I have 5 EE hen's and one rooster ( he was supposed to be a hen, lol) they are 12 weeks old. They have a nice coop and a 6x12 pen. I want to free range them when I am working in the barn, our place is 5 acres, fenced for horses. I have not tried it yet. I am worried about not being able to get them back in! First time chicken owner! Love my chickies! :-)
Worried about getting flock back in coop after 1st time out!
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My chickens are free rangers and I have not had any issues with them coming in by dusk. They do get a snack of millet because I also have guineas that I have to entice with millet to come in,but that isn't really necessary for the chickens. They seem to be programmed to return to the roost at night. I would bet you won't have any trouble.
When I started with my flock they were purchased as 20 week birds that had been free ranging, with open access to an old bank barn to come and go as they please. Wild children if you will...
I was concerned about them ranging too far outside their run, and after trying it a few times watching them closely from the house, I was almost disappointed they weren't ranging further from the coop. I don't think any of them have made it more than 30 feet from the coop when they've been out.
But that's just my experience.
- The Chiarian
Only once did I have to put my hens in after dusk and that was their first night out. But they won't roam far from the coop right at first. The chickens will naturally want to go in to roost for the night where they know it's safe. If their regular feed is in the coop they will remember that and also baiting them with a little scratch just before dusk works too.
I really don't think you'll have a problem as you will see.
If it worries you, you can put a light in the coop near dusk the first couple of nights and they will navigate toward it at dusk. I have some portable LED lights from Harbour Freight that can hang from a built on hanger or use the attached magnet to stick it to the fence wire. I like those because I can hang it from my shirt collar to keep my hands free in place of a flashlight if I have a need to check on them after dark. Plus they are brighter than my flashlight anyway.
The pullets naturally want to go to their roost when dusk is approaching. The first time I let mine out it was about 30 minutes before they normally would go into their coop for the night. That way they stayed close as they knew it was almost time to go in. After a few days I let them out for an hour earlier than their bed time. After a few days of that I knew they'd go in. It is a good idea to get them used to coming when called. When mine were little I always said "here, chicky, chicky" every time I fed them or gave them treats. They learned that very well. My neighbor took in my hens when I went south for the winter. In the spring I came home and noticed that he was free ranging the chickens. I called "here, chicky, chicky" and all 6 of my girls ran across the pasture to come home.
I don't think it was mentioned but they have to become acclimatized to the coop being their home. I am not sure of how long but a week probably is needed. Do not let them out for that first week. They will then view the coop as their home and will want to return. Otherwise, they may be searching for a home when they are out. Someone please pipe in on the amount of time.