If you’ve ever watched chickens, it’s clear to see that they are both curious and active. Chickens will come to check out almost anything new that doesn’t scare them and they do play. In fact, if you want a peaceful and pleasant time in the ranging pens, it’s best to give them plenty to do. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to keep a few homestead chickens entertained. All you need are a few household items, some tasty produce trimmings, and consideration for what chickens like to do all day.
Set Up a Daily Care Routine
The most interesting thing that happens in the days of most chickens is a visit from a human. Simply going about your regular business cleaning the pens, filling food and water supplies, and gathering eggs is a reasonable amount of activity for your average hen. While new activity is always entertaining, chickens do best when they mostly know what to expect, where to be to get fed, and how to behave when you’re in the pen. By making your chicken chores a daily schedule, you can keep your chickens interested and ensure that you never forget a round of feeding, cleaning, and gathering.
Build a Few Dust Baths
Chickens love to play in the dust and it’s not just recreational. This is their way to stay clean, dry, and bug-free. The good news is that like most things that chickens need, dust baths are incredibly easy to make. In fact, the best reason to make intentional dust baths is to ensure that your chickens don’t try to claw up the yard to make their own. Dust baths can be made from boxes, lined pits, clean kitty litter pans, old tires, or anything else that can hold a mix of dry dirt and fine sand. Set a few around the pens so more than one chicken can dust bathe at once.
Make Food-Based Toys
Chickens are not complex but they are excellent at cleaning up kitchen scraps. Fruit and vegetable trimmings are especially enjoyable and can be quickly turned to chicken entertainment. Produce skewered and tied to the fence or the ceiling of the coop can be happily pecked at for hours while a toy with holes can dispense tiny chicken treats after a bit of lively pecking and chasing. Chickens enjoy any opportunity to peck, run, and eat at the same time so get creative with your food-based chicken toys.
Create a Compost Pile
Chickens love to peck and search for little bits of food and nothing is more fun for a homestead chicken than a compost pile. Building a compost pile serves multiple purposes for chickens. Searching entertains them, they get food variety from insects and scraps. Keeping your chickens happy can be as easy as building your compost pile in their pen.
Perches and Hiding Spots
Chickens are both playful and adventurous, to a reasonable extent. They like to overlook each other on perches and hide and take naps in little tunnels. These can be made out of almost anything from packing crates to punched-out oatmeal containers. Just give your chickens a dynamic landscape to explore and they will play on it every day.
Build a Swing
Give your chickens a way to exercise and get their feet up off the ground with a swing. This will build their muscles for sitting with more stability on roosts and laying nests. Cheap tire swings can be very popular with homestead chickens.
Whether you have five hens or thirty, it’s important to keep all of your chickens reasonably entertained. This promotes health, activity, and good behavior among the flock. With even a few of these ideas, your birds will be distracted, delighted, or comfortably asleep most of the day. For more great homesteading tips and fun, contact us today!
Raising chickens is fairly simple; however, the cold winter months can be a challenge for most homesteaders. In most cases, egg laying decreases with the chilly temperatures. But with a little preparation, it can be a lot easier to keep your chickens healthy and laying eggs. Here are some tips to help you take care of your chickens in the wintertime.
1. Provide Water All Winter Long
The most important thing for healthy chickens in the wintertime is to keep the water from freezing as much as you can. Hens that don’t have water for 12 hours may not be able to lay eggs for as much as two weeks. You can buy a heated waterer for your chickens or just add warm water to melt the ice layer away from the top. To keep their water as accessible as possible, use these tips:
- Place the water bucket inside an old tire. This will keep ice from forming around the bucket. Also, it may even hold in the heat of the day better. Believe it or not, your chickens will learn how to climb up onto the tire to get a drink. This will minimize spilling and keep the ice from building up.
- Make a float to prevent ice from forming. Take 16 ounces of water and add a half cup of table salt to it. Pour it into a bottle and cap tightly. Add it to the water bucket and let it float freely to keep the ice from freezing over.
- Protect the base of the bucket. Pile dry leaves or straw around the base of the bucket, covering up to three inches of it. Replace it often with dry materials, composting the old.
2. Feed Chickens in the Cold Weather
Chickens need to eat to stay warm all winter. While scratching for bugs isn’t a possibility, you can provide chicken feed. Chickens still need grit, too, so add that to their feed. Also, add 1/4 of a bag of oyster shells to each 50-pound bag of chicken feed. To help keep your food bills down, add some home-grown fodder, too.
3. Keep Your Flock From Getting Bored in the Winter
Chickens aren’t able to scratch around, so they often become bored in the wintertime. So, here’s how to keep your flock busy:
- Make or buy a flock block for your chickens to peck at and get treats.
- Hang a head of cabbage to peck at.
- Build or purchase a chicken swing.
4. Make Your Chicken Coop Warm and Draft-Free
Chicken feathers can handle rain, wind and cold, but their chicken coop still needs to be free of drafts, especially at night. While you can close your coop at night, you need to make sure some air can circulate through to prevent bacteria growth.
However, keep the air from blowing directly on your flock when they are roosting. If you have brooding chicks or experience a serious cold snap, consider the short-term use of a heater. Be sure to use all the safety precautions associated with chicken coop heaters.
5. Give Your Chickens Enough Daylight Hours
In the shorter winter months, chickens may stop laying eggs and may even molt. Some chicken owners add artificial lights to their coop. Although it’s fairly simple, you can also add a timer, so you don’t have to worry about turning it on and off.
Keeping your flock warm and happy all winter doesn’t have to be a worry. Use these tips and learn all you can about your particular climate to care for your chickens in the wintertime.
What is homesteading?
Settling on the land, living a life of self-sufficiency, and a nod to the simpler times before us all come to mind. In reality, it is a million different things to a million different people.
From those of us that have large acreage and fully functioning farms to those of us raising a handful of chickens in their suburban backyard.
From those who grow and can their fruits and vegetables to those who raise their animals for meat.
In our journey through homesteading we have learned a lot in a short time. We have learned what works as far as planting fruits and vegetables, and we have learned what doesn’t work when trying to cram a backyard with birds.
To me however, the most important thing about homesteading is that it is so much more than what you are doing, it’s how you are doing it. Each step in the right direction towards self-sufficiency and enjoying the outdoors is a step forward! The thing that has been the most rewarding though has nothing to do with growing or planting, collecting eggs or raising animals.
The most rewarding thing is how this lifestyle has allowed us to reconnect, with nature and and plants, and animals…but most importantly how it helps is reconnect with each other. To me, homesteading is all about family, good crops or bad, full egg baskets of empty, rain, shine and everything in between.
This isn’t the most loveliest of photos but we were feeding a few eggs back to the ducks and chickens (benefits them by providing protein, omegas, and calcium from the shell) and this is just ONE duck egg yolk.
It was hard to focus on but man, the duck egg yolks can be so much larger which increases the good fats and omegas that come with it. The color comes from all the free-range time they have during the day. They forage on all the plants and bugs.
The duck eggs are usually white, but we will be having some chocolate runners laying in a few months and they will lay mint colored eggs.
Here are some of our duck eggs:
Here are our chickens eggs:
Chicken eggs do taste very similar however with the higher fat content a duck egg yolk has, I’d say they are better for baking and fluffing things up.
There is a lot to be said for essential oils and how they can keep your coop fresh smelling and keep the bugs away. Many air fresheners have harsh chemicals that can irritate your chickens or ducks, so DIY is definitely the way to go.
Especially in a place like Florida where the summers can be both sweltering hot and soaking wet, a good coop spray is totally necessary.
Though using neem oil is probably my favorite natural way to treat for nasty bugs (on both plants and elsewhere), neem oil can be hard to find and I don’t use it regularly, so this has become my go to recipe for those in-between moments for freshening up of the hen house.
I’ve narrowed down my mix to only the basics and without further adieu, the recipe is as follows.
5 Ingredient Coop Refresher Spray for Smells, Lice & Mite Prevention
• 1 cup of white vinegar
• 1 cup of water
• 1 generous squirt dr bronners soap
• Approx 15 drops peppermint essential oil
• Approx 20 drops tea tree essential oil
If you’re interested in why this is my “go-to”, peppermint essential oil helps to repel bugs. Plain and simple. When it gets humid and hot, the fruit flies have a field day on any spilled water, or anything else. For some reason, flies hate peppermint!
The tea tree essential oil is good for warding off both lice and mites. This can be sprayed in the coop, on roosting bars and in nesting boxes.
Vinegar is a natural cleaner and a good bleach alternative for some applications. I try to use it as much as I can in place of any harsh cleaners. Vinegar is biodegradable, but isn’t a registered disinfectant and isn’t strong enough to kill germs like staph, so though it’s good for this freshener, this spray is not appropriate for treating any major bacterial or biosecurity issues.
Our homestead has been recognized by the National Wildlife Federation along with the Florida Wildlife Federation as a Certified Wildlife Habitat. We achieved certification by creating gardens that offer food, water, cover and places to raise young for wildlife and maintaining them in a natural, sustainable way.
We were able to achieve this largely in part due to my husband’s hard work on our natural pond, our herb & vegetable garden, amble fruit trees, converting our shed into a coop and also raising free-ranging chickens and ducks organically which provide food for friends and family.
1. Chopped straw vs pine shavings in the coop has proven to be a great experiment. I didn’t know what to expect but I’m super excited to report that the chopped straw seems to stay cleaner longer and has been much easier to spread around..
2. Peppermint is a wonderful thing to grow in the garden, especially when you have chickens. Certain plants (like peppermint) will spread and take over. I use it daily in the coop, for the chickens to snack on and also, to freshen up the coop. Planting a small above ground garden in a tub, box, etc.. with herbs like Rosemary, Thyme, Peppermint, Lavender will be your coop cleaning friend.
3. If you decide on chickens, go big or go home. Within 3 months, we had moved the chickens from the small coop we had, into our shed (more about shed coop on the blog). It doesn’t matter how fancy it is, you’ll soon realize that you’ll want more space. There are so many options, it might even be worth it to build your own.
4. Chia, flax, clover and wheatgrass are great to grow around your yard, especially when you have chickens. They will forage and get extra nutrients from these things but they’re also super easy to get going, they sprout within a few days and provide awesome ground cover.
So there you go… thanks for following us 🙂
You may wonder why I collect herbs daily for the chickens… so let me take a second to explain the benefits of each:
rosemary – assists with pain relief and enhancing respiratory health, it’s also a great natural insecticide.
basil – great antibacterial, mucous membrane health, smells lovely.
lavender – helps relieve stress, can also increase blood circulation, great coop cleaner, insecticide
marigolds – great stress reliever, increases blood circulation, aromatic, insecticide, helps produce colorful yolks
mint – insecticide and rodent repellent, antioxidant, aids in respiratory health, wonderful digestive aid, lowers body temperature naturally which can keep the chickens cooler, smells amazing in the coop.
oregano – combats coccidia, salmonella, infectious bronchitis, avian flu, blackhead and e-Coli, strengthens immune system
sage – antioxidant, antiparasitic, general health promoter, wonderful smell.
Throw in some other herbs you have around your garden and you’re good to go.
The ducks and chickens are cohabiting greatly. We put them all in the coop at night. The chickens go to sleep and the ducks party.
At night, the ducks snuggle in a corner opposite the older gals. I have shown the ducks the ways of the hanging feeders too and they are loving life.
We originally bought separate food but the ducks love to eat what the chickens eat so we ended up with a feed for both.
A completely off the wall post but here are 10 hip hop names for chickens. Yes, super informative post here.
1. CHICKI MINAJ
2. DR. LAY
4. LIL WING
6. EGGS EGGS EGGS TENTACION
7. KANYE NEST
8. MASTER PEEP
9. EGGY EGGZALEA
The decision to turn our shed into a coop came on a whim. We had a small coop we were using but wanted to update the space. We started talking about the idea of using our shed as a coop when we decided to clean it out and it was nearly empty. The shed was purchased years ago and the local company came and delivered it, leveled it and made sure it was placed properly on our land.
I feel any shed can be turned into a coop when you have the basics already in place. The best thing about using what you have is you can really splurge on essentials without feeling bad. If you have a shed that’s not being used, this is definitely a fun project to do. Here are some photos for you to get an idea for your next project:
We use pine shavings from Tractor Supply for the bedding and flooring. It’s only approximately $6 a bag.
We used old wooden crates for nesting boxes. We bought cedar trellises from Lowe’s for their ladders. We used old crib slats for something for them to play on.
My husband took out the window on the door and added some chicken wire for better airflow.
I keep their food and bedding in metal trash cans. I use fresh herbs to keep the coop smelling nice. I planted mint by the front door.
The best part about this project is being able to use what you have. It’s fun to improve upon and create something that fits the needs of your chickens. So be creative and have fun.
I had no idea what all went into having chickens until we decided to jump in blindfolded. To say it is a rewarding experience would be an understatement. Before I go any further, I’d like to mention that having chickens is not super involved, it is fun, educational and it’ll add quite a bit of joy to your life.
I found the Tractor Supply chick days pamplet super helpful and full of information.
We started out with 4 female chickens (pullets) which were only a few dollars from Tractor Supply. We kept them in a tupperware while brooding so they would grow and also be kept safe from cold and predators.
They grow quick! Next thing I knew they needed a bigger space.
If you’re on the fence, get backyard chickens. It is so rewarding. Stay tuned for the shed coop reveal.
I made a shredded fabric curtain for the nesting boxes. The chickens love to hide. The process is simple and quick. Have fabric strips ready to go, any fabric works. Loop the fabric over a large piece of string or another long piece of fabric, and then tie knots.
It’s the perfect thing to give the chickens a little privacy for their nesting boxes.
Next time you have a fire, save the ash! Chickens love it for dust baths but it’s also really great for the garden.