Michele Cook shares ideas for keeping your chickens occupied during the long, cold winter.
Bored chickens, like bored children, can find some not so great ways to occupy themselves if they have nothing to challenge their little minds. In the winter, there are no bugs to chase, no worms to dig up and no grass to pluck and this can lead your chickens to find other ways to amuse themselves. Like pecking other chickens. Creating some DIY chicken toys is a great way to keep your flock happy and healthy during the winter season.
Chicken Safe Treats
Before we get into making any chicken toys, it’s important to know what is and isn’t safe to put in them. If you have had your flock for more than five minutes, you have probably come to realize chickens eat anything, but just because they do, doesn’t mean they should. Kind of like that box of donuts I ate last night.
With that in mind, here is a short list of things chickens shouldn’t eat.
- Avocado pits and skins (the flesh is fine)
- Citrus fruits
- Onions and garlic
- Dried beans (or those that aren’t quite cooked)
- Potato peels
If it isn’t on the list above, chances are it is fine for chickens to have in moderation. Apples, peaches, melons, squash, cabbages, herbs, lettuces, carrots, and sweet potatoes are all fine for your chickens to snack on. There are plenty of other foods that are also chicken safe, but in the interest of space, I kept the list short.
Chicken Wire Balls
Chicken wire balls are one of the simplest and budget-friendly options when it comes to DIY chicken toys. It also makes feeding food scraps much easier. All you need is a piece of scrap chicken wire at least 1 ft x 1 ft and some baling twine or old clothesline.
To create the ball, just wrap the chicken wire around your chicken treats (aka scraps), bend over the ends, tie on the string and hang it in your coop. Try not to trip on the chickens that surround your feet while you are hanging it. When you are hanging your chicken wire ball, you want the center of the ball to be slightly above eye level for your chickens. This will make it easy for your chickens to peck and play with.
Corkscrew Chicken Toys
Another super easy DIY chicken toy is made with an old corkscrew and some twine. This one works best with whole veggies like a whole apple or head of cabbage. Just twist the corkscrew into the veggie or fruit tie a piece of twine around it and hang it in your coop. Easy for you, fun for your chickens. This one can hang a little lower depending on the type of item you are putting the corkscrew in. You don’t want the chickens to have to jump to get that last little bit of cabbage hanging on the corkscrew.
This one isn’t really a toy, but if you put it on something that swings or swivels it can become hours of fun for your hens. Suet blocks are typically a hard block of mixed seeds and fats. You can buy one at your local farm store or you can make your own. Community Chickens writer Shannon Cole has a great recipe for suet cakes and she walks you through the process step by step.
One word of warning on these cakes. Everything loves them. Squirrels, other birds, mice and so on. As my mother would say, they attract everything except men and money.
Make sure you have a predator-proof coop before you put out a suet block.
Ground Ball Chicken Toys
Ever seen a chicken play soccer? Want to? Okay, it’s not quite soccer, but the way chickens will kick around a ball filled with treats comes pretty close. For this one, you will need a web ball dog toy like this one. Stuff it to the gills with greens and herbs and throw it in your coop. What happens next closely resembles a group of four-year-olds playing soccer.
The one problem with this method is it can get messy on rainy or snowy days. On those days you might want to hang up the ball or keep it inside your coop if it is big enough.
Bored chickens can adopt some bad habits. They might start pecking at each other, pulling tail feathers, or scratch themselves a hole to China. Providing some DIY chicken toys is a cheap and effective solution to keep your hens happy and occupied. Watching them play with their toys can be pretty fun for you too.
Michele Cook is a farmer, author, and communications specialist for the National Federation of Press Women. She raises chickens, goats, and vegetables on her small farm in the beautiful Allegheny mountains of Virginia. If she is not outside caring for her farm you can find her curled up in a chair with her nose stuck in a good book.