October 3, 2016

Keep Your Chickens Happy When You Can't Free Range


I can't let my chickens free range. Can you?

Keeping your chickens happy when they can't free range.

There are many risks in free ranging your birds: stray dogs, coyotes, foxes, hawks and more. My birds are in constant danger, mostly from coyotes but also from hawks. We even have bobcats in the area.

This post was sponsored by Chicken Coop Guides.

Some of you have safe backyards, with high fences to keep out critters and stray dogs. But if your flock is in danger like mine is, your chickens are probably confined to a coop and run, at least when you're not outside keeping a protective eye on them.

The hens have eaten and scratched up all the grass, and now have bare dirt. It's important to provide entertainment for confined chickens.

Do you feel sorry for your birds like I do? I see photos on other blogs of chickens wandering in grassy yards searching for tasty bugs to eat and I regret that mine have bare dirt in their run. It started out with grass but the hens have scratched up all the roots and now it's just dirt.

Because my girls are confined to the chicken coop and run all the time, I try to keep them as happy as possible. Here are some tips and ideas that might help you too.

Start with a great coop


Chicken Coop Designs carries plans you can use to build your own backyard chicken coop no matter how many hens you have. There are a wide range of styles and sizes in the book so you can choose the one that will work best for you. The plans include a complete list of materials to make shopping at the lumber yard easy (this is important to my husband), step-by-step instructions and detailed illustrations. Information on insulating and lighting your coop, ventilation, protection from weather and predators, and more topics is included too.


Build a backyard chicken coop.
Chicken coops can be built in a variety of styles and sizes to fit your flock.

Inside their book "DIY Chicken Coops" you'll even find plans for a mobile chicken coop (also called a chicken tractor) that you can move around your backyard, which would be a great solution for confined chickens. You could move the chicken coop every day or two to give your hens a change of scenery, new grass to nibble, and to fertilize your lawn.

Build a mobile chicken coop or chicken tractor for your backyard chickens.
A mobile chicken coop


In the chicken run


To keep my hens entertained I piled some large rocks in their run where bugs could hide. My hens enjoy searching for the bugs as well as playing King of the Hill on top of the rocks. I moved a fallen tree branch into the run that they can perch on, and they've been pecking at bugs in the bark of the branch. Every so often I move the branch to a new spot; it usually has pill bugs underneath that set the rooster calling to his hens to "come and get it!"

A pile of large rocks is a fun place to hunt for bugs - keeping your chickens happy.

I even made a chicken swing in the run by tying a branch to the roof supports with rope. Granted, I haven't seen a single hen use it, but it's there if they want to.

Even the chickens have a great view - how to keep your chickens happy.
Even the chicken run has a great view!

Dust bathing is an important chicken pastime. My hens scratched out a depression in the hard dirt, so I filled it with sand and soft dry dirt. It's their favorite hangout spot in the afternoon.

We covered the top of the run with shade cloth so the chickens have shade on hot summer days and some protection from rain.

Provide some extras inside the coop


The perch in front of our coop's large window is a favorite spot where the chickens like to sit and watch for me to come feed them or bring them a treat.

Keep your backyard chickens happy.

A mirror hung at chicken-height inside the coop is a fun boredom buster. We used an unbreakable mirror made to hang in bird cages.

Treats and goodies are a good way to keep boredom at bay, as long as you don't overdo it. Ours really enjoy corn cobs and melon rinds, beef and pork bones with bits of meat on them, and weeds I pull from the garden. A head of cabbage or lettuce hung with string keeps them entertained until the food is gone.

Change things around


Rearranging the coop and yard occasionally will make old things seem new again and might unearth a few bugs too.

How to keep your hens happy.

Start with the basics: a chicken coop that will protect your chickens from the dangers of predators and the elements. Then keep them entertained with objects as simple as a homemade swing or a pile of rocks to keep them happy and contented.



Disclosure: This post was sponsored by Chicken Coop Guides
The opinions in this post are my own and have not been influenced 
by Chicken Coop Guides and/or any other parties.



This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops
and was featured at The Homestead Blog Hop.


~~~~~

My hope is to inspire you, and to encourage your homesteading plans and your dreams of a simple, self-reliant, God-dependent life. You can follow me at:
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26 comments:

  1. What fantastic ideas! I can imagine it must be fun to watch them try to corral that lettuce hanging above.

    Thank you for visiting us on this week's Maple Hill Hop!

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    1. Daisy, it is fun to watch them play tetherball with a hanging lettuce or cabbage. Thank you for hosting the hop and for visiting!

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  2. It's so late, need to get to bed but wanted to say hello. Have great deal to tell you about our chickens and their environment in our back yard. You certainly have some lovely chickens, how many? We have 5. Going to subscribe to your blog so I don't forget where I found you. Have wonderful rest of Fall week

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    1. Thank you for stopping by. I hope you'll come back and visit! We have 8 hens and a rooster. Have a lovely week!

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  3. We had free range chickens for years...it definitely has its downside.
    Chickens are in our future, but we will have a coop, even if it is movable, they will not be free ranging.

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    1. Free-ranging does have its downsides. I hope chickens aren't too far off in your future, Sandra.

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  4. We tried raising chicken just once....we really had no idea what we were doing, so it was a one time endeavor. It wasn't for me...but our daughter quite enjoyed them...she thought they were pets.

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    1. Deborah, do you think you'll give it a try again?

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  5. I don't have chickens but my cousin does. It is such a restful things to listen to chickens in the yard. I guess I should qualify that with "when they are in a quiet mood."

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    1. Chickens can certainly be noisy, Kim, especially after laying an egg or if they're squabbling. I think they can rival a rooster! But it is so peaceful to watch them peck and scratch. We call it "chicken tv."

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  6. Great info! One of my goals for our little plot of land is to have chickens. I will be saving this for the future.

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    1. Thank you, Kim, I'm glad it is helpful. Good luck!

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  7. You take great care of your chickens. We used to have chickens and I do miss them. I have never thought of hanging up a head of cabbage, that's a great idea!

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    1. It's fun to watch them play "tetherball" with the cabbage, Amanda. :-)

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  8. Great ideas! We started out free ranging our chickens this year, but we were just losing too many. They have a decent-sized "pasture" area, but I still feel bad having them locked up after they had free reign of the yard.

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    1. It is hard to "lock them up," isn't it, Alicia? But they're safer that way.

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  9. I've heard they love mirrors... we've never had to worry too much about our flock being bored. We do have the blessing and joy of 14 rural acres for them to free-range and two guard dogs who keep an eye on them, plus a great rooster who is always on the look out for his ladies... but I love the little mobile coop if I needed one. :-)

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    1. That cute little mobile coop seems like the best of the two worlds combined, doesn't it? New scenery and grass every day or so, but the chickens are kept safe from predators.

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  10. Hi! Your chickens are beautiful! What a great bunch of ideas to add pleasure to their lives!

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    1. Thank you, Gigi. My poor girls are molting, so it's nice to hear that they still look good.

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  11. First off, I'm so glad I'm not the only one a little distraught over not being able to let the chickens free-range. We also have owls, hawks, coyotes, possums, raccoons, and neighborhood dogs that make us worry about the hens' safety. So, they are coop-ed up with a run. I was worried if it was cruel, but hearing your tips and knowing that we're already doing some of those things makes me feel better. You also gave me some ideas of what else I can do to make the girls a little less bored. Thank you!

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    1. You're so welcome. I'm glad it affirmed that you are on the right track and gave you some new ideas. With chickens, change is a good thing so just keep switching things up to keep them from getting bored.

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  12. Your post is so informative wish I have some space so that I can have few chicken in my backyard.

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    1. I'm sorry you can't have chickens, Swathi. Maybe at some point in the future you'll be able to.

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  13. Before we had our chickens I thought they would stay in the (large) coop all the time. Now we enjoy letting them out for a little bit almost every day. Sometimes it's just for 10 minutes, other times it's for closer to hours. They love it!

    This post (and many of yours) would be perfect for the Waste Less Wednesday Blog Hop. It is a collection of environmentally friendly posts (homesteading, sustainability, zero waste, recycling, etc). This week's is live now: http://www.skipthebag.com/2016/10/waste-less-wednesday-blog-hop-101216.html

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    1. Katy, I love watching chickens scratch around in the yard too, and I've tried it several times. The losses are too great though. We're just "too wild" out here.

      I've already been over to join your linky party this morning. :-)

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