How to Keep Your Chickens Happy When You Can't Free Range

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

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

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.


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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