Baby chicks are very active and curious creatures that are happiest with a lot of stimulus. When you first receive little chicks they are usually quiet and spend much of their time huddled under their light, but within a week they should be bouncing around eagerly.
One of the dangers of chicks without anything to amuse them is that they often turn on each other, pecking at odd looking feathers on their brooder-mates and bullying the weakest chick. Making sure your chicks are always busy is a great way to keep everyone healthy, and also to teach them about many things they will encounter as adults.
While there are a lot of companies offering toys to amuse your chickens, many of the best amusements can be made from items you probably already have – and these things will better mimic the real world, helping chicks understand what it is like out there.
Chickens love mirrors. Even an adult chicken will amuse herself for hours pecking at a mirror and admiring her reflection. Baby chicks are a little bit more distractible, but they will love posing in front of a mirror nonetheless.
A wonderful thing to introduce to your brooder early on is a small roost. Putting a stick across the brooder at 4-6 inches high will give the chicks important balance practice and speak to their natural instinct to roost. It’s also not high enough to hurt a chick should she fall off. Just make sure that the ends are secure so that it doesn’t dump any chicks unduly.
Another toy that will help to show chicks about real world excitement is a clump of grass or weeds. Include the full roots with the dirt as well as the green grass (dandelions and moss will also work). In order to limit the mess don’t put in a clump bigger than 6 square inches. The chicks will eat up the greens, dig around in the dirt, possibly find a worm or two, and also learn about the ultimate chicken spa treatment: dust bathing.
Chicks, along with grown chickens, benefit greatly from herbs. Baby chicks will peck apart a leaf or a sprig quickly, and it will give them valuable nutrients. Basil, dill, cilantro, garlic, mint, and oregano all have wonderful health benefits for chickens. They will help to prevent or remedy many of the same ailments as they assist with in humans, as well as other benefits like being natural dewormers and combating avian flu.
Chicks also love special treats like mealworms and seeds. Again, they will be learning about foraging for bugs in the real world if you sprinkle some special treats around their brooder – and they will have great fun doing so!