By Jenni Morris
Jenni Morris is the Social Media Manager and Adoptions Coordinator at Goatlandia Farm Animal Sanctuary, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit helping animals, people, and the planet. Goatlandia has three locations; two sanctuaries located in Santa Rosa, CA and Sebastopol, CA, and a Vegan Kitchen in Sebastopol opening in early 2023.
For the last two years we have been in lock down, but luckily we still had the internet to watch funny animal videos, some great new tv shows, and excellent reading material. Many people that switched to working from home and have adopted rescue animals, and chickens have been gaining in popularity! We love our feathered friends dearly and only want the best for them, but how does one provide that when our birds are now the ones in lockdown due to Avian Flu and we are the ones able to travel freely? Enrichment! Our good friends at Clorofil have some of the best resources around for everything chicken, but we had to get a little creative on how to keep our birds healthy, happy, and busy. Yea
When planning for enrichment activities, keep in mind that you want to try and stimulate all of the senses. Physical or structural - add in a ladder, an upside down bucket, or something that changes their environment. Nutritional - this time of year pumpkins are everywhere, add one in as a treat and see what they carve! If you only ever feed lettuce, add in some blueberries or zucchini. Chickens enjoy variety, just like us! Social - spend a little extra time with each of your birds one on one. Talk to them and listen to what they say, chickens give great advice! Sensory - hang a mirror, disco ball, or cut out some pictures from a magazine for the coop walls. Everyone likes something new to look at. Cognitive - make your chickens think! Give them a puzzle or something they can solve.
The most important part of enrichment is to change it up! We rotate our enrichment items daily and recommend making a chart of what you use every day so you don’t repeat the item too many times in a week. Don’t be afraid to rearrange your setup in your biosecure coop, as well as adding in/taking out items! Try adding in potted gardens (microgreens are great and grow fast) you can not only give your chickens something to dig around in, they also get a healthy tasty treat. Please make sure what you plant is safe for your feathered friends to eat and that your soil is free from pesticides.
If an item doesn’t say it is for chickens, that doesn’t mean you can’t use it! Snuffle mats are all the rage for dogs right now, but our turkeys and chickens absolutely LOVE them! They will go back to it over and over again digging out all of the “hidden” treats. Best thing about it is, when it gets dirty, you can throw it in the wash! Weighted/wobble Kongs have a small hole for dog treats, but we put mealworms and scratch in ours. Our chickens will knock them around trying to get the last bit out. Even the ducks and geese love to play with the kongs.
Low on cash? Think about what you have already in your home! Stuff an empty toilet paper roll with paper and treats. These don’t last too long with our birds, but most of the time they are reusable and then compostable. Most children’s toys don’t have small pieces which can be choking hazards, but they are bright, colorful, and usually make noise. Our favorites are a kids xylophone and piano. Hang them up, sprinkle some lettuce on it, and listen to the dink dink dink as the chickens hit the keys. Once they realize it makes noise, you might not even need the lettuce on top. Our CornishX rooster loves to play new songs for us and it makes us giggle every time! Do you have an old radio? Our geese love to sing along to the hits of the 70’s! They are also big fans of classical music and 80’s hair metal. If you have an old TV or iPad you can put in the coop, children’s shows are a great to have on. You can also search YouTube for Chicken TV and there are several good “shows” your chickens will enjoy. Just please remember to turn the TV, music, and lights off at night so they can get some sleep.
Whenever adding anything new to the coop, please make sure it is under supervision at first to make sure everything is hazard free and safe. We hope you enjoyed our tips and they motivate you to get creative with your coop!