I am wondering if I put my chickens in the coop at night and let them run free in my fenced back yard during the day. The yard is fenced with chain link about 4 feet high and is rather large. I understand about predators but if my neighbor does it shouldn't I be ok as well?
Edited by Davaroo - 2/11/11 at 7:30am
First of all, keep your cool, as you're doing now. Second we cannot possibly know if "everything will be alright." That is for you to determine. Asking for reassurance here is like asking the choir to preach to you.
You have to do two things, in all cases:
1. Determine if the "range" can sustain the birds' needs.
2. Determine the threat from predators.
Chickens can be pets, but they are also livestock. As such, we expect they will provide a return benefit. So they give you the best results when you control their activities.
So fencing them into paddocks (yards) is the better idea. The notion of "free ranging" is widely applied, but most people don't grasp it's full import.
We tend to either romanticize the concept as the above poster has, or we deem it some sort of low-cost feeding scheme. Each outlook has it's place, but neither is entirely appropriate.
When it comes to feeding chickens, it has been proven that a carefully arranged, hybrid feeding plan is best. This means one where you control their primary feed intake, with supplement from the range area. In other words, feed them what you know they need - first - and then let them forage up what ever else they can.
A 4 ft fence is adequate with paddock management, for containing chickens. If you clip their wings and keep any sort of perches away from the fence, you should be alright. They WILL go over the fence if they can get close enough, though, so keep the means to do so away from the perimeter. And keep their wings clipped if you want to keep them within the fence.....
But predators wont let fences stop them, and there are both ground and aerial avenues of access available to them. In suburban Utah, the predator threats are probably easy to determine.
The short list will include dogs, coyotes, weasels and their kin and a few other key terrestrial predators. All will have designs on your chickens.
Some can climb a chain link fence, others can dig under or jump it. And DO NOT under estimate the local "pet" dogs - in the urban landscape they are some of the worst offenders.
From the air, hawks, kestrels, falcons, eagles and owls.... well, these all love a fresh chicken dinner, too. So it behooves you to be aware of these and prepare defenses against them.
Here's the bottom line - chickens don't live forever and there are many dangers. Cars are only one of these and truth be told, they are possibly the lesser.
"The Chickens World Is A Savage Place," for sure.
All this drives to the fact that losses are inevitable. You can cut these losses, though, if you open your eyes and keep a view of THEIR life in mind.