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How To Keep Your Flock Happy (Let them act like birds!)
What?  Keep your chickens happy?  They are, after all, well... CHICKENS!  Yes, yes; however you can make their lives happier and healthier by acknowledging a really important concept.  That is, although they have been domesticated for about a gazillion years, and do OK inside small areas, they were once wild critters who roamed the jungles looking for food,  keeping their young safe, protecting their flock, etcetera.  Watching them over their life-cycles is fascinating and informative, and we come to realize that even the little-bitty chick you raised by hand has those innate wild survival skills.  Who has seen a incubator-hatched, week-old chick start to scratch around in their bedding, looking for food?  Or a young roo you've had since hatching, hold up a worm, croon to the ladies and drop it repeatedly so they'll come get the treat he is offering?  Or a mama hen, normally your MOST docile sweetie, become a fierce velociraptor at the merest sign of (perceived) harm to her young chicks?  This is all instinctive, and is a throw-back to their survival nature.

So, my friends, I offer up a few ideas on how to acknowledge the wild thing that lives inside your friendly, domestic flock, and keep them healthy and happy.  This may help those just starting out with chickens to plan ahead, or give some experienced poultry keepers a few ideas.

Planning your coop: Chickens are amazingly tough, and do well in all but the cruelest weather.  Make sure you plan for plenty of ventilation on several sides of your hen house!  Circulating air prevents a lot of diseases and helps things dry out, and yes, is actually better than a totally snug, airtight coop, which should not be the goal.

:  I know I am lucky to have a whole yard set aside for my assemblage of birds, but observation of friends’ flocks leads me to the firm conclusion that letting your birds out to scratch, find bugs, dust bathe, etc., is good for the chicken soul.  City trick: Let them out a few days a week for just ½ hour before dark and they will stay close by and just spend a few minutes happily scratching around near their coop before heading back in to put themselves to bed. (Teach them to come when you call out “Treats, girls” or shake a rain stick, or a coffee can with treats inside.  It’s very useful…trust me!)

If roaming is not an option at all, please make a nice sized pen for them in which to get their daily exercise, and remember chicken math is a reality, so if you think you will have three hens, make enough space for six!

Boredom & Treats: Besides feeding the proper chicken feed, which I won't address, you can relieve your flock's boredom at being (literally) cooped up, by tossing in left-over greens from those lettuce ends or cabbage ends you don't use in the kitchen.  Get left over or over-ripe or otherwise unsalable pumpkins, squash, or melons from the markets and toss in a half to give them something to do in their pen.  (I "glean" pumpkins after Halloween from neighbors!)  Toss in the weeds you pull up from the garden (it quickly becomes compost in the chicken run, which can then go back in after a while to nurture your garden as fertilizer.)
I found an old wooden fish market box at the recycle center, put wheels on one end and a pull chain on the other end, planted greens in there, and voila!  In about 4 weeks you have a "chicken garden" you can roll into their pen and your chickens will act like a cat does with catnip greens!  Happy, Happy!

Don't Stress: Pecking order means pecking!  Chickens cannot be put on timeout, in isolation, etc, just because you want them to get along.  Just like us in our people world, they will get along either better or less well with certain individuals.  If blood is drawn, use a cream or spray (never red!) or some such thing to provide antiseptic coverage and a deterrent (I like the tar stuff that comes in a glue-bottle container.  Easy to apply!)  If your chooks have enough to keep them busy, then pecking issues become much less of a problem.

*A note about roosters:  I follow the advice someone told me: As 50% of the bird hatched are cockerels, there are a ton of them out there--too many to have a meanie one.  Get rid of attack birds.  Roosters have a job, so I don't try to befriend mine.  As long as they are respectful of me, that is OK.  Always walk in the coop being the lead bird.  Think of this like dog training.  You need to be the kind but firm leader.

I really believe, and anecdotal evidence from all my chicken friends seems to show, that whenever possible, letting our domestic chickens act like the wild foragers they are helps them to stay healthy and happy.


Comments (46)

Love this article! I'll definitely be using some of your advice with my girls(:
I have a hen that I've had to take out of the flock for cuts & bleeding wounds on her neck - she healed - I put her back - the next day she was bleeding again - these are really bad/deep gashes. Any suggestions on that?
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We keep treats next to their pen and whenever they see someone coming, they come running. The grandkids love giving them sunflower seeds and other treats, and our girls love it too :)
to Lamelde --- it sounds like you need to take her out of that flock. For some reason she is just the go to hen to bully. I have had this happen before (usually with roosters). You could separate her and find a buddy for her and potentially introduce her again when she has a buddy/ back up. Having a friend usually builds their confidence up and if they have 2 or 3 buddies on their side the one or 2 bully hens usually back off because they are out numbered and that hen has back up now. It could also be because she is different. Sad to say but chickens are extremely bigoted at times. For instance if you had 5 red hens and put in a white hen she would probably be outed. Another example is putting a polish crested in with lets say some orpingtions. They usually see the weird or difference in another chicken and gang up on them. I'm not saying all chickens will do this but 9/10 they usually out the different looking bird. I hope this helps!
Great article!
I would add that remembering that chickens are social (flock) creatures and will do better in groups than singly.
Having a good watering and feeding system helps reduce their stress. Plus, if it is efficient, you spend less time with that and have more time to enjoy your happy chickens.
What a great article! We had two of our girls eaten by a Coopers hawk so they have been kept in their closed in area instead of roaming and the egg count has really dropped, I wonder if this has anything to do with it, them being enclosed.
Also, my girls favourite treat is warm porridge with yogurt and berries.
Great article, respect the rooster, don't let him be mean, but let him do his job. Easy to follow. I do have a good rooster that protects the girls and lets us near the girls and even calls them when he sees us. Call him "Big Red" great guy and love our hens.
so very true!! and sometimes it takes awhile to learn to let them be what they are- and just step back and enjoy them- and on this one:
Or a mama hen, normally your MOST docile sweetie, become a fierce velociraptor at the merest sign of (perceived) harm to her young chicks? oh my! my sweet little cochin hen is really a force to be respected!!LOL!
Great article and good tips too. Im going to try introducing three new girls, still in the house currently in their cardboard box, when big enough to hold their own into one of my runs/coops with two four year olds neither of whom have been head girl hens. Im planning on letting them be seen but not got at for a few days bringing them in at night to the house again then if all goes well popping them in on the roosts in the dead of night.
The alternative is to introduce the two four year olds into the other run which runs along side the 'old girls" run. They are two eight year old hens one of whom is bossy. Not certain which would be the best course of action and would be keen to hear from fellow chicken enthusiasts for input, ideas and stories. Hope to hear from you.
Hello, how do you find out who wrote this (or other) articles? Just curious.
What a great article! Thanks for the info! :D
Loved this article. Its exactly what my view are about keeping chickens. People often make a lot of hard work and heartache for themselves by trying to make their chickens into little people, and worrying about every little detail too much!
Thank you for the info! This supports "my plan"- good to know I am headed in the right direction!
This is a great article!
We let our chickens out 1/2 hour before it gets dark because we have fairly close neighbors, and it always seems to work! :)
my chicks have a coop inside a big enclosed run. i let them out of their run for ME, not for them. i need them to 'clean up' my pathways in the veggie garden. 10 minutes in that area and the pathways have no more little weeds growing. amazing little cleaners those chickies!
Love the article... let chickens be chickens! :)
Loved the article! I have 3 Silkie hens, 1 year old adults that I got in January. My fantasy was to have them free roam as I sipped ice tea from the veranda. In other words pets that really didn't need me emotionally or to interact with me. I have enough (non-chickens) of those already. Hah! They moved in in January at 1 year of age. Their coop came with them so they would feel at home. Within 30 minutes they were not only "at home" they were already demanding treats and insisting that we cater to their every gastronomical whim. They now have a diurnal patter of demanding loudly to be let out at 6AM, they then run down the jungly path downhill to the "worm delight garden" and then onto "let's destroy the rye grass patch (ah, was supposed to turn into a lovely agility practice area...silly me) as a wake-up snack, then rush up at 9AM (I swear, always at 9AM almost on the dot) and demand chicken feed for a mid-morning brunch. They have taught me to rush out and obey their whims. This goes on throughout the day. They are hilarious! Between their squabbles, jealousies, their insistence that my husband and I are here to cater to them and always convinced for some very odd reason that the border collie also has treats for them too (she doesn't), I can't imagine living without them being able to do their chickeny thing. I know every one can't let their birds roam due to predators, etc. but there is something both endearing, primordial and relaxing about watching your chickens being totally in the moment and thrilled to be doing their pecking and bug finding and discovering just how much they really do think about things in their chicken way. They surprise us every day and make us rethink what dinosaurs really were like. Clearly not empty-headed! So really pleased to see an article about letting them be ... chickens.
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