Housed chicken & bird enrichment tips

On 29th November 2021, new housing measures were brought in to protect poultry and captive birds across Worcestershire and the rest of the UK from avian influenza. The new housing measures made it a legal requirement for all owners to keep their birds indoors. The requirements will be updated from time to time, so if you want the latest check out the relevant pages from DEFRA on GOV.UK 

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Lack of essential enrichment 

For free-range birds, especially those who are used to time outdoors, suddenly finding themselves limited to indoor spaces can deprive them of normal outlets for their social and emotional needs.   

To help combat this, the teams at Clent Hills Vets in Bromsgrove, Hagley, and Rubery thought it would be useful to highlight a few basic enrichment techniques you can use. Especially if any of your birds have started to exhibit behaviours that indicate they are suffering. These behaviours include:  

  • Feather picking 
  • Aggression or bullying 
  • Egg eating 
  • Cannibalism 

Enrichment can prevent these behaviours by mimicking the birds’ natural environment. 

The advantages of enrichment 

Multiple studies suggest that enrichment for housed birds like chickens can result in improved reproductive performance, healthier, and more productive animals. Keeping birds healthy means you not only fulfil your moral obligations, but if you are a commercial operator, you could also be helping your bottom line and fully complying with relevant welfare regulations. 

Types of bird enrichment 

Enrichment comes in several forms under headings that include: 

Social enrichment  

Chickens are social animals so it’s important they can interact with other chickens. If this isn’t possible, then you should take steps to mimic the presence of other birds. 

Physical enrichment 

This is about creating a housing environment your birds can interact with by adding structures, ramps, bales, or perches. Also, it’s helpful to provide substrates for digging and dust bathing. 

Nutritional enrichment 

Chickens are natural foragers so you can usefully create challenge and interest in the way they get their food. Adding food to piles of (safe) leaves or hanging heads of cabbage from the coop ceiling will make them work harder to feed. This all mimics their normal outdoor environment. 

Visual enrichment  

We’re not sure that giving them a TV is on the cards but hanging old CDs around their living space or adding mirrors from time to time may add interest. Removing these elements and then replacing them prevents your flock from becoming bored. 

Olfactory, auditory, and tactile enrichment  

This helps stimulate all their senses, as would be the case if they were outside. Adding smells like vanilla or naturally occurring plants (again only safe ones), playing gentle music, and adding footballs, and even swings (to mimic swinging branches) are all techniques you might like to drop into their living space.  

The novelty bonus 

The fact is that if a person or animal is moved from their normal, random outside existence to a more routine (boring) life of incarceration, then the stress of a newly imposed confinement can be eased by adding novel elements. Don’t just throw a few hay bales into the shed and leave it at that though.   

Rotate enrichment techniques and experiment to see what your birds like. Any costs associated with these practices are likely to be paid back and then some. This is because you’re left with happier, more fulfilled, and more productive birds thanks to your provision of the physical and mental stimulation they need.