Winter Boredom Busters for Chickens

Bored chickens are not happy chickens. Bored chickens often get themselves into trouble.

Bored chickens can get cabin coop fever and often will start pecking at each other or themselves, resulting in feather loss or worse.

Bored chickens harass each other - and squabble. No different than people "cooped up" (pun intended!) in close quarters for long periods of time.

Boredom can also lead to a very bad habit called egg eating.  Once one hen discovers that what's inside an eggshell tastes good, the others often follow suit.

And I've never read anything to prove it, but I also think that boredom can result in more broodies being broody longer.

If there's nothing going on outside that they feel left out of, why NOT just sit in a nesting  box all day long?  And that's just not healthy.

Chickens need to be outside getting fresh air and sunshine and exercise - just like we do.

Winter Boredom Busters

Don't let boredom set in. It can take some doing, but chickens aren't the most complex of creatures and are pretty easily entertained.

I have never had issues with pecking between our hens, other than the occasional rap on the head that says 'hey, remember your place in the pecking order!' because I give my chickens things to do in the winter.

Naturally, boredom is more prevalent in the winter when there aren't weeds and grass to munch on, bugs to eat, butterflies to chase or dirt to bathe in and sun themselves.

Boredom pecking is more likely to happen if your coop and run are too small and the chickens don't have adequate space, so don't be stingy, let those girls have as large a run as possible, and try not to keep them confined to their coop except on the most frigid, blizzard-y days.

Of course treats help keep chickens occupied, but too many treats aren't good for them, so some non-food ideas for keeping your chickens busy during the long, cold winter months are important too.

Boredom in your chicken flock caused by being cooped up can be easily alleviated using some of these simple boredom busters.

1.  Outside Roosts, Ladders or Perches 

Chickens LOVE to hop up on things and get a "bird's eye" view. Especially when it's muddy or snowy. But really any time, a chicken will generally seek high ground if possible.

Outdoor roosts can keep them occupied, if not for hours, for at least a little while!

You can use boards, branches, ladders, any variety of things to create a multi-leveled chicken jungle gym of sorts.

2.  Stumps or other Things to Stand On

Chickens also love to hop up and stand on things. It has the added benefit of getting them up off the cold, icy ground too.

Next time you cut a tree down or lose one in a storm, cut it into a few stumps of different lengths. Lined up along the run fencing, this is a favorite area for our chickens to stand in a row and watch the world by by.

(And as added bonus, if you move the stumps periodically or turn them onto their other end, the chickens will have great fun finding the bugs the collect during the warm weather.)

Nailing a board horizontally across two stumps to make benches works well too.

Don't have any stumps, wooden crates or pallets are other options.

3.  Piles of Leaves, Straw or Hay

Try putting a pile of dried leaves, pine needles, corn stalks or even just dirt (we call it worm dirt around here!) or a bale of straw or hay in the run and see how long it takes for it to be leveled.

Chickens HATE piles!  They will scratch and kick whatever you give them until the pile is flattened.

And try tossing a few handfuls of cracked corn, sunflower seeds or scratch grains into the pile for added fun and incentive.

Great fun for the afternoon!

4.  Hang a Mirror 

Have you ever tried putting a mirror in your coop or run?

Chickens, being the preeners that they are, have a great time looking at themselves in the mirror.

Trust me on this one.

It's well worth a trip to Goodwill to pick up a cheap mirror. Just be sure it's well secured so it can't be knocked over as the girls shove each other aside to check themselves out.

(One note: if you have a rooster, you might want to pass on the mirror - many roosters wouldn't take kindly to another roo in their flock...!)

5.  Anything New and Different

Don't have a mirror or any stumps? No worries. Just find SOMETHING new to put in the run.  A rake, a stepladder, some branches or a small fallen tree (our chickens love when we put our Christmas tree in the run after we take off all the ornaments) ... anything.

The chickens will naturally come over to investigate.

6. Set up a Sheltered Dust Bath Area

Dust bathing is not only a great way for the chickens to spend an afternoon, but also a very important way that they keep parasites at bay.

If the chickens' regular bath area is covered in snow or mud, try setting up a bath in a sheltered area for them, even in a large tub or kiddie pool that you can put out for them on nice days.

7.  Supervised Free Range

Even when there's snow on the ground and it's freezing cold out, wrap yourself up in your long johns, coat and mittens and head outside to supervise some free range time.

The chickens will appreciate being able to stretch their legs, as long as there are some bare patches on the ground where they don't have to walk in the dreaded white stuff!

When we get a lot of snow, I shovel paths for the chickens and then lay down straw for them to walk on.

Fresh air is good for you both! Just be super vigilant because predators are hungry and food sources are scarce this time of year.

8.  Enlarge your Run Area

If you don't free range, or even if you do in the warm months, but can't in the winter, rethink your run area. Maybe you DON'T need that much lawn, maybe you COULD extend the fencing a bit more off to one side.

And if your run isn't covered, be sure to shovel the snow inside the run to give your chickens as much room as possible.

Providing your chickens the largest area to roam that you possibly can so they have enough space to get away for some "me" time once in awhile.

9.  Spend More Time With Them

Spending time with your chickens is so beneficial in so many ways for you both. Not only do I find it therapeutic, but it gives me time to give them all a good health checkup.

The more handing of them that you do, the easier it will be to catch and hold one when you NEED to due to illness or injury.

Also time spent with your chickens helps you understand the flock dynamic a bit better, identify any bullies (although with proper management bullies should never be a problem) and is just downright relaxing!

It's easy in the summer to spend time outdoors, but make it a point to bundle up and head to the coop for awhile each day all through the winter as well.

10.  Build them a Swing!

Chickens love to swing. Whether you build them a swing or a swinging bench, they're sure to love swinging once they get used to it.

It's super simple to make your girls a swing out of a log.

And one nice thing about swings, benches and perches is that if a chicken is being pestered, she can hop up to get out of the way and get a break from the harassment.

11.  Seed and Suet Treats 

Homemade or commercial seed blocks or suet cakes cakes can help relieve winter boredom and also provide some extra nutrition and energy on cold days.

Some of my favorite homemade winter time treats include a Seed and Nut Wreath, some Suet Cakes or a Flock Block Knockoff.

12.  Make a Lettuce Pinata 

Lettuce and cabbage heads are great wintertime snacks. You can drill a hole through them and thread a rope through to suspend it from your run roof, or simply find a tiered fruit/veggie basket from a secondhand shop or Ebay and fill it with all kinds of leafy greens!

Winter crops such as kale, collards, spinach and other leafy greens are often on sale through the winter and make a nutritious, fun treat for your chickens.

We're counting down the days until spring...but at least we know that bored chickens aren't a problem. We work hard at keeping our chickens too busy to get bored !

And if you raise ducks as well, I'm sure you're wondering what you can do to keep your ducks from getting bored.

They'll enjoy the lettuce pinata and piles of things to rummage through. Besides that, a tub of water to dunk their heads in and they'll be fine.

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  1. I totally agree with you, nothing is so much fun and relaxing as spending time with your flock. In the summertime I sit out with them while they free range and hunt for bugs, now that it's winter, and we got about 8 or more inches of snow yesterday, I just came in from making them a path to the feed bin and to a covered area we built for them where we keep corn and hay for them to eat and dig around in. Now I'm making oatmeal and cranberries for a warm treat. Poor things don't like the snow very much.

    1. No they don't. Now the ducks on the other hand! Oatmeal with cranberries sounds good!

  2. I got this idea from a person on BYC. I call it a "peck bottle". :) Take a mall plastic bottle like a soft drink bottle or gatorade bottle. (The water bottles are too soft.) You can either drill large holes (a bit hard) or use a screw driver, heated up over a (gas) burner to melt large holes in it. I make the holes big enough for sunflower seeds and feed pellets to get through. Fill it up about halfway with the sunflower/pellet mix or your scratch. The chickens then spend time pecking the bottle to get to the treats!!! It took them about a week to figure it out.

    1. Or...just put some sunflower seeds or scratch in a plastic berry box. The treats fall through the holes and it keeps them busy for hours! This was a purely non-treat post, but here are some other ideas for creative treats.

  3. I just got my chickens last week and because of the amount of snow here in eastern ontario they havent been let out of the coop. My run isnt fenced in yet and im nervous to let them out in fear i wont be able to catch them all. Will they stick around? The coop is raised so there is a bit of bare frozen ground underneath. Thanks!

    1. They won't run away and won't venture far if you let them out, BUT be aware of predators. This time of year food is scarce and your flock will be an easy meal.

    2. We make sure to check on our birds a lot when free ranging. They have been known to wander places we really don't want them. Our neighbor's house is their favorite. Lucky for us she's a great neighbor! The first time we let them free range we were so worried as to how we were going to get them back inside. But around the same time every night, they all head in without any help from us. The ducks on the other hand...

  4. Most mornings I'll go out and rake up the leaves in the run into a pile and scatter a few kitchen scraps with it. I try to do this before they get out of bed. If I did it when they where already up and about they notice where every scrap goes and hone in on it in the pile before I'm even done.

    I love the idea with the mirror and I'm going to get one today from goodwill.

  5. I never would have thought about putting a mirror in with the chickens! Brilliant!

  6. Love it! I had chickens for awhile but finally concluded that I just don't have enough space at this house--it's not fair to them. So, I am just going to have to move, that's all there is to it.

    1. I agree, Dessa, that seems to be the only solution! Good for you for putting the chickens needs first :0)

  7. Update: We got a mirror from Goodwill and hung it outside the run. The girls loved it and all was fine till the rooster noticed himself and then when all ballistic trying to attack it. Had to take it down before he hurt himself.

    1. Oh no! Very good point you make...roosters would NOT like to see another rooster. I'm putting a warning up there now. Thanks for the update...

  8. @ Dan... LOL! You have a good rooster there - ready to protect his flock (and his breeding rights). Yes - perhaps mirrors work best in hen-only flocks.

    @Lisa - great post and some super ideas! You're so right - Throwing hay, old leaves left over from last fall, grass clippings and such in the run is not only a blast for the chickens, but also great for conditioning the soil of the run. Win/Win!

    Natural Chicken Keeping

  9. sometimes I hang a cabbage or a head of iceberg lettuce or an apple and they have a ball with it!

  10. In regards to the horseback riding.....I have a friend that's chickens love to ride around on her miniature donkey and her goats. It is so funny. Thanks for your tips. I am definitely going to try them!!!

  11. In regards to the horseback riding.....I have a friend that's chickens love to ride around on her miniature donkey and her goats. It is so funny. Thanks for your tips. I am definitely going to try them!!!

  12. Great tips :) Love the mirror! Thanks so much for sharing this on The Creative HomeAcre! I can't wait to see what you share next time at...

  13. thanks for the advice. I piled hay up and in just a few minutes there wasn't a pile, of course they played king of the hill for the first few minutes. Then put a pile of dirt in and off they went to check it out to take their dirt bath. A chicken coop is better than an a aquarium!

  14. I was wondering how large your chicken run was?

    1. Our run is about 1600 square feet. Using some materials we had and fencing that was already up, I think it cost about $400 to build and it SO worth the peace of mind that the girls are safe and have plenty of room.

  15. Hi, I'm new here, just loving these discussions. Gee, what do you do about dirt bathes in the winter with so much rain outside.? Inside the coop I have been told needs clean air for them to breath well at night. With a dirt bath inside it will make the air dusty..and their resptory issues would not take a liking to that...any ideas?

  16. We just started keeping hens this past spring. They are now our beloved pets. Last weekend we cleaned out the pen and run and put down all new hay. Well the hay had tons of sprouts. The girls went nuts. Great little treat for them and what a surprise.

  17. i got a out of the horse and chickens just because every time we go into the barn the chinkens are roosting on the horses back😂