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hens throwing food around  RSS feed

 
Erin Beth
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Forgive me since I'm sure I'm not the first to ask this question but my search isn't turning up answers.
I know it'd be great to be feeding them sprouted grains and greens and all that lovely stuff but I'm just not there yet.  I have 8 hens and have them set up with pvc pipe feeders.  They are about 5 ft tall, 3 of them.  I'm feeding them layer pellets and it had been going just fine.  All of the sudden the last couple of weeks they are throwing all the food out all over the place and then once it's on the coop floor they don't seem to eat it.  Any idea what would cause them to start doing this?  Any ideas on how to get them to stop? 
 
Tyler Ludens
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I think they're probably bored and need more variety in their lives.

 
John Elliott
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Tyler Ludens wrote:I think they're probably bored and need more variety in their lives.



Yup.  Chickens may be dumb, but they aren't stupid.  Make them work for their food.  Beet tops, collards, any leafy green with a rib will keep them entertained for a long time.  First they rip the leaves to shreds until they get to the tougher stems, and then they will shake, rip, and tear at those too. A potted chicory or alfalfa also works.

And don't clean up after chickens.  Its their place on the food chain to pick up the scraps that other animals leave.  If there are no layer pellets in the PVC tubes, they'll scratch around and eat the ones on the ground. 
 
Tyler Ludens
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You might also dump leaves raked from the yard into their pen to give them something new to scratch around in. 
 
Erin Beth
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Boredom does make sense.  We had a stretch of really nice warm days and the snow started to melt so they were able to venture a bit further from the coop and were happy.  Then it got cold and snowed again (as it should be here this time of year).  So I guess they just have spring fever like the rest of us.  Hopefully they'll stop doing it once spring is here for real?
 
Bob Blackmer
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Ensuring proper feeder height is always our first concern when dealing with feed waste, Next is ensuring quality of feed( ie; poor mixture, old and stale, contaminated?) But I agree, they get bored...
 
Liz Hoxie
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I've pretty much stopped using a feed dish. I scatter the grain on the run floor. The only time I use a dish is when there's snow on the ground, but thanks to the sparrows, they only get a little at a time, but are fed more frequently. Since they're locked up all winter, we don't have the problems with cannibalism and fighting. Bored chickens are not happy chickens.
 
Libbie Hawker
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In the zookeeping world (my previous profession), we call "interesting distractions so the animals don't get too bored" "enrichment."

When you're thinking about enrichment for captive animals, you want to engage all their senses (not necessarily every day--you can rotate different sensory experiences day by day) and provide experiences that mimic their natural environment and encourage them to use natural behaviors as much as possible. So think about what a chicken would be doing if it were running around free, choosing where to go and what to do on their own. Try to duplicate some of those experiences, or get close to duplicating them.

Also think about which senses are important to chickens. They use hearing and sight, obviously, but like most birds their sense of smell is not well developed and apparently not that important to them (so interesting smells, like cinnamon sprinkled around their enclosure, wouldn't do much to alleviate their boredom.) Because they don't have a well-developed sense of smell, we don't know whether they are sensitive to flavors, so you can probably leave out taste stimulation, too. Their sense of touch is important, as they scratch through soil to find things to eat. We all have senses beyond the five we typically think about, too: balance, heat sensation, difference between light and dark (which affects more of our systems than just our eyes--particularly true for many birds, which seem to be triggered to lay eggs--or not lay them--by available daylight), etc.

Some natural behaviors chickens exhibit: scratching, pecking at scraggly-looking objects (like their friends' feathers), roosting/perching, going inside nest boxes, foraging through a variety of plant heights, dust bathing, etc.

So there are some enrichments I might rotate in and out of a chicken enclosure:

Day 1: Shallow container filled with dry soil for dust baths.
Day 2: Hang brightly colored ribbons or paper streamers inside the enclosure at convenient pecking height. ("Convenient Pecking Height" is going to be the name of my rap album when I finally drop that sick ish.)
Day 3: Place a roost wrapped in green plastic "turf" inside the enclosure. This will give them something new to feel when they jump up and stand on it.
Day 4: Shallow container filled with loose soil; mix in some of their favorite treats (corn, mealworms, etc.) to encourage scratching.
Day 5: Place a few trimmings from pruning the trees inside so they can run through the foliage.
Day 6: Cardboard boxes turned on their sides so they can explore them as if they're nesting cavities.
Day 7: Throw a few brightly colored balls into the enclosure for them to peck at.
Day 8: Live-trap a few mice and release them inside the enclosure for the chickens to hunt and kill (only do this if you're reasonably sure your chickens are good mouse hunters!)
Day 9: Play a radio near the enclosure for new sounds.
Day 10: Run the sprinkler on a low setting near one end of the enclosure.
Day 11: Hang brightly colored ribbons inside enclosure (again)
...
You can continue to rotate ideas you've used before.

The crucial thing with enrichment is to remove the items daily, so they don't grow bored with those entertainments. Enrichment should be novel and exciting every time, not something that becomes a permanent fixture of their lives.
 
Tyler Ludens
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The ribbons could be dangerous if the chickens can reach and possibly swallow them.
 
William Bronson
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Bored? Yeah,I bet that's it.
My chickens have a 20' X 4' enclosed,roofed run/coop,with deep bedding of leaves,hay,and soil,and they still want to go outside and scratch in the freezing rain.
They love BOSS, but not as much as anything they don't have already. Anyone of the 4 will abandon a prized tidbit to chase after the next thing with the rest of them!
They prefer dirty rainwater to clean tap water (chlorine?), leaf litter to nesting boxes and pooping on my porch to pooping anywhere else.
So bored or simply contrary and perverse,seems like a good explanation.

I no longer free feed. Some day I don't feed at all,knowing they have a pile of  goodies to work through, food that they will ignore in favor of novelty.
I feed the BOSS where I would like to have them  grow, knowing my spoiled girls will miss some.
Tomatoes,soaked beans,the same thing.
I have layer crumbles, but they don't grow,so I forget them until I need a treat for to get them  my porch!

Maybe try a suet ball, and definitely cut off their free feed until they clean the floor.
 
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