We all know that feeling. Bored, bored…bored. The same ol’ same old. Mental stimulation is an important element that keeps us inquisitive, motivated and happy. Our feisty chickens require quite a bit of brain boosting activities to keep them engaged as well. Chickens display high energy and curiosity, and they will spend their days kicking up their own activities to keep busy and inspired.
If you live in a zone that brings forage-limiting cold, ice and snow, you know that coop fever can be a real downer for the flock. Here are a few tips and tricks to keep your chickens motivated and chipper!
There is a heck of a lot going on inside those feathered heads. Chickens possess an amazing intellectual capacity that rivals the intelligence of primates, parrots and dolphins. This kind of mind power means that your chickens need an enriched environment in order to prevent emotional stress and to maintain good health. Busy birds are happy birds and daily activity boosts their immune systems, prevents behavioral problems (from feather picking to aggression), and ensures that you are giving the birds the best tools to live the “good” life.
Coop enrichment is simple! You just need to provide the toys and resources that chickens can use to engage in normal behavior (bathing, roosting, foraging), develop social structure and relationships, and provide novelties to challenge their thinking skills. Chickens are active hunter/gatherers that spend their days engaging in rustling up goodies, socializing, grooming and exploring. So don’t forget to set up your comfy folding chair – chicken culture and language is fascinating – you won’t want to miss any of the action.
Here are some findings that bird behavioral researchers have uncovered. Chickens are brainy fowl that are able to deceive others, plan for the future and more…
• Exhibit willpower and self-control.
• Can complete complex tasks that require logic/reasoning (including building on learning, knowledge transfer from past situations to future events and creative thought). The Chicken Challenge: What Contemporary Studies of Fowl Mean for Science and Ethics, reveals that“beyond their sophisticated communication, behavioral flexibility and sensitivity to the attentional state of others, fowl and domestic chickens have also been shown to perform a number of other reputedly cognitively complex capabilities, such as transitive inference and social learning.”
• Recognize themselves in reflections, handle abstract thought – language and symbolic meaning. These birds exhibit a complex language that has only been seen in other bird species, prairie dogs, dolphins/whales and some primates. Chickens readily learn the behaviors and language of other animals and their “communication is not simply reflexive, but is responsive to relevant social and environmental factors.” Grandma was right - you really can talk to your chickens!
• Engage in reflective self-assessment with the ability to compare themselves to others (“Harold’s tail isn’t as grand as mine.”). Chickens even “demonstrate an awareness of themselves as separate from others; can recognize particular individuals and appreciate their standing with respect to those individuals; and show an awareness of the attentional states of their fellow fowl.”
• Analyze another’s actions and behaviors, pass judgment and act with deliberation
• Pass down knowledge and skills through generations (social learning, observational learning and hierarchical learning in which chickens watch and gain knowledge from older or higher ranking individuals).
What the science means
Chickens are really smart. Good flock husbandry entails providing them with fun things to do. Rainy day doldrums and long winter blues can be given the boot with these easy tips:
• Scatter Tasty Worms Mealworms and Tasty Grubs (black soldier fly larvae) around the floor of the coop. Add in–the-shell black oil sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, raisins and shelled nuts. Variety is important as chickens naturally choose to eat an assortment of foods when they forage. The birds will keep the litter sifted and they will expend that extra energy jostling and scratching up every last tidbit.
• Hang kale, collards, dandelion and dark green lettuce for the chickens to enjoy a swinging salad bar. Trim some pesticide-free grass and feed that fresh – the chickens will thank you.
• Cut an apple in half and let the gang pick away. They will leave a perfectly chiseled peel behind!
• Provide a deep tray filled with garden dirt for the chickens to bathe in. Toss in some black oil sunflower seeds. The chickens will scratch in the dirt for the seeds and they will love the sprouts as the seeds germinate.
Stay tuned for more Tasty Worms Flock Tips.
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