How to Keep Your Chickens Happy: A Chicken Owner’s Adventures

| 9/14/2020 9:52:00 AM

Chickens Pecking Flax Jar

Gertie (left) and Anna (right) peck a jar to spill out the flaxseeds inside. Photo credit: Wendy Chamberlin.

If chickens were as unintelligent as their reputation suggests, keeping them happy might be simpler. Popular culture, however, is misleading. Chickens learn not just from experience, but from watching each other and the humans who take care of them. They require frequent novelty and engage in cannibalism when bored.

I suspect free-range chickens demand less attention because they can better amuse themselves. Unfortunately, they also have a lower life expectancy. Ours, safely confined to a coop and run, need a lot of entertainment. As a bonus, keeping them busy entertains us, too.

Here’s an abridged list of the experiences to which we’ve subjected our chickens in the name of entertainment:

Home Renovations

We made a chicken swing out of a sturdy branch, but the ladies kept falling off. (Our friends in Charlottesville tell us their flock likes their swing, so your mileage may vary.) We sometimes give them a peanut butter jar full of flaxseeds with holes drilled in the sides, which spills treats as they roll it around the pen. After we mow, we dump grass clippings into the run, raking them into heaps because all chickens share an ancestral grudge against piles and will destroy them by any means necessary. This wanton destruction gives them something to do. We gave them a rotten apple that they rolled like an edible soccer ball; and, once, a xylophone, around which they gathered with the solemn puzzlement of anthropologists discovering an alien artifact, occasionally pecking it and making it ring through the hot afternoon.

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