When I raise chicks, I find that they quickly out grow the space and need more stimulation than the four walls of the brooder box. Yet they are not ready to live in the coop with the adult chickens, who will terrorize the youngsters at best, and possibly kill them. So we put together this simple, movable baby chick playground with materials we had left over from other projects, and furnished it with food water, a nest box, logs, and branches. We put the chicks in it during sufficiently warm weather, and return them to the brooder for the night.
Materials for baby chick playground
- A 20 ft long and 4 ft high piece of PVC coated hardware cloth, wrapped in a roughly 6 ft diameter circle
- Large, black metal paper clips hold it closed.
- The lower portion is reinforced with a 1 ft high length of 1/2 inch hardware cloth, so young bantam chicks cannot squeeze through the 1 inch openings of the PVC coated fencing.
- The “roof” is a piece of ripstop nylon, fastened to the fencing with large black paper clips.
Of course you can fashion your own playground using whatever you have on hand, but here are some general considerations:
Food and Water
Be sure to keep fresh water and chick feed in the playground, as baby chicks need these at all times. They will not be able to find enough wild forage even in this outdoor playpen. In the wild, the mother would be free to lead them to good sources of food, and she would show them what to eat.
Ours is not meant to be predator proof, so we use it only when we’re home and able to keep an eye on it. It’s neither safe enough nor warm enough to house the chicks at night, so they come back into the brooder box for the night. If you want something safe enough to house them for the day while you go off to work, you will need something much sturdier. Also, be sure there are no sharp edges, because a cut on the foot could lead to bumblefoot. We sanded the sharp edges of the nest box.
The wild relatives of the domestic chicken range over many acres within tropical forest or shrubland, comprised of a wide diversity of vegetation and insect prey. They are active, busy animals by nature, so it’s no surprise that domestic chickens in barren confinement become bored to the point of cannibalism (feather picking, toe picking). Studies show that providing appropriate stimulation prevents it, as you can read here. This is how I provide stimulation in the playground for the chicks:
- Logs for perching and flight practice.
- A nestbox for shelter (they snuggle in it if they get chilly) and also for perching and flight practice.
- Branches of at least 3 species of trees or shrubs, for foraging, shelter, and shade. Different plant species carry different insects, so this ensures that they have not only interesting vegetation to explore, but also a variety insects to forage. I use any and all shrub or tree species, except for thorny ones, which could cut their feet. Each day, I replace the old ones with fresh ones.
- Fresh grass daily. The playground is easy to disassemble and move, so it’s moved every day.
Younger chicks need more warmth and sleep, so at first I might leave them in the playground for only an hour or two. As they grow, they want more stimulation and enjoy longer play sessions. I’ve noticed that upon return to the brooder box, they are hungry and exhausted. A feast is followed by a nice long nap. And nobody picks feathers or toes.
How do you provide stimulation for growing chicks? Please feel free to share your ideas, and to ask questions in the comment section below!
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