How To Keep Your Flock Happy

What? Keep your chickens happy? They are, after all, well... CHICKENS!
By dldolan · Feb 21, 2012 · Updated Mar 27, 2012 · ·
  1. dldolan
    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.

    Roaming: 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.

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  1. JudysMuscovy
    I totally agree. My chickens are so happy and healthy. They have a huge coop and pen for just 6 adult birds and I let them roam the yard when I or my husband is home and you can tell they love it. When they see me coming they pace the fence cause they want out. If I can I do but feel like I do not want to take the chance if I am gone all day.
      CityslickerHomestead likes this.
  2. LindaMurphy
    Excuse my spelling. To tired to go through and correct LOL
  3. LindaMurphy
    I really enjoyed your article. I am pleased that I am doing it right. My chickens are let out at 6am and go back in at sunset. As long as I leave my dog out with them they should be safe from the coyotes. Hawks I still need to watch out for but the chickens hide under my trailer where the water drains out so they are under cover most of the time. At least until I come out then I feel like mother hen with her chicks at her heals. My little crested polish is a bit lonely because he lost his mate but he seems to be getting along ok. I am looking for a young polish female for him, two would be even better. He is a sweet little guy and will do well with a flock I think. My other chickens are 2 Americanas 2 New Hampshire Red hens and 1 RIR roo.. The Americanas get along with the Elvis my crested polish better than the Reds. One of my girls is very protective of all the other chickens. She seems to keep the peace with everyone. I can't wait till I actually start getting eggs. I also have a couple Buff Orpinton ducks. Funny little things. My young duck has made a nest and has laid 7 eggs so far. She does not seem to want me to mess with her eggs so I'm going to leave her alone and see what she does. It's Dracula and Buffy. My grand daughter named them. They are actually her ducks but live here with me. I enjoy playing with them when they are in their pool. They love to be showered.
      Pawpawchick likes this.
  4. One Chick Two
    Great Article!
  5. ellie32526
    Thank you for such down to earth advice! I plan to do just that - let my chickens be chickens. I bought some baby chicks years ago and was not prepared to properly care for them. They all died, I was devastated. But now years later I am determined I will not kill these. I have a beautiful storage shed we bought at Home Depot that we are modifying to house our flock and keep them safe. I am carefully selecting the breeds and learrning how to care for them before I order them.
  6. RangingChicks
    Great article :) Thanks for spending the time to put it together
  7. clyde6021
    Hello i'm new here and new raising ckickens. Can someone help me out on this site and help me learn more about my chickens. I've been getting eggs for about 1 month now. I just need someone to talk to if i'm raising my chicken right. Thanks clyde
    Loved the article! When we recently had a week-long power outage we spent a good deal of our time sitting on the porch observing the little flock doing chickeny things. Better than TV! We learn something new about chickens every day.
  9. TallChickMagnet
  10. chickencutie193
    I understand the pecking order, and i have been putting extra feeders out and letting them do their thing, and i think they are done. But now ALL of them are just pecking ONE chicken, and i am not sure if this is because she is the lowest rank according to the pecking, or if they are just being mean. i have been protecting her, but i am wondering is this all just because of the pecking order? should i be worried?Or should i just wait for them to stop? i'm concern that this could turn into a bigger problem. what should i do?
  11. bugster88
    My 3 Rhode Islands are spoiled beyond belief and still whine when I don’t come to their beck and call! I think they have me trained more than the other way around. Does anyone else girl’s needs to make a loud announcement once they have laid an egg? Is that typical? I think I need to remind them that they are chickens every now and then. I do love them and appreciate that they are amazing layers with 19 eggs a week on average
  12. maggs470
    I love this article and the comments that go with it!! BYC really helped me when I started to research raising chickens. Now, 4 weeks after making that decision, my little brood is healthy, happy, and absolutely my FAVORITE animals--don't tell my dogs that! LOL My husband frequently "catches" me falling asleep in front of the brooder we set up in the laundry room and my kids think I've got chickens on the brain...and I honestly don't care! LOL I LOVE LOVE LOVE being a chickie momma!!
  13. bucksbiddies
    Learn something new every time I log on.Can't let my" ladies" roam free as we have two young fox kits living nearby. So, in their yard they stay. Your info as to their likes and dislikes is so very handy to know. Thank You All
  14. Cackleberry Farm
    Yes, there really is such a thing as chicken math! When starting my last flock, I started out with the plan of getting eight. Just hens, no rooster. Then my dad suggested that if I got more hens I could sell the eggs to pay for their food. Okay, not a bad idea. Add nine more chicks. Then my mom sent me an email from a fellow 4-H leader. Friendly roo needs a new home. Add a rooster. Now I had 18 birds!
    Now with my current flock, I started out to get just six (and only 6!) bantam hens. Then I found out I could only get strait run bantam chicks from my local supplier. Okay, better get 10, just in case I get a lot of roosters. Only ended up with 2 roosters, plus my friendly roo I already had decided he did not like the new home I found him (he is only half bantam and I thought he would be too big for my little girls) and wandered his way back. I found him crowing on my front lawn less than a week later! He is now happily presiding over my little flock on banty hens. Now the question is, what to do with the two banty roos? They are very friendly so far!
  15. RIRMOM
    Yes, great article...Our Rooster and Hen have a fenced off part of the yard which is their own(25'X30') and also has their coop in, but also, 3-4 times a week they get to roam around the rest of the completely fenced in yard and vegetable garden. They love it! Then, they go back into their enclosure when I call them (here Betty-boo, here Zeuster a few times) as they know that they get treats at that time....usually corn on the cob, yogurt or some type of greens. They were easy to train and as long as you are consistent(yes, like training a dog), they aren't as dumb as some folks try to say....Love our birdies!!
  16. ochristian
    I love this great newsletters ... great infor
  17. TallChickMagnet
  18. ald
    The best $80 I ever spent was on a timed coop door opener/closer. add-a-motor d-20. So if you are busy, sick or on vacation, the coop door still opens like clock-work at whatever time you set, and then closes after dark, or whenever you set it. I did this to keep the hens inside in the morning to get the laying done in the "right place," and then to free range them all day. They all go back in at dusk. 2 roosters and 9 hens, mostly Rhode Islands, with some Plymouths. I am lucky I have no nasty predators (so far) so the chickens get to run around my yard all day. They eat all the weeds and grasses, so I threw away my weed-killer and sold my lawn mower. I am pretty sure that the chickens eat termites and ants so I can dispense with more chemicals and go totally green. I feed em organic laying crumbles, plus treats. Happy and healthy birds! Joy!
  19. Pamelas liladys
    Response to Dracoe and Lamelde. I had Brahma chickens in the pen with, rhode Island Reds, easter eggers, cookoo marans, wyandottes. The Brahmas were getting their feathers plucked out . When I first noticed it is when one hen was really bare of feathers. She died in a day or two after I first saw her back nearly bare. Thisput me down to 2 Brahma chickens now. These two are getting feathers plucked out. The Brahmas have feathers on their legs. This makes them different. None of the other of the chicks are getting pluck. I do have someone who is going to take the Brahmas who does not have other chickens. They will soon be safe from my bigot chickens. They were not raised to be this way. I can say I have conquered my rooster to some kindness. He knows that if he is ugly to me or the chicks he will go in what I tell him is chicky jail. (a dog night cage). He does not like chicky jail and therefore has become quite a bit better than he used to be. Folks Chicky Jail works if you start it early, at the first signs of nastyness.
  20. debbeautiful
    My little bantam chickens can't free range unless I'm within 5 feet of them because we have too many neighborhood hawks, so to keep them busy during the day in their pen, we use straw for bedding, then sprinkle millet or wheat across the straw so that it sinks into the crannies. They'll spend all day scratching around looking for the treats.
  21. 1Rooster
    I have always used a treat to get mine to come when called have done that to put them in pen if we are leaving in mid afternoon ect... HOWEVER yesterday happened to look out window and here comes 2 coyote' s ran outside with my dog and a slice of wheat bread
    started calling and they ALL came a running to the pen friends used to laugh at me for doing that but is well worth them laughing saved them yesterday for sure!!
    I do go out once in awhile to just call and give a treat so they don't just associate they will be locked in
  22. Roxannemc
    Love this aritcle!
  23. somadlyinlove
    agree 100% great job!
  24. dldolan
    Hi There!
    Thank you all for your lovely comments. I am glad that many of you found my article helpful. Chickens are amazingly resilient, and although there may be some really wrong ways of raising them, there are many just fine ways as well. This shorty article outlines my personal philosophy. I find chickens relaxing, despite all the work, and my chooks' little noises soothing, and I actually like my rooster's deep crow and "come get this great treat, girls" calling. And mama hen makes the best noises to her new chickies. Hmm...wonder if I could charge money for people to de-stress in the coop? "Serenity Coop" hour or "Yoga in the Coop", anyone?? :)
    To those who have asked me questions (sorry about being slow to respond; i was traveling and my phone died) here are notes below:
    t/m: I have no idea! I just was notified by an administrator that they were using my writing submission on the main page!
    LameldeL: I agree with Dracoe. I support the "buddy" and the "overwhelm the mean one by sheer numbers" theory as well!
    In fact...
    Mayroad, this would apply in your situation as well. I can't tell how old your "box" bird are, but with my new chicks, here is what I do. I have the chicks in a place the "old" flock can see them (I have a separate "grow out" coop with a small fenced yard within the free-range space my older birds use. That was they all see each other. When the "kids" are about 10 weeks old, I put my friendly RIR hen in with them for an hour. Then maybe two hours, then I add another friendly cochin. (Mind you, these two hens are not juvenile haters, and won't spend all their time trying to peck the kids into the ground. They are basically overwhelmed by the numbers of delinquents, actually!! :) At around 12 weeks, I'll start letting the kids out into the free range big area, with 2-3 adult hens. Then pretty soon everybody goes out together. As they have always "seen" each other, this seems to work pretty well, and there are too many kids for the older birds to just single out one. (Six to ten, usually. That way I can keep what I want for my flock and sell the other pullets.)
    *Note on roosters (yes, again!): Watch carefully. My dude is very kind to babies, but I know others are not. I will have to post the picture of him dust bathing with JR the other day! My dude is a pretty big Marans roo, and JR is a 4 week-old Bantam Mottled Cochin! Hysterical!
    New hens would probably garner a lot of rooster attention, thus creating jealousy in the "old" hens. Watch for trouble!
  25. California_chickie
  26. BonniesFarm
    I allow the grown hens out (over a year old) to roam around the yard while I work outside. This way I can keep an eye on them and enjoy them while I work. Bonnie (the head chicken: large and in charge) is very vocal when she doesn't get to have "outside time". She insists upon it every day, but we have chicken hawks, so I only allow her and Blue to roam when I am able to be outside with them. I find it delightful to just sit down on an old log and watch them roam. They are having the time of their lives and are smart enough to stay near me and will eventually follow me around the property as I work my way through taking care of everything else.
  27. laul28
    Nice article. I agree. Let chickens be chickens
  28. FeelingStupid
    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.
  29. Chickiee
    Love the article... let chickens be chickens! :)
  30. joypeters
    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!
  31. onlyme8
    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! :)
  32. EggTooth
    Thank you for the info! This supports "my plan"- good to know I am headed in the right direction!
  33. jak2002003
    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!
  34. <3 N.C Chicken Chick <3
    What a great article! Thanks for the info! :D
  35. t/m
    Hello, how do you find out who wrote this (or other) articles? Just curious.
  36. mayroad
    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.
  37. artsyrobin
    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!
  38. gram of five
    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.
  39. Grey's
    Also, my girls favourite treat is warm porridge with yogurt and berries.
  40. Grey's
    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.
  41. BellevueOmlet
    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.
  42. gickelvolk
    Great article!
    I would add that remembering that chickens are social (flock) creatures and will do better in groups than singly.
  43. dracoe19
    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!
  44. rpenland
    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 :)
  45. BYC Project Manager
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  46. lamelde
    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?
  47. ClassicalHens
    Love this article! I'll definitely be using some of your advice with my girls:)

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