other. If left alone too long without something to keep them busy, they will invent something to keep themselves busy. Once that happens, they begin to act like a toddler playgroup meeting too close to nap time. It can be a little ugly.
I don't like for our heritage chickens to be unhappy. Yes, I realize that they are animals; I'm not falling prey to anthropomorphism here on our farm. But I am a firm believer that animals can be happy, which means that conversely, they can be unhappy. Why do I care so much about the happiness of our flock? Simple. When the chickens are unhappy, they lay fewer eggs. When the chickens lay fewer eggs, my whole family is unhappy.
oatmeal on cold mornings in the hopes that it might warm them up and improve their day. I keep their coop incredibly clean and add fresh bedding more often than I probably need to. I don't mind. Every time I find myself adding straw to their nest boxes I simply picture beautiful brown eggs resting there. It seems like more than a fair trade to me.
No matter how hard I try to keep our flock happy, there's something that I can't do anything about, so I might as well admit it right now. The weather is beyond my control. I can't make winter end sooner or temper the humidity in August. I also can't do much about the fact that we're in the midst of a 10-day rainy stretch here at 1840 Farm. Well, I can complain about it, but I don't see how that will make me or our chickens feel any better about the unending succession of rainy days.
After I gave up trying to control the weather, I decided to take matters into my own hands. It was time for me to invent a way to keep our hens busy and happy even when the weather kept them confined inside their coop. I hoped to somehow keep them entertained while offering them a healthy treat. I looked on the Internet for something along those lines, but came up empty-handed. There were several seed blocks that I thought my chickens would enjoy eating. Unfortunately, they were not an option for our family. When someone in your family has an allergy to peanuts and tree nuts, the last thing you want in your chicken coop is a seed mix that includes all of them.
Thirty minutes later, I had constructed what I thought was a rudimentary idea and the parts I needed to assemble it. As my items were passed over the scanner, the friendly employee at the register inquired what I was making with such a motley assortment of fixings. I finally gave in and admitted that I was making "something" for our chickens. I fully expected him to raise an eyebrow in my direction and tell his co-workers during his next break about the crazy chicken lady and her purchase. Instead, he looked at me inquisitively and then I knew exactly what was about to happen.
He began asking me about our chickens. How long had we kept them? How many eggs did they lay each day? What kind of coop did we have? It was as if he had been waiting for a crazy chicken lady to appear at his register and field his questions. Lucky for him, I was just such a person and more than happy to share what I knew with him. I did my best to encourage him to become a chicken keeper. I left knowing that he would spend the rest of his shift thinking about our conversation and wondering just how to jump into chicken keeping with both feet.
I assembled the contraption in our farmhouse kitchen. It was really quite simple. Now it was time for the real test. I cored two red apples and removed the seeds. My son slid them onto the bolt . We took the contraption out to our coop and hung it from the chain that usually holds one of our hanging feeders. Then we sat back and waited to see what happened.
It took our chickens a few minutes to figure out what was going on. They were unsure of this new shiny thing that held what smelled like an apple but moved like a boxer. Then their curiosity got the best of them and they started to peck at the apples. Each time they pecked at them, the apples swayed from side to side. Suddenly, all seven hens were gathered around taking their turn. The apples didn't stand a chance. Seven beaks made quick work of them within thirty minutes. Clearly I was going to have to bring out the bigger, tougher fruits and vegetables. These girls meant business.
I thought about what would make a better target for the hens and decided on a head of cabbage. I figured that the dangling leaves would only add to the fun of their pinata-like game. It didn't hurt that cabbage is both inexpensive to purchase and easy to keep with its extended shelf life. The cabbage was a little tougher to mount on the bolt than the apples had been. I ended up needing to encourage it onto the bolt with the assistance of a hammer, but once it had cleared the core, it was solidly mounted and ready for action.
The cabbage entertained our hens for more than six hours. All the while, my BirdCam 2.0 captured photos and videos of them and their antics. They took turns pecking at it. They foraged for the falling pieces of cabbage and even pretended to ignore the swinging vegetable before returning for another round. It was exactly what I had hoped for. They were happy. They were busy. They laid five eggs on a rainy, cloudy day. I was ready to call this contraption a success.
While I'm very happy with how my boredom buster worked, it's just not like me to say that it can't be improved. So, I'm planning another trip to the hardware store to see what adjustments I might be able to make. I'm sure that the store employees will again ask me if I need any help. I'll politely thank them and go back to my browsing until I find something to purchase.
When I bring my items to the cash register, I'll hope to be greeted by the same person who was there the last time. I'll ask him if he has made any progress toward his goal of becoming a chicken keeper. Then I'll tell him how to make a boredom buster. We live in New England, where the long winter leads directly into what we affectionately refer to as "mud season." If he's going to keep chickens here, he's going to need one.