All chickens should be allowed to express their normal behaviours. A normal behaviour is the way an animal acts in its natural environment. Enough space, proper shelter and housing as well as company of the animal's own kind, encourages the expression of normal behaviours.
This law is called the Animal Welfare Act. The Animal Welfare Act says that your animal has five groups of welfare needs. These are five groups of things that animals need to be healthy and happy. These five welfare needs are called the Five Freedoms.
Under the Animal Welfare Act all animal guardians (owners) need to provide these five groups of things for their animals. One of these Five Freedoms is: Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour.
In this section you will learn about this freedom and how you can make sure your chickens receive the exercise and enrichment they need to achieve Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour.
Pecking is a behaviour that starts right from birth - the way a chicken leaves the egg is to peck at it. Once a chick hatches, they peck to find food and water. As a chicken grows up in a big flock, they peck to get space from other chickens or to get recognition from their friends.
Pecking is one of a chicken’s strongest behaviours, but unfortunately it can lead to problems when too many chickens are housed in a small, cramped space. Some chickens may peck at their own, or other chickens’ feathers when they are stressed.
Providing your chicken with plenty of space, food and things to do will help prevent pecking from becoming problem behaviour.
In the wild, chickens spend over half of their waking hours out foraging for food, so eating from a bowl can get really boring for a chicken.
You may see your chicken foraging when they peck at the soil or scratching the dirt. Chickens are built with amazing eyesight for finding small morsels of food, and strong, sturdy legs for scratching at soil to uncover hidden goodies.
Even when chickens have been fed, they will continue to search for more food – it’s one of their most favourite things to do!
There are lots of cool ways to encourage your chickens to forage naturally.
Each afternoon, chickens will find a safe spot to roost just before it gets dark, which is why it is so important to provide your chickens with safe perching spots. All chickens like to perch up high- it means they can watch what’s going on and feel safe that they are out of harm's way.
Just the same as you preferring a comfortable pair of shoes, chickens need comfortable perches. The best perches are ones that are easy to clean, comfortable for your chickens to stand on and the right material and diameter to help prevent foot problems.
Chickens prefer natural looking perches that are around 5cm in diameter and have at least 20cm space per hen. If you provide a variety of perches, your chickens can pick and choose which ones they like.
Remember the more chickens housed in your coop, the bigger the space you may need and the more perches you may need to install. Some chickens may choose to snuggle, others might want to spread out.
Try to avoid putting food/water bowls directly under any perches, as they may end up covered in chicken poo!
Different types of birds take baths in different ways - some birds like water, others use sand or dust. The way a chicken cleans itself is to have a dust bath. This is where they roll around in dust or soil as a way to clean themselves.
A chicken begins to dust bathe, often by pecking an area of dry dust. Next, they will get in a squatting position, using their wings to move the dust over their bodies and afterwards shaking it off. This helps remove parasites, dead skin and other skin irritants.
Dust bathing also helps stop their feathers getting too oily from preening.
When allowing your chicken time to roam out of the coop, let them have access to an area of soil where they can dust bathe to their hearts content.
Dust baths can include areas of natural sand, peat or soil.
A tyre can help contain the dust bath so that it doesn’t disappear. It’s fine to provide chickens with a water bath or even a sprinkler, but keep in mind that they may never use it. Even when it’s hot, most chickens would much rather dig a hole and lie in the cool soil than to have a water bath.
Absolutely! It's one of the best things you can do to make your chicken’s life a happy and fulfilled one.
Chickens are social creatures - in the wild they live in large groups, so it makes sense that they should live with other chicken friends.
Once you have witnessed a group of chickens foraging for food together, it's unlikely you would ever want to keep a chicken on their own! While chickens can enjoy human company, it does not replace the fact another chicken will be the best companion for them.
They can talk the same language, understand each other's body signals and play, preen each other, relax, eat together and look out for each other.
Chickens communicate using a range of noises - from chirps and clucks to cackles and cries. The calls you might hear your chicken make often signify things like:
Chickens will also communicate using body language, just like we do.
Chickens have a definite ‘pecking order,’ which means sometimes there can be squabbles over things like food, nest boxes and space to forage. Watch your chickens interact with each other and monitor any that may be getting bullied.
It is important to introduce chickens correctly if you want to avoid this.
The ideal way to introduce chickens is to have them housed next to each other for a few days so they can get used to being around each other before actually meeting.
If this is not achievable, it is better to introduce 2 or 3 chickens at a time, rather than one by itself to prevent the new chicken from being bullied.
Thinking about getting a rooster? Hens will lay eggs without a rooster, but if you want to breed from your hens (hatch baby chickens), then you will need a rooster. There are a few extra things to consider before getting a rooster though.
Firstly, make sure your parents check with your local council (and perhaps your neighbours) whether you are allowed to have a rooster at your property. Some councils do not allow roosters due to noise complaints.
It’s also important to make sure your flock of hens is big enough - ideally between 10-15 hens per rooster. A rooster may harass or bully hens if there are only a few of them. Two or more roosters in a flock with hens can fight, so if you have hens, it’s best to only have one rooster.
Having a rooster in your flock does have a few advantages:
Roosters can be a little bit more work - they can be noisy and sometimes they can become overprotective, pecking at or being aggressive towards people or other hens. Having a rooster with hens also means fertile eggs. You will need to have places for all the baby chickens to go, which may include more roosters! Make sure you do your research before getting a rooster.
Hens can sometimes produce over 300 eggs within their lifetime, so it is important to provide a safe spot for them to lay their eggs. By providing nest boxes, you are giving your hen a nice, cosy area where she can lay her eggs in private. Different hens may prefer different types of nest box.
Some hens like a nice deep nest box where as others prefer a shallow one. Try and provide each of your chickens a nest box, so that there are no squabbles over nesting space.
It is best to line the nest box with straw. Avoid using shredded paper as this can stick to eggs once they are laid (and the ink may discolour the egg). Hay is also not recommended as it carries mould and fungi. If you notice eggs laid out of the nest box or on the ground, move them into the nest box to encourage your hens to use it.
Chickens are extremely intelligent and are happiest when they have things to do. A stimulating environment helps prevent your chickens from getting bored or pecking out their feathers. Introducing new things to your chickens’ environment will make their day more interesting.
Here are some ways to stop your chicken from getting bored when they are outside roaming around:
Keep in mind that too much change at once can sometimes be stressful for your hens, so introduce new things gradually.
Make sure any time that you change your chickens’ environment, it remains safe for your chickens. Check with an adult that there’s nothing that could harm your chickens.
Another thing to remember is that just like children, squabbles over toys can happen easily. When you provide something fun for your chicken, make sure the whole flock can be involved. This may mean providing multiple toys, or making sure there is enough space for all chickens to join in.
Always ensure your chickens can move away from any new toys or enrichment and keep a close eye on your chickens when first giving them new items. If they do appear stressed or frightened by a new item, remove it and watch their behaviour – talk to your veterinarian if you’re ever worried about the behaviour of your chickens.
The way a chicken behaves will depend on her age, personality and past experiences.
If one of your chickens behaviour changes, they could be distressed, bored, ill or injured. Chickens that are frightened or in pain may change their behaviour or develop unwanted habits such as aggression or hiding.
Signs that a chicken may be suffering from stress or fear can include sitting hunched or not wanting to move, hiding, over-plucking feathers, or eating/drinking/toileting less (or more) than normal. Be observant.
If your chicken’s behaviour changes, or they show regular signs of stress or fear, ask your parents or caregivers to talk to your veterinarian.