You have gifts for your parents and gifts for your kids. You have a gift for Aunt Claire and a gift for Uncle Bob. You even have a gift for your dog. But what about your chickens?
If you culled your flock last month, perhaps your remaining hens are glad just to have another year of dust baths and fresh air. But don’t stop there… hens are actually very easy to “shop” for.
Even given plenty of space, living in a fenced coop all your life can get a bit dull. I’ve tried allowing my hens to free-range—and ended up giving a gift to an observant fox. I’ve tried a chicken tractor, but that didn’t keep out the raccoons. So, instead of letting my flock out for some recreation, I’ve started bringing the fun to them.
A mix of cracked corn and other grains, plain scratch alone is not a balanced diet for chickens, but it adds welcome variety. I love to sprinkle a bit of scratch on the floor of the coop or, weather permitting, out in the fenced yard. In the wild, chickens are forest dwellers who search through the fallen leaves and other forest litter looking for dinner. Offering some scratch provides the same experience. The hens will be busy for hours, happily hunting for each speck and turning their bedding in the process. (If you can keep the birds safe, this is also a good way to reduce bugs and weed seeds in a future planting bed.)
Have you ever tossed a ripe tomato into the coop? The hens go wild! They absolutely love tomatoes, and they’re not the least bit picky about appearances. If you’ve got the last of your picked-green fruit sitting on your counter, perhaps beginning to shrivel, donate it to your flock. One hen will grab the “ball” and head for a corner, with the rest of the team right behind. She may get one bite before someone else makes a grab. Fumble! Now the chickens are headed in the opposite direction. It’s entertaining for them, and lots of fun for the spectators, too.
Remember, chickens are omnivores. We may feed them laying pellets most of the time, but they absolutely love a nice, crunchy bug. In the spirit of giving, splurge on your ladies, head to the pet store, and buy them a container of live crickets. Especially at this time of year, insects are a special treat. They’ll have hours of stimulating fun tracking each cricket down and pouncing on it. Plus, we get the extra nutrition in the eggs without having to munch exoskeletons!
Cricket photo: Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org