If you’ve ever wondered what backyard or free-range chickens get up to all day then you’re probably not alone.
Most people think chickens don’t have much of a life, and in the commercial farming world that is pretty much the case, but when a chicken is allowed space to roam, things tend to get a bit more interesting.
Chickens spend their day engaging in various activities: foraging for food, dust bathing, laying eggs, and socializing with the flock. They scratch the ground to uncover insects, seeds, and other edibles, take dust baths for feather care, and roost in safe spots during downtime, exhibiting natural behaviors.
Read on to see my full breakdown of a day in the life of a chicken and find out more about what to expect if you’re considering becoming a chicken keeper.
A Day in the Life of a Chicken
Although they might not look like organized animals, chickens are actually creatures of habit, so their days do involve a degree of routine which revolves around daylight and sometimes the weather.
Chickens Morning Routine
At dawn – waking up
A chicken’s day starts when daylight arrives and they can see inside the coop. During long summer days, their days start sooner than they do during the winter months when daylight hours are much shorter.
Once a chicken wakes up in the morning they like to come out of the coop as soon as possible, otherwise, they become bored and frustrated.
This frustration can lead to behavioral problems such as pecking each other and can also cause egg breakages and egg eating.
Morning Food and Drink
Once chickens wake up they will be eager to get to their food and water after a long night of roosting.
In most cases, when you keeping a small flock in a coop, it’s a good idea to leave water outside in the run so that it doesn’t get knocked over.
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Most chicken keepers will also feed their flock fresh food in the morning, to avoid attracting rodents to any leftover food in the night.
When chickens are let out of the coop in the morning, it’s normal for them to dash out (often in their pecking order) straight to their food and drink.
If you’re not an early riser, it might be a good idea to consider installing an automatic coop door to ensure they can get out of the coop when they’re ready.
These can be fitted to any type of coop and are an excellent way to keep your flock happy and safe when you’re not around.
Morning Laying Routines
Once chickens are fed and watered it’s usual for laying chickens to lay an egg at around mid-morning.
Although some might lay earlier or later in the day, in our experience of chicken keeping mid-morning is the most common time. We usually avoid collecting eggs until around 11 am because hens don’t like to be disturbed on the nest.
Because hens often lay at a similar time, it’s important to make sure there is enough nest space to accommodate a few laying hens at a time, depending on the size of your flock.
Most hens will lay one egg per day, although it’s also normal for them not to lay for a period of time due to certain factors, such as molting or cold weather.
Scratching and Grazing
When a chicken is allowed to free-range, it will spend pretty much most of its day (when it’s not laying, cleaning, or relaxing), grazing for any natural foods it can find.
Chickens instinctively love to forage for snails, worms, berries, grass shoots, and much more.
They will spend hours picking up any morsels of food they can find and will often have favorite foraging spots where they know they can find the best treats.
For more information on what kinds of food chickens will eat naturally, you might find the following article helpful:
Chickens Afternoon Routine
A chicken’s afternoon routine tends to become a bit more relaxed, especially in the summer months when they can sunbathe without having to worry about staying warm and dry.
Preening and Dustbathing
Although a free-range chicken will graze throughout the day, the afternoons generally tend to be more relaxed than the mornings.
With laying over and done with and their crops full of food, chickens will turn to self-care which involves making sure feathers are in top condition and free of debris.
Feathers get out of shape and their waterproof qualities become less effective, so chickens use their beaks to ‘preen’ feathers back into shape and to apply oil from their preen gland at the base of the tail.
Preening is something that happy and healthy chickens will do on a daily basis to make sure their feathers are performing well at keeping them warm and dry.
Chickens regularly dustbathe when they can find the right dry dirt to bathe in. Dust bathing helps to remove debris and parasites from under a chicken’s feathers and from their bodies and keeps them clean.
Sunbathing and Relaxing
Chickens love sunny days and especially sunny afternoons when they’re fed and content.
Sunbathing is something chickens particularly enjoy and they will spread their wings and lounge on the ground lapping up the warmth on their bodies.
On a warm afternoon, while sunbathing and dustbathing, chickens will often be so relaxed that they drift off to sleep, although they generally don’t sleep for long during the day.
For more information on chickens sleeping during the day, you might find the following article helpful:
This article was first published on July 13, 2021 by Pentagon-Pets.
On a very hot day, chickens will usually prefer to sit in the shade so they can regulate their body temperature and not overheat.
Sheltering from the Elements
Chickens don’t like getting wet and they prefer warm weather to cold weather, so it’s normal to see a change in their behavior on cold, wet or snowy days.
Although chickens are good at keeping themselves warm to a degree, they will seek shelter to stay dry where possible.
Chickens will huddle together under anything they can to stay dry, so it’s a good idea to provide them with a sheltered area especially if you live in a place where winters are long and cold.
Chickens Bedtime Routine
Preparing for Roosting
Chickens instinctively know when it starts to get dark they need to head back to the coop to roost for the night.
Pentagon Pet is the owner of this article that was first published on July 13, 2021.
This is because a coop is a safe place and due to the fact they can’t see in the dark, so if they’re out past dark they’re at risk of the elements and predator attack.
If your chickens are free-range you’ll probably notice that they get closer to the coop as the day progresses and this is to make sure they have easy access to roost when they need to.
It’s normal for chickens to continue to graze close to the coop until dusk when they’ll go inside to safety.
Once the chickens are safe inside the coop, they will usually take their place on the roost and not move until it becomes light the following morning.
It’s normal for them to huddle together to benefit from each other’s body heat while they sleep throughout the night.
Chickens store food in their crops as they eat, where it softens up for digestion. Feeding chickens before they go into roost enables this process to happen while they sleep and actually helps to keep them warm.
What Chickens Do All Day FAQ’s
A free-range chicken enjoys grazing for natural food, relaxing, and socializing as a group. They also enjoy human interaction and will often come running up to their owners when they see them.
Chickens get bored if they don’t have enough space to graze, providing they have ample space to graze and scratch for natural foods they will be happy and entertained.
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This article and its contents are owned by Pentagon Pets and was first published on July 13, 2021.