I am a first-time owner of chickens who is constantly referencing threads on this amazingly helpful site but have not posted until now. I read through a very similarly titled post but it was about baby chicks that had been hatched with their current owner and not adult hens that were not born with us.
LOCATION: I live on a decently forested, secluded 4 acre lot on a south-facing hill in the north GA mountains. We are surrounded by trees, so we have both endless shade and great sun throughout the day. There are two other homes on our mountain, which are easily accessible via our shared driveway. Our lot is not fenced allowing for easy escape in all directions. At the base of the mountain, there is a lake home with free-range chickens and roosters who are also not fenced in. There is a road at the bottom of the hill with a range of normal to thick brush (much with thorns) between us and it. Across the road is a river that you can hear from our deck, which we imagine would entice the chickens to traverse through the thorns (or more conveniently take our driveway) to get across the road and to the water.
HISTORY: We purchased 6 hens approx. 3 months ago when they were approx. 12 months old and, while they are still timid with us, they seem to be quite settled now. When we first got them, a few escaped and were a feat to catch. One got loose recently and seemed as if she didn't even notice the freedom. When I lured her close to the run entrance and tried to get a hold of her, she freaked out, shoved herself back into the run, and calmed down immediately. We have a friendly but hyper dog who will likely have to be leashed when outside until he gets used to them being loose; they seem to have gotten used to him being around their run.
QUESTIONS: Should I remove the run fence or do you believe the chickens would be too tempted to roam far from home? What is the best way to control where they lay eggs (fake eggs, rocks, nesting boxes, etc.)? How long do they usually take to get into the habit of coming back to the coup at night? How long do they usually disappear for? Should I worry so much or is it no big deal? Will they separate from each other? Will my chickens leave us for the lakefront home in search of a better life/more friends? What else should we expect/prepare for in this transition period?
I understand all chickens (and situations) are different, so I don't expect much, but am endlessly appreciative of help from someone who went through or knows of a similar situation and can provide some insight. I am more worried about their safety and being accountable for them than anything else and am grateful for everyone's time in responding.
Thank you very much!!