What Chickens Want

We are having a snow storm, so I won’t be uncovering the yard and letting the girls out today. I went out a little later than usual this morning with the daily scratch and cleaning implements.  I could see immediately that the gals had been busy. There were four eggs in nesting boxes, the area in the northwest corner had been scratched down to shavings for dust baths, and the straw around the door was beaten flat by big chicken feet.

While I unbolted and unclipped the door, I could hear them inside scolding and making excited “give me scratch” noises. Their dear beady little eyes dilated when they saw the other object I carried: baked pumpkin in the half shell! I put it in a white plastic tray I keep in the coop for serving such delicacies and put it down among them. They fell to at once, greedily slurping up the squash.

This distraction gave me time to clean under the roosts and clear the water font of waterlogged feed crumbs. It wasn’t long before a couple of the girls were looking for scratch and tugging at my trousers with their naughty beaks.

This is my cue to throw some scratch (a couple handfuls each of oats and cracked corn) into the straw/hay and wood shaving bedding that covers the floor of the coop. The girls will spend a good part of the afternoon pecking every atom of corn they can find, and it takes them a little extra time to hull the oats before eating the kernel.

The bedding itself is also a source of nutrition and distraction for the gals. I occasionally put a few flakes of seedy hay or straw in for them to tear apart. They eat the weed and oat seeds, mummified bugs, and green parts of the grasses. What is left breaks down and insulates them from the cold floor of the coop during extreme winter weather. When the bedding becomes really poopy and chopped up, I use  it as a carbon layer for my winter compost system, which makes room for fresh bedding and the cycle begins again.

I sometimes bring them a treat of a few crumbled bread heels while they are out in their yard. They will seek out every crumb, digging very energetically. They are such energetic diggers that I don’t feed bread in the coop because they kick up geysers of bedding and dust, totally fouling (ha!) their water.

I leave a little bit of scratch in the plastic coffee container and turn it so that the scratch falls into the handle. The hollow handle is too small for them to get their heads trapped in, (this might not be the case if your birds are a bantam or smaller variety, so be careful),  but it does trap some of whatever dry treat I put in it. It acts as a kind of chicken Kong, making them work to get that last bit of feed out. It is quite entertaining to watch them scratch and knock the container around the yard or coop, excited by the delicious rattling sounds.

Sometimes I will put a handful of dry feed into a brightly colored Frisbee disk. They seem to like the contrasting colors and the tapping noises their beaks make on the hard plastic. Our first chicken, The Budge, enjoyed the larger bright, crinkly Mylar ball cat toys. She was a tiny hen and would push them all around her portable coop. My present flock of big birds were absolutely terrified of the same type of toy! (We always make sure we never put any nonfood item in with the chickens that they can pick apart and swallow.)

I also have a large, square suet feeder that I fill with cabbage and hang in their coop from time to time. It swings around as they peck, and they have to calculate the swing of the cage in order to feed. A new suet feeder is pretty cheap. I wouldn’t advise using a used suet feeder; wild birds carry a ton of viral diseases that you wouldn’t want to pass on to your flock.

You’re probably thinking that my hens are some of the most spoiled chickens in the United States of America. You may be right. They are working pets that give me eggs and manure for My Little Farm in Town. I figure that the least I can do is give them a good chicken life. Begonia

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