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

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  1. Banriona
    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:

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    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)

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    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.)

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    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!

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  1. Elizabeth Hasse
    When my barred rocks were chicks, I used to play tug of war with them-and a hair tie. They were way too little to swallow the band, but they enjoyed trying to pull it from my grasp, at which point they would run around with it, stealing it from each other. it was the highlight of my every day!:eek::love
  2. Arnettalynn67
    Thank you for the great ideas.
  3. dunnmom
    I use one of those flip-top dishwasher baskets for baby bottle parts stuffed with salad greens or garden weeds. You can get one at Dollar Tree. I hang it on the side of the run with nylon cord at pecking level. They love it!
      Arnettalynn67 likes this.
  4. gregblackburn
    My hens go wild for cucumbers and zuchini. I just slice them in half the long way and they peck away happily. They also love any kind of melon, sunflower seeds, and clover. I try to give them vegetable scraps or sunflowers 5 or 6 days per week.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  5. Abriana
    I love coming up with new chicken toy ideas for my chickens. Thanks for adding to my idea collection!
      Arnettalynn67 likes this.
  6. FlyWheel
    Is there a prescribed length that a chicken swing should hang? The rafters on my run are 6 feet above the ground.
  7. Then I Will
    Thanks for this article!! It gave me a few new ideas and reminded me of some I had wanted to try- like the cricket tubes! I'll be browsing the discount produce stand at the local amish store for discounted veggies
      Arnettalynn67 and black_dove2 like this.
  8. Mamato6
    Great ideas! It only gets cold here for a couple weeks around Jan/Feb (and by cold I mean typically around 40*) but these are still al great ideas!
      black_dove2 likes this.
  9. BabyGirl2
    I love this article! The treat dispenser is one I'm gonna try, I think I'll fill it with cracked corn and meal worms (They'll do anything for meal worms). I've seen chicken swings for sale at the "farm" stores but didn't know they had a benifcal perpase. I gave my chickens yoguart in an icecream cone (flat bottom) and it distracted them for a good forty minutes to an hour. Is newspaper safe for the chickens if they eat it?
      black_dove2 likes this.
  10. lilapot
  11. FlyWheel
    Finally! A use for all those dead branches my oaks are always dropping! judging from their condition after laying on the ground a few day I'm sure they're stock FULL of good things!
      Arnettalynn67 and black_dove2 like this.
  12. Dorkfish
    I hung a zucchini from a string in the run this morning. So far, my girls are huddled in a corner, afraid of it. They don't appear to have much in the way of cognitive aptitude.
      lisahabe, HeatherF7, Denaya and 2 others like this.
  13. Libertyrose03
    Can you use this for chicks? can you maybe use chick food in a peanut butter holder for a toy?
      black_dove2 likes this.
  14. jak2002003
    Great ideas... my chickens like corn on the cobs.. keeps they busy for ages picking out all the kernels... also they love dry leaves scattered about to kick about.
  15. beginnergirl
    I put some compost in the chicken's exercise pen for chickens to pick out bugs. I was worried because it was gone at the end of the day... They seem okay. But all the compost is gone? It was compost that had been sitting about a year with some new veggies mixed in. Sorry to ask a beginner question, but do chickens eat dirt? They seem to like it.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  16. ChicksN Coffee
    Great ideas! Thanks so much!
  17. grammato7
    Love all the ideas. Going to try some. I have a treat dispenser that I just got the other day and a suet holder to use.
  18. Chickenlovers6
    Good article!
  19. farmgirl02
    FANTASTIC article!!!! Very well thought out and great ideas!!! Just tried a few ideas and my chickens are happy and busy. :)
      CharleneSusan likes this.
  20. Evewon
    Great article! Our girls loved Cabbage on a string! Here's a video of them playing.
    1. YayasChooks
      OmGosh! That is too funny! I'm gonna do this! Thank you.
  21. CoopChick719
    Great article!! I have a large wire cone-shaped plant holder--the kind you put a coir mat in to hold the dirt--hanging few feet above the ground in the run. I put cabbage, apples, cukes, etc. in it. The taller girls can reach the top stuff & smaller girls the bottom. Eventually it all drops to the bottom or out the sides of the planter anyway. I also have a round wire hanging basket I hang off a shepherds hook in a different part of the run for variety & to reduce squabbling. Picked up the planters half price at the end of the summer.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  22. Chickengirl64
    Thanks for all of the great ideas! For those of you who make dirt baths for your chickens - how much wood ash can you mix in safely? or can you make a "dirt" bath out of ash? (we have a wood stove). Thanks
    1. YayasChooks
      I was wondering the same thing!
  23. Daisyfern
    Great article! Thanks for the easy, fun ideas.
  24. Kleonaptra
    I never thought of this but what great ideas! Have to give some of these a try
  25. RogerTheChicken
    This is a great article
  26. AbiDeedles
    Love some of these ideas! My babies are bored already and this winter will be a long one. They got spoiled from all the interaction in the petting farm this fall and this sudden cold has them with "run fever" already.
  27. arkansas55
    awesome idea's ,thank's!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
  28. Chickenpen
    I have an small swing set that not used anymore so I think I will hang corn on the cob on it as well as a swing. Good Ideals, thanks. I have some landscaping rocks do you think they would climb on them if I stacked them in a strong stable way?
      Arnettalynn67 and black_dove2 like this.
  29. chik love
    i have to do that
  30. Chickenpen
    I never thought about it until now. I was doing some things listed here without knowing what I was doing. But I'm going to try a bunch of them. Thank You.
  31. ButtaCup
    We have several old pallets that we have standing along one end of the run that we filled with dirt and planted sprouts between the slats. All of the birds love it, chickens, ducks, geese and the new turkey.
    I can't wait to try some of these other ideas.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  32. Chicken Royalty
    Great article, our flock likes the tire , and the newspaper was a big hit..........
  33. Chris King
  34. Chris King
    Some good ideas, but nothing beats allowing chickens to live the way nature designed: free to roam - and I don't just mean in a pen. Mine spend the day in the pastures with the goats or foraging around in the house yard. No "environmental enrichment" necessary, because their natural environment is rich enough.

    Because they taste like chicken, it's essential to protect them from predators, of course; but it's amazing to watch them run and hide from aerial predators beneath the various trees and shrubs they have access to during the day. It's been a good reminder to me that they know best how to be chickens.

    I see similar physical and behavioural problems in other domestic animals (horses, dogs, cats, etc.) when we try to keep them in ways that serve our convenience rather than their needs. I don't think chicken toys are a good enough answer to bored, crowded, or otherwise stressed chickens. Again and again, nature bites me on the arse every time I think I know better...
      black_dove2 likes this.
    1. YayasChooks
      Winters here on the mountain are BRUTAL. Even wild animals that aren't in the best shape perish. My girls (& roo) will be in for the most part. I wish winters were milder here (for MANY reasons!) but since I'm living in G-d's country, I'm doing the best I can with what I've got. A 10x10'run, an 8x10'coop with LOTS of perches & ladders & logs & platforms & anything to make my 7 beautiful babies happy over the long winter.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  35. birdbrain1948
    Thanks for some creative, fun, and cheap suggestions. I can't wait to see which my girls will like the best!
  36. Terri's Chickens
    Our chicken yard has long turned to a grass-less area. When I clean the coop of the old straw (three times a year) I simply dump the old straw in the yard area in large piles. For the first several hours my chickens enjoy running up and over the large piles, then the scratching and hunting begins. Within two-three days the piles are gone, the old straw is evenly covering the ground of the chicken yard and that then promotes some green vegetation to start growing under the straw which of course is a brand new game for my chickens. Scratch the straw and find the greens growing.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  37. Dook
    I think my girls have LOTS to do already, but they are still meanies to each other...I would like to give the food toy a whirl and see how they like it =) Their usual spot is also in the mulch pile!
  38. phinux
    So much fun, and it explained a few things about why my birds behave the way they do when I'm fiddling around with their space.
  39. urbanchickenzz
    I love this! I am a little confused on the tunnel though, aren't oatmeal containers like ceral boxes? What is another example of something that would work?
  40. WindStep
    I really like this I will have to do some of these!
  41. CountryGeorge
    I have an Igloo dog house in one corner of the run. I have seen all 10 of the full sized chickens, with one or two silkies thrown in for good measure, inside the thing at once. Looks like a clown car when they all come piling out.
      black_dove2 likes this.
  42. CountryHeart06
    At what age do your chickens have to be to switch to the adult chicken toys? Mine are almost 6 weeks now.
  43. tmrutter3
    So creative & thoughtful, thank you for all of the great ideas!!!
  44. NYREDS
    Amazing. I've raised thousands of chickens over the last 54 years without providing them with a single toy. How is that possible?
      black_dove2 likes this.
    1. black_dove2
      I'm thinking free range as opposed to a run without the opportunity to do things chickens naturally do. Healthy chickies healthy eggs and meat
  45. N F C
    Very informative and lots of good ideas! I'll be trying the old CD on a string in our brooder for our new little girls. The older girls will be getting a couple of these toys too. I accidently found out how much they love compost piles one day when I went into their run and raked up leaves, hay, poo, etc...they were right behind me scratching and tearing up the pile having a great time.
    P.S. We also bought a foreclosed place and have been continually pleased with all the "treasures" left behind by previous owners. Some found things have been useful and some junk, but we love it when we can re-purpose anything.
      Arnettalynn67 and black_dove2 like this.
  46. Animals970
    Great Ideas!, I will certainly try some of these!!
  47. holm25
  48. MyPetNugget
    Fantastic article! I will definetly try some of these!
  49. hopp2it
    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!
      black_dove2 likes this.
  50. Scorpiochick
    I am so excited, Lots of great ideas here, Thank you so much, can't to try some of these out =)

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