Hello fellow Kansans,
We are new to chickens and so excited. Our girls are only a week old but doing well, I have 2 more coming tomorrow for a total of 8. We are just NW of Wichita in Colwich. We live in a small neighborhood on 5 acres, UNFENCED of course. I know my chickees will need to stay in the brooder until about 8 weeks and then to the coop/run. I've read to keep them in there for a week so that they will know where home is. I need some direction for free-ranging though. I really want to be able to let them out of the run for a good chunk of the day but I want them to be safe too, then then of course to the coop at dusk. Any suggestions how to "work-up" to this? I thought we would start with just letting them out when I'm out gardening and such. We have some tree over but not a lot. We also have neighbor dogs that are not fenced in.... I have my paint ball gun ready just in case! j/k
Any helpful suggestions?
Also, can I leave the coop windows open at night during the warm weather? they have the wire mesh over the openings. Or is that unsafe, poss predators get in easier?
Welcome! Unfortunately, as soon as you start to free-range chickens, you'll find out you have a bunch of predators nearby that you didn't even know were there. I would say the odds of them being safe for long without supervision are pretty low. The neighbor's dog may or may not be an issue. I have 5 dogs, 4 of whom are poultry safe and the fifth is only 7 months old and getting there. My neighbor has 2 dogs who are poultry safe (we introduced her dogs to my birds when they were puppies and worked with them until we trusted them). So poultry safe dogs are possible - but if your neighbor's dog has not been introduced, it could be an issue in addition to wild predators.
You have other options that would still allow some free-range. One is to put them in a chicken tractor that will keep them safe but will allow you to move them to a new area of forage every day. Another is to get livestock guardian dogs that will keep predators off your property (they come with a whole other set of issues if your property isn't fenced though, so fencing may be something you want to consider sooner rather than later).
Regarding your coop and brooder. I personally feel that chicks are hardier if they are weaned off heat when they are younger, so I turn off the heat when they are about 2 ½ weeks old and then over the course of the next week, introduce them to being outdoors by day but inside with no heat at night. At 3 ½ weeks, they go outside full time. I do that even in March/April so at this time of year, you really shouldn't need heat for long and you won't want chicks in a brooder for 8 weeks - the mess and stink will be horrendous
I put hardware cloth over my coop windows, using fender washers to secure it. I leave them open to some degree year round - as Danz mentioned, ventilation is super important. Chickens have a layer of down that insulates and keeps them warm - they are far more cold hardy than heat hardy. I find that fresh air, as long as it isn't a draft blowing directly on them, keeps them healthier than closing them into a coop, thinking it will keep them warmer. My windows are storm windows so I can adjust whether they are fully open or partway closed. If it is blowing snow, I close them almost all the way, but the rest of the time they are partway open and from about March to December the glass portion of the window is removed altogether.