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    Time To Thrive: 10 Easy And Inexpensive Enrichment Ideas

    A banner depicts a right hand drawing two way arrows between the words cheap, good, and easy.

    Enrichment can be such a fun aspect of care! In the first resource of our Time To Thrive Enrichment Series, we discuss the importance of enrichment and why it should be considered a part of a general care routine. We highly recommend you check it out! Not only does it enrich the lives of residents, but enrichment also has the potential to enrich the lives of caregivers. However, providing a rotation of appropriate enrichment opportunities can feel overwhelming when considering possible costs, procurement, and preparation of enrichment items and activities. We know care staff have a “to-do” list a mile long, and finding the time and energy even to research enrichment ideas can feel like a lot. That’s why we put together this mini-resource offering ten inexpensive and easy-to-procure enrichment ideas! It doesn’t have to break the bank or require fancy products to enrich sanctuary residents’ experiences. Let’s dive right in!

    Start Small!
    Small steps can lead to big changes. A daily enrichment program for all residents is a great dream to work towards. In fact, we have a resource in the works that addresses potential vision and goals when starting a full-fledged enrichment program. For now, don’t let your idea of a perfect enrichment program prevent you from providing good enriching experiences on a smaller scale! If you like this resource, check out our resource on simplifying enrichment as well!

    Inexpensive Enrichment Opportunities

    1. Down In The Dirt

    Many different resident species enjoy a good roll in the dirt. Horses, donkeys, mules, alpacas, llamas, bison, chickens, turkeys, quail, ostriches, and many more species enjoy a good dust bath. Some bird species use dust bathing to keep clean, prevent or treat parasites, remove dead skin cells, and it feels good! Most chicken and turkey residents will be highly motivated to perform this natural behavior. Providing dust baths is necessary for these species, but there are many ways you can do this and mix it up, and they are all easy and inexpensive! Many mammalian residents also enjoy a good roll in the dirt. It can really scratch that itch and deter biting insects. But wait, there’s more! Choose from a list of variations on the simple dust bath to keep things interesting for residents who enjoy a good roll:

    The Au Naturel 

    This is the basic dust bathing plan. If your sanctuary is located on easily dug soil that clump (not clay-based) too much, then you are in luck! You can pick a spot in a resident’s living area and dig up a lovely bathing area for them. Bird residents must use soil only from places protected from contact with wild birds, as wild birds can carry and spread HPAI to bird residents. Be sure the spot is large enough for them to really get in there and enjoy and that there are multiple dust bathing areas if you have a resident group. This can help prevent conflict.

    The Beach Bath

    Adding a little sand to the dust bath can help break up the dirt. It can get in there between feathers and exfoliate the skin for interested bird residents. However, fine sand can clump easily and cause crop impactions in bird residents with crops. For this reason, a larger grain of sand for bird residents is often recommended in dust baths. Ingestion of sand can also cause colic in equine residents and impactions in others. For this reason, it is also important not to feed residents food on the sandy ground. Now we just need a day at the beach for the sanctuary humans!

    The Spa Bath

    This is the ultimate deluxe package! Mix resident-safe aromatic dried herbs (basil, thyme, dill) or flowers (violets, rose petals) for spa baths into their dust bath. The ideal way to approach this is to offer two different baths, one without additional herbs. Another option is to add a small amount of vanilla, almond, or other extracts you might find in your kitchen cabinet, mix it up in the dirt, and let it dry before giving them access—this way, they can choose which path they prefer and those that don’t like it have another option.

    The Wet N’ Wild Bath

    This isn’t precisely a dust bath, but it can start as dust! For those residents who may prefer their dirt with a bit of water, puddles and wallows are fantastic. Waterfowl and pig residents will line up for these!

    2. Popsicle Panacea

    This is such an easy and fun summer enrichment activity! You only need plastic storage containers, water, a freezer, and species-appropriate produce. If you don’t have a good freezer at the sanctuary, you or volunteers can freeze them at home and transport them to the sanctuary in a cooler- just remember that this IS work, and maintaining a healthy work/life balance is important! If you are a manager, it is important to respect and encourage care staff to take time for themselves and not ask them to work during their time off unless there is an emergency. This will help prevent compassion fatigue and burnout. While some produce must be chopped up first, others can just be tossed in, such as grapes, banana pieces that can be broken up by hand, greens, peas, corn, blueberries, strawberries, and green beans. Stone fruits should have pits removed before adding them to the mix, and apples should be seeds removed. Simply toss in the produce, add water, and freeze. 

    Prepping for this enrichment can be an easy task to ask of volunteers

    3. Keep It Simple With Straw Bales 

    Simple straw bales can be used as perches, hiding spots, nesting material, jumping-off points, and visual barriers, making the space more interesting. Be sure to keep straw away from potential fire hazards and check for mold, insect and rodent presence, and any twine a resident could swallow. Due to HPAI, it is vital you ensure food and bedding reserves and enrichment items are stored in secure areas where wild birds and other wildlife cannot access them. For example, if you use straw, keeping straw bales in a storage building that wild birds can access means bedding could become contaminated and, once brought into bird resident living spaces, could expose residents to these viruses. There are other diseases passed on by wildlife that can affect mammalian residents as well. Ensuring their straw and hay are properly stored away from contact with wildlife could be a lifesaver for residents.

    4. DIY Browse

    Goats generally love this one! Doing some tree trimming? Tying the branches (from resident-safe trees) you prune to a fence post gives goats a tasty snack. If you can, hang it high enough that goat residents stand on their back legs to reach it. This is a natural goat behavior though it may not be appropriate for older goats or those with known mobility issues. Always consider the individual! Alpaca, llama, and donkey residents may find this enriching as well.

    Advanced option: Take a PVC pipe and put caps on the ends. The length of the tube can be a foot long or longer. Drill a handful of holes in the side of the tube, and it becomes a food dispenser. You can attach these dispensers to a fence or post, put leafy greens through them, and hang them at different heights to stimulate natural browsing behaviors. You can even make PVC “tree branches” and hang them from a ceiling, goat furniture, or an actual tree!

    5. Bobbing For Apples (Or Other Tasty Treats)

    Many resident species can enjoy a fun summer enrichment activity: bobbing for produce! Duck residents in their pools, cow residents in their pastures with a water trough, goats with a water bucket, and so on. You only need resident-safe produce, a sturdy water container, and residents! Be aware that this could be unsafe for young, small residents who may fall into the water and be unable to escape. Always consider the species and the individual. Chop produce into appropriately sized bits, remove any stones, and always be sure there is enough for everyone. Having multiple stations is important to reduce potential conflict.

    6. Sound Of Music

    Auditory enrichment can be easy and inexpensive. Examples of auditory enrichment include a volunteer strumming a guitar for an engaged resident, playing the radio while you are in the area, or providing objects that make sounds when manipulated (like bells). The type of auditory enrichment used can depend on the species it is intended for and the individual. All you need is a phone or old radio. Soft classical music has been shown to calm a number of species and would be a good place to start!

    Check out our Time To Thrive resource on the importance of considering species and individuals when brainstorming enrichment ideas. In the case of auditory enrichment, different species have different hearing abilities, so care must be taken that any noise or music played doesn’t end up being an unpleasant or harmful experience for residents. For example, cows have nearly double the frequency range of humans, and auditory enrichment should be implemented with this in mind! Studies have shown that cows can become stressed in noisy environments. If you wish to try auditory enrichment, err on the side of caution and keep sounds low. In addition to species-specific considerations, always be mindful of the individual. Is a resident hard of hearing? Are they easily startled?  It is best to do your research beforehand to prevent negative experiences for residents.

    7. Exterior Decorating (The Best HGTV)

    Do you have access to old branches, logs, stumps, fallen trees, sand, dirt, leaves, or large rocks? If you have these things around the sanctuary property, you can use them to add perches, different elevations/views, differing scents and textures, and hiding places/visual barriers. You can also mix things up after you have them in their living space by occasionally moving them around or adding a new perch, stump, or dirt mound. Like always, you must consider the species and the individual to ensure these additions are appropriate for the resident group. Check out our resource on physical enrichment for species-specific examples!

    8. Afternoon Tea

    Care for a cup of tea? Maybe some of your residents do too! All you need is resident-safe, caffeine-free herbal tea bags, water, and water buckets or other appropriate containers. For this one, it’s as simple as putting a couple of tea bags in a bucket and setting that bucket in the sun to steep a bit as you go about your care routine. Come back later and remove the tea bags, place and secure the water container(s) in the resident’s living space. Ensure enough room for everyone and enough containers so residents can spread out. We don’t want to create conflict by having too few enrichment resources! You can learn about their preferred tea preferences while adding novelty, olfactory, and gustatory experiences. Always be sure to keep this separate from their regular water source so residents don’t avoid drinking if they don’t like the tea.

    9. Rollin’ Rollin’ Rollin

    This one takes a little more time and effort to get started but can still be done in 20 minutes, and then every other time you use it as enrichment, it won’t take but a minute! Take a bucket, office water bottle, or a barrel with a lid, or for smaller residents, a short length of PVC pipe with end caps, and drill or cut holes into the side. Be sure to sand these edges down, if needed, to ensure they aren’t sharp. Then put in chopped-up treats or food. Put it out in their living space and watch residents learn how to push them around to get tasty treats. This is an excellent example of overlapping types of enrichment. This activity provides nutritional, sensory, and cognitive enrichment.  Having a bit of an obstacle to overcome can be especially rewarding for residents when they figure out how to access the treats.

    *Never use containers that have had chemicals, paint, or other potentially toxic substances in them!

    10. Special Delivery Mail Service

    Do you have a wishlist where supporters can purchase items the sanctuary needs, which are automatically shipped to you when a donor buys them? If not, this alternative way to receive donations can be fun for donors as they get to choose what they are donating! When you receive toys, treats, or other enrichment items, use a resident-safe box, put the toy or treat in the box, and “deliver” it to a resident. You can video this while supervising the resident “opening their mail” and getting their supporter’s donation! This is a great way to show donor appreciation and can be shared on social media.

    Bonus Idea

    11. Whose House Is This?

    Have you ever watched one of those shows where interior decorators rearrange someone’s house to mix things up? Sometimes the room will look and feel entirely different simply by moving furniture around and adding some throw pillows. Well, you can do this in resident living spaces too! Add another dirt bath in a different area, move the scratching post, take the straw bales, stumps, or branch perches, and mix their locations up. Offer them treats in a different area. When you do this, it allows residents to experience their living space differently, keeping things interesting. If you have a resident who is generally timid or easily overwhelmed, this might not be the best option for them.

    Consider All The Factors
    While some possible hazards enrichment can pose are due to size, material, loose pieces, and other physical factors, enrichment can also prove to be a risk if a resident finds the offered enrichment scary, threatening, or even extremely exciting. Care must be taken first to consider the species and the individual and how they might respond. Once you have done that, you can eliminate any possible physical safety hazards. Follow this up by closely observing the individual to ensure you can intervene and remove that object if there are any issues.

    Well, there you have it! Ten (eleven!) easy and inexpensive enrichment ideas for you and your care staff to offer residents. When providing enrichment, always be sure to observe and record your observations of how residents respond to the enrichment so you, volunteers, and other staff will know whether it was successful or not. Remember, it’s only enrichment if the resident finds it enriching! Have more ideas you’d like to share with us? We’d love to hear them!


    Looking for easy ways to enrich the lives of residents under your care? Check out this infographic for a few simple ideas.

    Copy of ENRICHMENT by Amber D Barnes

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