Friday, 20 March 2009

Keeping Chickens Entertained

Paul Scott : "Hi Gina Many thanks for your newsletter - it's great to see all the different stories that your readers send in.

I'm Paul, a relative newcomer compared to some of your readers. My wife Jo, and daughters Kayleigh (9) and Shannon (7) love our chickens. I bought six young laying hens last year and after about 2 months we were all truly pleased to find them gradually start to produce eggs. I had heard somewhere that the egg colour is not connected to the breed of bird - ha. We have two Warrens (laying golden eggs), 2 Bluebells (laying slightly purple/brown eggs), 1 White Star (massive white eggs) and 1 Black Rock (smaller darker brown eggs). The plan was to have them laying eggs for a couple of years, and then replace them (i.e. have them for dinner whilst bringing in new ones). Unfortunately, our girls gave names to the chickens as soon as I brought them home and any mention of eating them brings tears to their eyes...I guess that's one subject we'll tackle in a couple of years time!

Our coop is a converted dogs kennel, a stone building for nesting and roosting and a large run for them to scratch around in. They all seem pretty content, and have put on a pretty decent weight over the past 6 months. However, recently (and this is one of my reasons for writing) two of the hens (black rock and bluebell) have started to lose feathers around their "saddle" area - I believe that's the correct terminology. I've tried to read up on the subject but cannot find any reason (or cure) for this. I'm presuming that they are being bullied by some of the more dominant hens but when watching them in the run I don't see any evidence for this. Any suggestions?

Keep up the good work.

Kindest regards Paul
Ps - the chickens are called Clucky, Mylie, Hannah, Sandy, Penny and Lily"

Often missing feathers around the saddle area can indicate an over attentive rooster, but as these are all laying hens that is obviously not very likely :-)

There are several reasons why hens can peck at each other (beyond the usual pecking order scuffles) things like overcrowding, boredom and nutritional deficiency (methionine). If there is no pecking going on then it might even be lice or mites causing the feather loss. In past issues of the newsletter I have covered different aspects of feather loss a few times, but I don't think I have ever given any suggestions for boredom - and that can be one of the most fun things to do for your chickens.

The things they most enjoy are free-ranging to find food, so things that emulate that are quite good fun for them. It is not always practical for chickens to free range very much so setting up a few little 'challenges' inside their coop or pen can be a good way to keep them occupied. Really it is a case of experimenting and finding out what particular challenges your girls (and boys) enjoy the most. One quite popular idea is hanging a whole cabbage or lettuce or apple etc. from a pole or from the coop off the ground (if using string it should not be too long to minimise any chance of entanglement). Or how about something with bugs in (such as a clump of earth and grass which they can enjoy picking apart). The possibilities are endless :-)

Bev Wagar : "I made the girls a 'pecksicle' - a suet feeder fastened to a stick, filled with peckable stuff like cabbage, lettuce, carrots, apple. These are foods they have trouble with, since their beaks have to peck out little bite-sized chunks, and the stuff will roll away as they peck. These ones also fight over this stuff.

The 'pecksicle' lets them peck from all directions (less fighting!). The food stays clean, and the girls stay entertained all day."

(In the photo they're gobbling down their yogurt treat, so are ignoring the pecksicle.)


Anonymous said...

This is great. Your chickens look so happy! I like the cabbage idea and will have to do that for our chooks (as chickens are called in New Zealand).

Anonymous said...

Love these ideas. Also suggest putting tree branches in the run if it is large enough. I have a "swing" in the coop but the girls don't like it. So...I drill a hole through a cabbage, thread a nylon cord through it and hang it from the swing. Four hens devour it in a day!

Anonymous said...

For the person that puts straw in her hen boxes, I use sawdust, every morning I use a kitty litter scoop to clean the chicken poo out and then my eggs are nice and clean! I use wood shavings on the floor which absorbs the poo really well , then when I clean I put it in a compost pile for the garden.
Coleen from Clearwater, Kansas

Unknown said...

I suspend my cabbage by pushing a large knitting needle through it ~ easy & the point of the needle is not so sharp as to cause a risk of injury to the chickens.

Anonymous said...

I let my 4 out to water, garden and pull weeds with me. They follow me around the yard scratching and looking for bugs.