Many people out there long to have our feathered clucking friends, but may not be able to free range the flock as most people are able to do. Because of this many people end up not getting chickens because they think the flock will be unhappy if they don't have access to a large yard... Well that couldn't be any more untrue! I know from experience your chickens can still have the time of their lives even without access to a big yard. This article will discuss what you can do to keep a happy and healthy flock without free ranging.
Let's Talk About the Coop
First off, let's talk about the coop. This is the most essential part when not free ranging your flock since they will be spending all their time in there. The first thing to think about is how much space you will need in your coop. The rule of thumb for this should be at least 10 square feet per chicken in the run and 6 square feet per bantam in the run. If you are able to add more room than this though, go for it! The more room you have the happier your chickens will be! Another important part of your coop will be the roof to your coop/run. The roof should be able to protect your chickens from all the weather elements (rain, snow, hail, etc.) so they can enjoy time in the run even when the weather is not the best. Lastly, you need to be sure you have good flooring in your coop and run. What I found most works effectively is river sand. It provides your flock with a dust bath, added grit from the natural pebbles, and the sand soaks up any moisture from the chickens droppings making it very easy to clean and very sanitary for the flock. In addition, you chickens should have access to both sun and shade in your run, so they can choose if they want to bask in the sun or take a nap in the shade.
Decorate That Run
Next, when your planning to get chickens who don't free range, you have to think about what you will add to the run to keep your flock occupied.
Putting a ladder in your run will provide enjoyment for both you and your chickens as you watch them happily jump and play on each rung.
Keeping a mirror in your run will give your flock lots of entertainment as they encounter their mimicking twin in the reflective surface.
Tree stumps in your chicken run are a great idea when keeping your chickens occupied. Not only do the chickens like jumping and playing on the stumps but they provide hours of enjoyment for you flock as they peck through the wood to get the tasty bugs who burry in there.
It may sound simple, but by just throwing a big pile of hay in your run, your chickens will spend a long time picking through the hay and scattering it around the run.
Many people have a dust bath for their flock regardless of if they free range or not. By just having a box with some dirt/sand, your chickens will have lots of fun rolling around in the dust, not only is this enjoyable for your flock but also helps them rid any parasites that may be on them.
By putting a chair or bench in your run, your chickens can be able to jump and play on them and provides you with a place to sit when visiting your flock.
It may sound silly, but it's possible your chickens could enjoy a little chicken swing! These can be purchased, but I recommend making your own with a large stick and some rope/chain to make sure your chickens would like a swing before paying money to buy another one.
Add roosts to your chicken run to provide places for your chickens to perch.
After you have decorated your run with some enjoyable items, it's time to provide your flock with some toys. A lot of these are food based though, so be sure to give them to your chickens in moderation.
Flock blocks can be made at home or purchased at your local feed store. These blocks usually last a while while your chickens spend time picking at the scratch.
-Chicken Teather Ball
These can provide lots of entertainment for your chickens when the hit and try to eat the yummy treat that's hanging from the roof of their run. These can usually be made by putting a food, such as a head of lettuce, corn, or an apple with the core removed, on a rope or chain and hanging it from the top of your run so your chickens can play.
Like the flock blocks, these can be purchased or made on your own. The idea of this is to dispense scratch or treats as your chickens kick it around. You can make your own by using an empty water bottle and adding a few small holes to it, big enough that your treat can fit through, and then filling it with your choice of treat.
You heard me right. Spaghetti. Boil some Spaghetti noodles, and even add some food dye to them to make it even more fun. Then after that, hang or place then around your run for your chickens to play and peck at.
An easy simple way to keep your chickens entertained is by throwing a handful of scratch into the run for your chickens to find.
To send your chickens on a game of chase, take a paper towel tube with some crickets in it that your caught or got from a pet store, and set it in your run. When the crickets hop out, your chickens will chase them until they are able to snatch one of the little buggers up for themselves.
This is especially nice on hot summer days. This can be acomplished by freezing fresh fruit into water for your chickens to pick through so that they can receive a piece of sweet fruit.
-Cocconut Oil Treats
These are a favorite of mine since Cocconut oil is very good for your chickens. You can make these by filling individual cupcake tins with melted Cocconut oil, and putting some tasty treats into the tins. (Scratch, dried meal worms, grass blades, etc.) Then these can be frozen and given to your hens.
The Final Touches
Lastly, we will discuss the little things you can do to ensure your chickens enjoy their time in their coop. The first thing you probably are already doing if you have chickens is to have food always available for your flock. Some chicken owners feed their chickens a certain amount of food at certain times to see how much for they are getting, but by keeping feed always out and available for your chickens, it will occupy more of their time since they spend a lot of time eating.
Last but not least, we will talk about something you should do regardless of if you free range or not. Spend time with your flock! Make time to hang with your chickens, playing with them, holding them or just watching them. Time with your flock will stimulate your flocks mind and you will be able to establish a closer bond with your chickens.
In conclusion, yes it is very possible to keep happy and healthy chickens without free ranging. It may require a little extra work and effort, but it will all be worth it for our feathered clucking friends! Thank you for taking the time to read my article, and please leave a comment if you have any questions. Thank you!
(Photos from Tilly's Nest and Fresh Eggs Daily)