It’s a jungle out there

In our garden we have four chickens: Lorna, Esme, Perdy and Black Aliss. After various battles, they are now confined, most of the time, to one section of the garden. They a have a run where they can be further confined, but they are not shut in there much because, frankly, it’s boring for them.

Perdy, Esme and Black Aliss

Perdy, Esme and Black Aliss

I often see backyard chickens in a dirt run and feel sorry for them. The reason being that, despite their limited flight ability, domestic chickens are birds of the jungle, not of the mud wallow. They are descended from the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus) which, according to the Smithsonian:

browses on the forest floor for insects, seeds and fruit, and flies up to nest in the trees at night.

Now I appreciate that we have come a long way since the Red Junglefowl: domestication appears to have taken place 7-10, 000 years ago, and there may have been genetic contributions from three other closely related species. However, chickens do still, generally, prefer to sleep up on a perch (like being on a tree branch) and scratch around for grubs and insects, so they have deep-seated instincts. I can’t help feeling, therefore, that we should provide them with an appropriate habitat in which to live, and that a bare patch of mud or an area of open grass does not do this. In addition, a small enclosed area is likely to build up a rampant population of parasites, leading, for example, to repeated worm infestation.

Esme emerging from the 'woodland' laying box

Esme emerging from the ‘woodland’ laying box

Our hens have open areas where they can scratch about or have a dust bath, access to the area around the compost bins, where there are often insects to hunt, intermittent access to the fruit cage, with its herbs and grasses (they are excluded when there is fruit to be had!) and an area under the willow hedge, where leaves accumulate and invertebrates live. They also visit the rest of the garden to turn soil and do the weeding! Recently they have been spending a lot of time under the trees and we decided that it might be a location where they would like to lay. With this in mind, we placed a plastic laying box (actually it’s an old covered cat litter tray that we were given) inside the hedge and this is now Esme’s preferred laying spot. Of course, this is not a safe location to spend the night, so they all happily troop into the run and then their house to roost, safe and sound and inaccessible to foxes or other predators.

Animal welfare is something that anyone keeping livestock should take seriously, both because it’s ethically right and because you get better production if you have healthy happy animals. So, if you do have backyard chooks, give them some shade and an area under the trees where they can get back to their roots and release their inner junglefowl!
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3 Comments

  1. All so true. Sounds like you have very happy hens. I’ve pretty much given up trying to contain our four – and isn’t it lovely to be able to watch them enjoying themselves around the garden, anyway? (Thanks for liking my blog about my chooks by the way.)

    Reply
    • Are your’s Black Rocks? I love the picture of them sunbathing!

      Reply
      • Thank you. Apparently they’re called Rhode Rock Blacks – they’re hybrids. (I’ve a feeling that’s not the right word to use. Makes them sound like a plant…) The sun’s a bit sporadic up here in Shetland, so they do like to make the most of it when it comes out. They’re really hardy things though – they’ll be out in all weathers, don’t seem to mind the rain and wind at all.

        Reply

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