Comfortable Quarters for Chickens

by Marlene Hoefner, Marion Staack and Detlef W. Foelsch

By Marlene Hölner, Marion Staack and and Detlef W. Foelsch
FACULTY OF AGRICULTURE, INTERNATIONAL RURAL DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION, DEPARTMENT OF ANIMAL BEHAVIOR AND MANAGEMENT, NORDBAHNHOPSTR. 1A, D-37213 WITZENHAUSEN, GERMANY

Neither thousands of years domestication nor the recent extreme selective breeding for productivity have fundamentally altered the behavior of chickens. This has to be kept in mind when suitable housing for chickens is designed. The different behaviors shown by chickens can be categorized as follows:

Foraging behavior includes searching and finding food, scratching, and drinking.

Chickens spend 35 to 50% of the day scratching and pecking for food. A lot of different food items such as seeds, fruits, grass, insects, worms and berries are consumed by chickens if they are available to them. If the animals do not spend a major portion of the day foraging because of freely accessible standardized food, such as meal or pellets, they tend to peck, pull and tear at objects or conspecifics , and often develop feather pecking behavior.



The food trough should be big enough to hold food for one day. It should only be filled 2/3 to ¾ to prevent the chickens wasting food.


A drinking trough is suitable for up to 15 animals.
A container to store greenstuff, if no outside run covered with vegetation is provided, could look like this. The food can be more easily consumed by the chickens than greenstuff (grass, young stinging nettle, dandelion, etc) lying on the ground, and it does not get dirty.
A container with grill should stand in every hen house. The small sham-edge stones are important for digestion in the chickens

 

For resting, sleeping and withdrawal, chickens prefer elevated places, natural trees and bushes. This is why perches should be provided in a hen house. It is sensible to install the perches over a dropping pit so that the animals do not come in contact with their feces.

Chicks and young hens should get perches early in the life so that they learn perching and use the third dimension.

Locomotive behavior includes walking, running, flying and wing flapping.

Studies have shown that hens walk about 1 to 1.5 km (0.6-0.9 mi.) per day and that they fly to and from elevated places if they have the opportunity to do so.

Resting behavior includes standing, lying, sleeping, and dozing. Chickens prefer to sleep on elevated places rather than on ground. Therefore, they should always have access to perches.

Maintenance or Comfort behavior includes preening, stretching, flapping, dustbathing, sunbathing and body shaking. To keep their feathers in good condition, chickens must be able to preen themselves and take dustbaths. They will frequently sunbathe if they are given the opportunity. Daylight controls and triggers may of their physiological processes. It also stimulates their metabolism, plays an important part in the formation of red and white blood cells and vitamin D, and promotes the secretion of hormones necessary for growth and reproduction.

Social behavior includes conspecific-oriented pecking, threatening, chasing, kicking, fighting, avoiding, crouching, vocalizing, and reproductive behavior.

In the wild, hens and cocks of different ages lie in small groups and form a cohesive community. One cock lives in a group with about seven hens. The social structure of a flock depends on physiological, psychological and physical state of each member and is influenced by the appearance of the individuals-for example, whether the hen is ill or injured, is moulting, is brooding or has chicks. A stable rank order is formed within a small group of chickens on the basis of personal preference, threat and avoidance behavior, and factors such as age and the size of the comb.

Social interactions can be friendly (positive), for example a cock calling his hens to a food source, or they can be agonistic (negative), for example one hen chasing another hen away from a limited food source.