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Chicken Toys - Why they are important and how you can provide them

A chicken that is not provided with adequate enrichment and mental stimulation will be more inclined towards problem behaviors.  Feather pecking, bullying, egg eating and even cannibalism are almost always a result of chickens that are confined without proper enrichment.  The winter months that necessitate closer quarters and less foraging opportunities is when chicken toys become even more necessary.  This is where the expression “feeling cooped up” comes from after all. 

 

You’re probably already giving your chickens “toys” without realizing it.  Any activity that encourages natural chicken behaviors can be considered playing.  And any item that encourages that activity is a “toy”. 

 

Some enrichment activities you are probably already providing include: 

 

  • Cleaning out the coop and run and other daily tasks such as egg collecting.  This changes their environment and chickens are intrigued by anything new.
  • Inspecting the health of your flock and any other direct human contact.
  • Providing table scraps, weeds, dirt clods, fodder, flats of sod etc.
  • Letting them out to roam the run or free range.

 

As the winter months approach, and time and space constraints increase we find ourselves looking for more.  What you provide need not be expensive or ornate, or even pretty. Most of the best toys are absolutely free.  Below is a list of toys that many people have found effective in keeping their chickens entertained and happy.

 

Top Toys for Adult birds:

 

Compost piles are excellent sources of enrichment and food.  Simply create your pile of compostable material and let the chickens work it at will.  The chickens will enjoy digging up the bugs and worms and will be warmed by the heat that is created from the decomposing material.  Keeping a compost heap or pile in the run also reduces the amount of foraging/digging they do elsewhere in their run which will help the vegetation grow and prevent a bare muddy run.  (The one pictured is a frame made from an old privacy fence that was falling down on our property filled with yard and kitchen waste.)

 

Hanging cabbage, squash, lettuce, kale, spinach etc. from a string or bungee cord is a popular toy with a nutritional boost.  If you can stick a skewer through it or tie a string around it then it is fair game to be hung either on the fence of the run, from the ceiling in the coop or anywhere else they might be able to play tetherball with it.

 

Interactive Treat dispensers.  Anything from an empty beverage bottle with holes drilled in it to cat and dog toys designed with treat dispensing holes in them.  If you can fill it with some form of treat and poke holes in it so that the chickens can kick it around and peck at it to make the food come out then you have yourself a toy.  There are some companies that sell chicken treat dispenser toys as well.  (Pictured is a reused plastic peanut butter jar with ¼” holes drilled in it and filled with wheat seed)

 

Dust Bathing Area.  Provide an area where they can dust bathe freely.  Any bucket, bin, old tire or any other device filled with dirt for them to bathe in is perfect.  It will encourage them to do their dust bathing in one approved location and limit the amount of holes they dig elsewhere for the purpose.  You can mix in some Diatomaceous earth or wood ash as well to help deter mites etc., but it isn’t necessary.  (Pictured is an old tire found on our property and filled with dirt.)

 

Climbing/Perching places.  The animal kingdom at large takes the term “top dog” pretty literally.  Any spot that allows the head of the flock to perch above everyone else will be prized.  Roosters especially prefer a spot where they can perch above the flock and crow their ownership of it to the rest of the world.  Even an old tree that fell down on your property (or you cut down) can be erected in the run for this purpose.  You could also build your run around an existing live tree for the purpose.  Live trees also provide protection from overhead predators as well as forage and shade.  (I found the sawhorse in the picture in the woods of our property.  A simple sawhorse can be built out of one or two 2x4’s inexpensively, or salvaged pallets.)

 

Toys for Chicks:  Non-food toys are best for chicks as their nutrition requirements depend mostly on their feed unless you are an experienced chicken nutritionist or a mama hen.

 

  • Pet bird toys (parakeet shred a box &/or bird burrito) or any small kitten or baby toy such as fake mice, small balls, rattles, etc.  The more colorful the better since chickens see color better than humans do.
  • Mirror (the unbreakable varieties for babies cribs or parakeets etc. are ideal.  Better safe than sorry.)  An old cd on a string would be an excellent substitute for this as well.  Not only will they enjoy their reflection, they will also enjoy the rainbows that will inevitably end up on the walls etc. of the brooder area.  An old cd hung in the run area not only provides entertainment but can aid in deterring hawks and other aerial predators.
  • Bin filled with sand (doubles as grit for wee ones also) or dry dirt for dust bathing. 
  • Tunnel made from an empty Oatmeal container.
  • Make a chicken swing out of some rope and a large branch or a 2x4.  This is great for helping them build the muscles necessary to keep them on their roosts as well as gives them a place out of the litter to warm their feet.

 

Other great toy ideas that are inexpensive or free to buy or make:

               

  • Old stump or branch full of bugs, grubs and other creepy crawlies.  This works for any piece of wood.  Just leave it in one place for a few days to a week or so and let the bugs seek refuge under it – then just flip it over and let the flock go to town.
  • newspaper to shred
  • Cricket tubes (or just let crickets loose in the coop when they will be confined for an extended period of time).  You can find these at most pet stores or tackle shops.
  • Sunflower heads complete with seeds
  • A post Halloween jack-o-lantern or any large squash or melon.  Just drop it on the ground from high enough that it splits and let them do the rest. 
  • Suet cage or fruit basket stuffed with table scraps
  • Old cd’s that are scratched beyond repair are great hung from a string along the fence of the run at or just above pecking height.  If you are REALLY adventurous you can blow up a balloon, smash the cd’s and then glue them on to the balloon in a mosaic pattern and hang in the run/coop to catch the light. 
  • Boiled spaghetti is a special hit.  Dye the noodles different colors for added fun.
  • DIY bird feeders.  Just do a Google search and you’ll come up with thousands of ideas.  Just use scratch grains or BOSS or whatever else you have on hand.  Molasses is a great tool for creating enough structure to hold it together enough for them to peck it to death.

 

Use your imagination and have fun.  If it encourages their natural behaviors of eating, scratching, pecking, bathing, flying, perching or flock socialization then it is a good toy.  They don’t have to be pretty and they don’t have to cost anything.  If they don’t like it you can always take it away and try again another time, or move on to the next item.  Enjoy your flock!

Comments (58)

You have alot of things on your Property...
What a terrific ,well thought out article! Many of these items many people might have on hand. Would just like to add a few things to your list... A very loosely rolled chicken wire roll (lying down) in a safe area for "tunneling..." Older chickens and juveniles LOVE to lay in clumps in the tunnel. Another idea (if you have a little area that you can grow things just for them) is growing a fair sized cluster of mint (preferably) in a damp/ shaded area. Our chickens grew up with mint available, and being a very hardy plant, they lay in it, do groups rolls, hide, nibble seeds and leaves, ect. And the mint grows back without harm. The chickens seem to smell nice too. ; )
Chemical - Yes, I sure did.  We bought the property as a foreclosure and there was all kinds of junk scattered around.  Several trips to the dump and countless items re-purposed and that was before we started renovating the actual house and barn!  I'm sure there's still more stuff hiding in the woods.  Probably go out now that all the leaves are off the underbrush and see what other goodies I can find.  :)
 
 
One Chick - Thank you!  Those are some great ideas!!  I'll have to try the mint, the majority of their run is shaded so it should work out nicely.
Hey thanks for the ideas.  I already have done several things on the list.  Crickets, pumpkin.... They especially love greens and vegetables in a big suet cage.  I hang it on a hook on one of the wooden supporting posts in the run and they just have a blast going at it.  Keeps them busy for a while and it's healthy!  But, didn't know about newspaper.  Just throw in some crumpled up newspaper and they tear it up?  Do they eat it? or do they just play with it and shred it? 
 
Really enjoying my babies!
I just throw it in folded flat.  They do eat some of it on occasion, but most of it just becomes bedding.  I only give them the newspapers once in a blue moon.  Keeps the novelty in place.  Generally they seem to like the seed dispenser and the compost pile the most.  The suet cages full of food scraps is a great one too.  Pretty much anything that involves food will be a hit.
Hi could I use a mix of sawdust and wood ashes in a tire for dust bathing or should it be actual dirt? Thanks
Crazyfeathers, I would add dirt into the mix if not make it mainly dirt.  You don't want their bathing substrate to be so fine that it puts their sensitive respiratory systems at risk.  You also don't want it too chunky that they won't use it.  Observe your flock.  See where they are dust bathing now and try to simulate that material.  The wood ash isn't absolutely necessary the dirt alone is sufficient.  There are some who like to include it or diatomaceous earth to help prevent mites and lice, but there are risks to both of these so do your research and make an informed decision before deciding to use them.  There is no one right way to do anything when it comes to chickens, only the way that works best for you and your flock.
Love the ideas, I'm going to try and make a swing tomorrow,
Also try getting a light log, only big enough for two birds to sit on and put it in the run, make sure it can be rolled so the chickens spend loads of time trying to perch on it without rolling off, my silverlaced Wyandottes that were in a stable at the time would try and jump from their perch onto the log without falling of, it never worked but it was very fun to watch, but my Phoenix where light enough just to flutter down and elegantly perch on on it
What I would give to have a run that big...
@ Nutcase:  It's not all that big.  The total measurements are technically 15' x 20', but the coop itself takes up a 10' x 10' section of that and saves on fence for 20' of it.  We are planning to expand it before we add the next batch of chicks in this summer.  When we do I might give them the old rundown swingset that came with the property.  It's a little more rickety and rusty than I like for my kids to keep using it much longer.  I'll also have to re-design their perch for the extra birds, so their current dead tree perch will get moved out into the run and sunk into concrete for them to perch on.
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I have a large plastic dog crate I found in halves, one on each side of the yard. All five girls will hang out in them in the afternoons. I had to drill holes in the sides of the bottom half so they would have windows. They wouldn't use it until then. The houses double as a safe house for times overhead predators.
This is wonderful, thanks! My chicks are scheduled to hatch on Saturday, and I feel so much more prepared because of this. Truly, thanks!
We string popcorn, and hang it so the girls must jump to get it
Interactive treat dispenser is my roos favorite. He's got a little plastic capsule, like the kind you get from the toy machines in front of the super market, that I cut holes in. I put bits of corn an larger seed in it for him. He rolls it around the bed and goes crazy.
I had taken some pallets and made a small "coop" in the corner of the chicken run. It had a roof on it and I covered it with a tarp. I put a mineral block (I think it was - for chickens) in it. The chickens loved their "home away from home." They hung out in the big coop during the day, then ran out to the the little coop (I called it their mini-cooper) in the afternoon. They stayed in it if it was raining or windy and it was also shady on hot days. They ran in and out of it and seemed to enjoy it.
I am so excited, Lots of great ideas here, Thank you so much, can't to try some of these out =)
One thing I do often is hanging corn on the cob from string and a fishing pole. They have to jump, bob, and weave to get to the corn and it lasts longer!
Fantastic article! I will definetly try some of these!
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