Deciding To Free Range Your Flock

Before free-ranging your chickens there are some steps you should take to make sure your flock gains the most benefits from free-ranging, that...
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  1. CarolJ
    Deciding to Free Range Your Flock


    Often one of the first things a new chicken owner wants to do is let the flock out to free-range. One of the joys of owning chickens is watching "chicken TV" as they interact with each other, you, and their environment. Free-ranging provides a larger and more varied environment for your chickens. Before free-ranging your chickens, however, there are some steps you should take to make sure your flock gains the most benefits from free-ranging, that they remain safe, and that they return to the safety of the coop at night. One of the jobs of responsible animal husbandry (taking care of animals used for food or products), is to provide them with a safe environment. There is no way to ensure 100% safety, but there are ways to make their free-ranging as safe as possible.

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    First, let’s define free-ranging. It does NOT mean turning your chickens loose outside and letting them fend for themselves. If you look at USDA regulations, you’ll find that in order for poultry producers to label their chickens as free-range (or free-roam) they “must demonstrate to the Agency that the poultry has been allowed access to the outside.” That broad definition allows a lot of leeway in how to manage your free-range chickens. It does not specify the quality of the outside area, the amount of outside area or the duration of time spent outside. If you purchase free-range eggs or chickens, it would be a good idea to find out what that specific producer considers "free-range."

    For the purpose of this article, we will discuss backyard flocks - not large poultry producers. We will also define free-ranging as allowing your chickens to be outside of an enclosed pen for all or part of the day. That doesn’t mean there can’t be fences. Chickens can free-range within a larger fenced-in area such as a pasture, a field or even a back yard. Just remember that while fences will help contain your flock, chickens can and do fly over them. And while many fences may help contain chickens, they do little to keep out predators.

    In deciding whether or not your chickens can free-range, you should study the benefits and dangers of free-ranging and decide what will work best for your particular flock. There is no “one size fits all” method of free-ranging. Some people decide that the dangers are too great, and so they work to provide their chickens with a large run where they can still get plenty of exercise and fresh air but in a protected environment. Others let their chickens free-range while managing the risks as best they can.

    First, what are the benefits of free-ranging?

    Benefits of free-ranging
    • Reduced feed costs – When chickens free-range, they eat bugs, grasses, seeds, leaves and other treats they find outside, and that means they eat less feed.
    • Higher quality eggs and meat – Check out this article from Mother Earth News to find out what a big difference free-ranging makes in the nutritional content of eggs. http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx. Free-ranging provides benefits to chickens that are raised for meat as well. According to The Sustainable Table (http://www.sustainabletable.org/issues/pasture/), “free-range chickens have 21% less total fat, 30% less saturated fat and 28% fewer calories than their factory-farmed counterparts." Simply put, eggs and meat from free-ranged chickens are healthier for us.
    • Insect control – Chicken love to eat a wide variety of insects. When they free-range, they are able to find and eat more insects. Many people let chickens free-range in their gardens during the winter to help control grubs and other insects that could harm their plants later in the year.
    • Fertilizing and aerating the soil – all that scratching, pecking and pooping in the soil does a great job of keeping the dirt loosened, fertilized and aerated.
    • More natural – When chickens free-range, they are able to do what nature intended them to do. They can scratch and dig in the dirt to find bugs and leaves and to forage for other things to eat. They can run and exercise their wings by flying short distances. They can snooze in the sun or find a nice place to take a dust bath which is essential in controlling parasites and conditioning their skin.

    Now let's look at the dangers of free-ranging.

    Dangers of free-ranging
    • Predators - The biggest challenge of free-ranging is protecting the flock from predators. While well-constructed fences may keep out some dogs, coyotes and other 4-legged predators, many predators can (and do) climb or dig under, jump over or navigate their way through fences. Flying predators (owls, hawks, etc.) are a common danger for free-ranged chickens. It’s difficult to protect your flock from overhead attacks.

    First be aware. Even if you’re inside the house, listen for excessive noise from the chickens outside. Chickens frequently squawk and cluck, but as you become more familiar with your flock, you’ll learn what sounds they make when they’re panicked or feeling threatened. If you hear unusual sounds from your chickens, investigate immediately.

    Second, provide cover for your chickens. When free-range chickens are threatened, they can use the cover of a shelter or trees, bushes and other vegetation for protection from predators.

    Another solution is to have a livestock guardian dog (LGD). An LGD can be an invaluable asset in protecting your flock. However, an improperly trained LGD can become a predator as well. Don’t get an LGD unless you can provide the necessary training. Training an LGD takes a year or more of consistent time and work with the dog. Many livestock owners swear by them. Before getting an LGD, learn as much as possible to determine whether one would be right for you and your flock and whether or not you can set aside the time daily for training.

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    Have a rooster with your flock. At first the thought of having a rooster wasn't appealing to me. However, we ended up with one anyway after buying some straight run chicks. When our young and beautiful rooster saw a hawk one day, he sounded the alarm for the hens, All the hens ran to shelter, and the rooster faced the hawk by himself. We heard the commotion and quickly ran outside, but the hawk had already killed the rooster. Our roo died protecting his flock. Most roosters instinctively look out for their hens. The hens stay near him as they free-range, and the rooster keeps an eye out for predators such as hawks, owls, foxes and raccoons - anything he recognizes as dangerous.

    Many chicken owners use supervised free-ranging. After my rooster was killed by a hawk, I decided to do this. My chickens have an especially large covered run. So they get some of the benefits of free-ranging inside the run - flying, roosting, scratching and pecking in the dirt. However I also let them out of the run as often as possible. I do so only when I can be outside to supervise. I usually work in the garden, yard or around the chicken coop during that time. That way I can keep an eye on them and watch for possible dangers.

    Portable coops or runs can also be used. Portable coops and runs can be utilized to vary the area for free-ranging. Once the chickens recognize the portable coop as "home," they will return to it at dusk each day and they will return to it as shelter from predators. One advantage of a portable coop is that you can move it around the property in order to fertilize and aerate a larger area - and you can keep the chickens from completely stripping one area. It provides a nearby place for the chickens to run for safety.

    Finally, no matter what you do to protect your chickens while free-ranging, you will likely lose one occasionally. If you don't feel you can handle a loss, then free-ranging probably isn't for you. It can be distressing to find a partially eaten chicken, to have a chicken just disappear or to find that a few feathers are all that's left of your favorite chicken. However, most free-range flock owners accept that an occasional loss is the trade-off for allowing their chickens to roam freely.

    • Weather - Another danger to free-range chickens is the weather. A covered shelter or access to their coop (permanent or portable) is necessary in case of heavy rain, hail or other weather-related threats.

    • Chickens may find “unusual” places to lay their eggs - While this isn’t a “danger,” it is an inconvenience you may experience. When chickens free-range for a large part of the day, they will often lay their eggs in a cozy-looking place outside rather than in the nest boxes in the coop. Sometimes you can find caches of 20 or more eggs that have been laid in a hollow in the ground, under a bush, or anywhere else that appeals to the chickens. If you keep the chickens in the coop for the first week or two, they become accustomed to laying in the nest boxes, and they’ll hopefully continue returning to the nest boxes to lay even when they’re free-ranging. You can also provide nest boxes outside for your hens. Despite efforts to encourage them to lay in nest boxes, there’s no sure-fire way to prevent them from laying elsewhere. If you have a sudden decrease in the number of eggs each day, observe your hens as they free-range to see where else they might be laying.

    • Landscape damage - If you have a favorite flower bed that you don't want destroyed, devise some way to keep your chickens out of it. Chickens seem to have an uncanny ability to zero in on any area where you don't want them to forage. Their natural instinct to scratch, peck and take dust baths can spell disaster for gardens and mulched areas. At one time I kept a leaf blower handy, and as soon as the chickens were back in the coop, I blew all the mulch back into the shrubbery area. Whether or not this is a concern for you depends on the area where your chickens will free-range.


    Getting your flock to return to their coop at night
    When I got my first flock of chickens, I was eager to let them free range. However, I was afraid they would wander too far and/or not go back to the coop to roost at night. I worried that if I had to go inside or run some errands, I wouldn't be able to get them back to the coop & pen where they'd be safe until I returned. The solution ended up being fairly simple.

    For the first week (at least) keep the chickens in their coop. By forcing them to stay in the coop for a period of time, you are teaching them that the coop is “home” and that it is a safe place for them to be. They also should learn to lay
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    their eggs in the nest boxes in the coop during this confinement period. You might feel that it’s overly strict or “mean” to keep them confined, but it will save you a lot of trouble in the long run. And as long as there is sufficient room for the chickens in the coop, they will be fine. A quick search of “how big should the coop be?” on BYC will locate many discussions to guide you in determining how many chickens your coop can house.

    After the week in the coop, wait until about an hour before dusk, and let them out to free-range – leaving the coop door open so they can return when they are ready. Stay outside with them the first few times to keep an eye on them and to make sure none wander too far away. Except for the occasional renegade, the chickens will invariably head for the coop when it begins to get dark. You might have to physically place some birds in the coop initially, but, in my experience, they all eventually learn what to do.

    Sometimes I want my chickens to return to the coop during the day. In order to do that, I've trained them using both my words and actions. I have a specific cup that I fill with freeze-dried mealworms. You can use sunflower seeds, cracked corn - any kind of treat. I take the cup, shake it so that there is a noise and call, "Here, chick chick chick!" - and they come running. I drop a few mealworms along the way and continue calling "Chick, chick, chick!" as I walk into the pen - and they follow me. Once they're all in, I give them the rest of the mealworms as a reward, and I close the door. It will take at least a week or two of training, but this method has worked many times for me.

    Finally, when you want to begin free-ranging your flock, research the benefits and dangers and then make an informed decision about what you feel will work best for your flock. Except for the basics of responsible animal husbandry, nothing is written in stone. Be open to modifying your free-ranging set-up as needed - and then enjoy the benefits of a free-ranged flock.

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  1. Irish Luck
    I have started free ranging my chickens in the backyard. I have 2 large roosters, two LGD's that do a great job, but here's my problem. My girls like to cool their jets in the car port during the heat of the day. I'm sick of scraping up chicken poop off the concrete. Any suggestions for keeping them out?? I'm in and out of the port all day so I hesitate to use chicken wire. Anything I use has to be easily removed for the car.

    BTW, free ranging is great. The girls run up to me when I go out and escort me as I make my rounds to the other critters. I feel like a movie star with an entourage.
  2. loriem
    My chickens have a large run (40x50 with 2 additional add on areas), but on weekends and evenings they were free range as I live on 20 acres and they have plenty of area to roam. they mostly stay near the trees for protection. A couple months ago, I went to take my laundry off the line and my girls came to see me. I got the first towel down and felt a gust of wind and turned to see a huge hawk had one of my chickens on the ground. I beat the hawk with the towel and it took off. Luckily my chicken was safe and unharmed. However, now they only get supervised free range with me scanning the sky the entire time. To compensate, I will scatter goodies (meal worms, scratch grain, food bits) in the run and toss down a light layer of hay for them to scratch and find it. Since doing this, I have noticed my egg production has dropped of drastically.
      Farmgal101 likes this.
  3. morrisandy
    My run is 20 x 30 with a 4 x 8 coop inside.
    I had crows kill 5 of the 6 seven week old chick the very day I put them out. The survivor got named LUCKY for obvious reasons.
    Since the areal attack I have covered the run with 2 x 4 welded wire and now a coyote could walk across it and NEVER get the chickens.
    Originally I had chicken wire covering the run but here in north Idaho we had a real heavy wet snow on night that stretched the chicken wire right to the ground, I cut it down and didn't replace it fast enough.
    I use chain link construction panels all the way around the run and after 6 years NOTHING besides the crow has gotten in.
    I replaced the chicks with 14 week old teenagers and had to clip their wings so they couldn't get out faster than I could get the cover done.
    Unfortunately I had to use a large fishing net to catch them and now I cant get near them--hopefully they will get over their fear of me.
  4. Gossie
    Very helpful!
  5. jak2002003
    A lot depends of the breed of chicken you have too... some breeds are rather slow and stupid when it comes to avoiding predators. Smaller, lighter breeds that can fly well are the best to free range. More fancy feathered breeds like silkies or polish, for example, are slow to notice predators and some breeds can only run slowly or can not fly up to trees for safety.
  6. LeannS
    I am planning on using everyone`s idea`s as much as the ducks will allow.I want to free range 6 ducks. How would I get the duck in that trailer from their pen. I am thinking they might get away before I get them in that trailer for the day.
  7. allosaurusrock
    I have an Irish Wolfhound. He isn't trained, but his presence often scares away predators. Unless he's in my living room. Sleeping. Like he is now...
      Robz & Genia likes this.
  8. SNJchickens
    I, too, use voice and bribes to entice my hens into their run if I need them to go in before sunset. They love freeze-dried meal worms and cheese. When I first started with chickens the neighbors were sceptical but supportive. To entertain the neighbor children I had them choose the "come in" command. Unanimous vote (4 to 11 year olds) was "here kitty, kitty, kitty!" Now the children laugh out loud when I call my 6 fat hens back indoors.
    My coop/run set up (check out my coop on BYC) has a people door and a chicken door. The hen door is under the raised coop giving the ladies instant shelter if they feel threatened. The hens seldom use the people door even when I am carrying treats and they are following me as if I were the Pied Piper.
  9. nikkers390
    This is a great article that covers most free range issues. I have 5 acres and my poultry used to free range extensively during the day. Then the disappearance came. Lost most of my ducks a couple of geese and many chickens, like one at a time, mysteriously. Now they live in a huge (25' x 35' x 6' - there are 2 of these) covered pen that is as safe as I could make it. It's actually a mini Fort Knox. The only time they leave the pen is when I am able to be there with them, even then I have to be vigilant. A bobcat came and snatched a hen when I was in the pen in plain sight.
  10. Jack Speese
    Hi Leann,
    Unfortunately it's been my experience that ducks are the most vulnerable of all to predators. They don't have the instinct to run for cover in bushes, etc., and with their waddling gait (on land anyway) they are an easy target. Runners do a little better on this score because they are more active and alert. So it's good that you supervise your ducks. I love ducks, and in many ways I think they are the most practical poultry you can raise, good producers of both eggs and meat (unless you get broilers I don't think you get as good a meat yield from chickens, even large breeds have a lot of bone), hardy and require minimum shelter, capable of foraging, but they do require protection from predators and more space because they are messy.
  11. LeannS
    Thanks every one to help me decide what to do. Supervising them 1 hour in the morning would also encourage me to get out for fresh air also. Could also read the paper there or get my walk in for the day.That way they still would have their fenced in area during the rest of the day. Plans do not have to be set in Stone but the safety of my 6 ducks are priority.
  12. Nicks Chickens
    And I would not reccomen free range. Just build a really good coop, attatch it to a garden, close it off in gardening season, and you have good fertilizer
  13. Nicks Chickens
    That rooster looks like mine!
  14. lgcatwoman19
    Don't forget about LGC's. That's right, cats. My boy KayKay watched out for the mallards I raised last year, and for the Khaki Campbell's this year. There was a local fox who delighted in trotting by my yard on his way to the pond but he never ventured into the yard and I believe it was because KayKay was always on guard whether the ducks were in the enclosure with the pool or else free ranging outside of it. KayKay left the yard once the ducks were safely inside their cage at night. He is a big boy and I have never seen him back down from any animal not even a 70 lb dog. He has had to go to the vets on many occasion for head wounds so I know it isn't all talk either. He is fearless and those were HIS ducks.
    Just saying, if you don't have or want a dog, think about employing a LGC!
  15. Zores Mother
    Great article and very informative. Just before reading this, I had posted on the BYC site asking this question. Thanks,
  16. Jack Speese
    Good luck, Augmoe. And partially free ranging is definitely the way to go. Breed choice also has a lot to do with it. Any breed with colored and/or patterned plumage has some degree of natural camouflage. I loved my buff Orpingtons and my Delaware, but their light plumage makes them too easy a target for hawks. I love Polish and cochins too, but they aren't the fastest breeds and are also likely to get picked off by hawks. I have read about "shock poles" but unfortunately we have too many taller trees around for them to work. The hawk lands on the shock pole to survey the flock, and gets a fence charger jolt and supposedly learns to stay away/search for easier prey. But we are surrounded by too many tall pines that make more attractive perching sites for that to work.
  17. Augmoe
    Cool article I can't wait to partially free range my chickens on Chicken TV, hah
  18. rowboattom
    Enjoyed your article. We started our mixed flock last Sept. as chicks and have added over the year. We learned that the chicks will be eatten by the local cats and need to be contained in a 8'x8' wire cage 18" high, we move it around the back yard. The 5 month old hen are free rangeing half of our back yard (in the winter they had the whole yard. We have eatten The Roo (who was a happy Dude) just too noisy and one slow egg producer. The Roo had no fat at all and strong bones, tasted great. Thanks again for you artical
  19. 7263255
    We are thinking about free range but don't think we could stand any more loss to predators. Very good info in your article thanks.
  20. Jack Speese
    I'm with you, Rez. In my opinion the "little doggie" or "playful kitty" that runs loose in the neighborhood and kills other people's poultry, tears up their yard, or is even in some cases threatening or dangerous is anything but "cute"! I have zero tolerance for predators, domesticated or wild. As I've said before, I've heard the argument that they are only doing what comes naturally but then again so is a mosquito. And I don't know too many folks who won't swat one!
  21. RezChamp
    Nice. I enjoyed the links as well. I probably wouldn't have gone to the sites if you hadn't linked them.
    Being raised where I (again) live has afforded me generations of knowledge in regards to many aspects of living with a more naturally self sustaining lifestyle. Formal education has afforded me true appreciation for what I have.
    Much of what I have read in the last 2&1/2hours(following links to other links) I can very much personally relate to. Some of the terminology is different and some is new knowledge, like %'s of vitA&D, beta carotene, etc.
    All being sad I wholeheartedly agree that "pastured eggs" or "eggs from pastured chickens" or "farm eggs" and "pastured" or "farm chickens" for meat are indeed healthier and tastier. Even with predation it is cheaper and healthier to consume these products.
    I found the worst predators are domestic K9's and felines and feral of them. I have lost many beautiful birds to the cute " little doggie" and cute, playful "kitty" that I have resorted to altering my trap sets to them and have less remorse finding them dead than endemic species.
    Mink is the next worst followed by fox and owl then raccoon and coyote, then hawks.
    I do my eliminate all predators in anyway possible with "scaring away" my first choice but i do own traps, snares, a crossbow, a slingshot, an old singleshot 12 gauge all of which i might add, I have grown up with using to feed and defend me and mine.
    Since March this year alone, I have lost.....Adult birds >>> >82 chickens, >4 guineas, >7 beautiful Red Bourban, >1/2dzn geese, >a dzn ducks, >61 rabbits to dogs, and they didnt eat them...any of them.
    ....Young birds>>>>>. >25 chicks, >4 BroadBreastedBronze poults, >4 ducklings, >??50-60?? baby rabbits to cats.
    I lost an additional >12 chickens, >2 turkeys, >3 ducks, >??8or9??rabbits to fox, coyote and owl. I lethally trapped one Mink that killed 15 Homers and and 27 Capachine pigeons from champion lines as well as shot a Merlin that was persuing my Homers. And on different occaisions a GreatHorned Owl and WinterHawk(Gyrfalcon) got into the pigeon coop. I had failed to shut the flight hatches and the pins were down, so they smacked themselves on the windows trying to get out.

    But my experience proves to me that dogs and cats are the worst for predating my fowl.

    I do so love the taste of the eggs and flesh from the fowl that I raise myself. And rabbits...flesh, they aren't Easter Rabbits.
  22. Jack Speese
    I just let my young gals out with the rest of the flock for the first time. They too are shy about exploring outside, but I'm sure that will change! Hawks indeed are the worst predators (frankly I consider them vermin). My birds (chickens, geese, ducks) always head into the barn at night, where their feed and water is, and I shut the door. That keeps them safe from nighttime predators and the fence around the pasture keeps them safe from dogs (which are my second least favorite predator after hawks) but short of a pen with a top it's hard to prevent all aerial attacks. I also have a big Rhode Island Red rooster and he does watch over the girls, but even that isn't a sure defense. Not even guineas are 100% safe from hawks. They truly can be vermin!
  23. mamaschicken
    Free ranging is also healthier and you save a lot of money spent on feed. I never buy feed, have little to know problem with predators but then I have some pretty mean barn cats that were raised with my chickens and they protect each other fairly well.
  24. Jajika
    Well, I guess just let them be. If they don't want to venture out, must be a reason. Could be it's a safety thing they feel.
    I don't believe in forcing them to venture out. Chicken's have a lot of instinct.
  25. yoopersue
    What do you do if your chickens don't WANT to free range? They will not leave pen area, just stay within a few feet of coop.
  26. Dawna
    Your article is very informative. All good points to make sure our chickens are safe. My chickens free-range, I've lost two to predators in four years of keeping chickens. I have two large roosters and two Border Collies that all do a pretty good job of protecting them. I intend to fence in a large area for them with moveable fencing.
  27. nugget_night
    I enjoyed your article will be leaving my newer little chickens in their coop a week as suggested. I had them in new house overnight but had to put ALL of them in tonight. The rooster story reminds me of my own who will watch over the girls calling them to food while they stand aside as girls eat or sacrifice themselves as the girls go running. My German Spitzers were the best at the watch and protect mode.
  28. sarge
    I free-range my chickens, ducks and guineas on a 5 acre area with a 8 foot fence and they produce some excellent eggs, 100 times better than store bought, sometimes my guineas will over the fence to graze the pasture and I'll tell my guard dog, Guineas, and she'll put them back in, No ticks or grasshopper problems with them.
  29. debp
    Wonderfully pragmatic and informative post! Thanks for sharing this experience and information.
  30. mike4180
    my LGD (livestock guardian dog ) is a german short hair pointer..a bird dog !.... loves to hunt pheasant in fall here in ct...loves to baby sit his chicks each spring....lays next to brooder for hours on end,with nose pressed against cage...chicks pick on his nose , even pick at corner of his eyes...he absolutely loves his chickens. the best part is I trained him to hunt...not protect my chickens...
  31. Jack Speese
    Nice article! My greatest predator problems are for sure predatory birds. To me they are vermin. But having a rooster to sound the alarm and plenty of cover where they can run if a hawk appears does help. But along major flyways hawks are truly impossible to deal with. I have a fenced in pasture, not more than 4 ft high but where the pasture is large the birds have shown no desire to fly over it. My birds are pretty good about gong into the barn (also where their food and water is) at dusk. I also do supervised free ranging, i.e., letting the birds have access to the lower meadow and woods when I am cutting grass, etc. As far as staying home, any birds I've raised as chicks that's never been a problem; I have rarely ever gotten adult birds but eventually they too learn where home is.
  32. seadrift
    I have a friend who never had a health problem with her hens until she let them out every day to free range. Now they keep coming down with bad worm infestations. What can be done to protect them from this? I use diatomaceous soil in the coop and nesting area, and apple cider vinegar in their water and have had no problems, but mine just have a huge run for now and are not out in the field yet until I build fencing for this.
  33. ashums
    I live in an urban area with a decent size backyard for the city. My chicken are free range. They never leave my fenced back yard. They eat all the bugs which is especially important since I live in Florida. In summer time they barely need food bc all the plants and bugs to eat. The go in and out of coop as they please and at night come in wo hassle. Though when they were chick's they were not allowed to free range alone. Though I do not keep expensive landscape bc they get into everything.
  34. mamaschicken
    I do free range on 5 acres. My flock has access to woods and a creek. I have often worried about predators but have to admit, the eggs and meat are FAR better if free ranged....I also get "more" eggs. I have taken small precautions....a few mean roosters, a couple of dogs who are friendly and run with the chickens, and a couple of huge old barn cats just because they look mean LOL. I also leave the Barn Light Burning bright 24/7....I have 34 and have not lost one yet.
  35. SoCalChickie
    Great article! Thank you!! I've decided to only allow supervised free ranging because there are too many predators in our area (from unleashed dogs, to huge hawks and starving coyotes). So I've set up an office (old patio chair/table/umbrella) down by my chickens so I can be productive and my chickies can roam around safely. It's good for all of us!!!
  36. Teegan92
    Well now im just terrified of predators lol. I have 4 in my big backyard and they are free-range almost 24/7 - just come back to the coop to lay and sleep. I live in a regular surburban neighbourhood. My big australorp protects the flock from the neighbours cat but should i be worried leaving their coop entry open all the time? i feel like such a moron :|
  37. girls and guineas
    Thank you!! Great article! I enjoyed it!!
  38. Sandstorm495
    Lots of information in there! Thanks for posting the article!
  39. Nutcase
    Love the article. I really liked the story about the rooster :(
  40. Mindychick
    Great article!!!! Really liked the pros and cons that you explained.
  41. DuginMT
    Thanks, I have been free-ranging my flock supervised for 1/2 hour to an hour per night in my back yard between 7 and 8 PM every night and I would have to say it is probably the most enjoyable part of our day! And, they are not hard to get back in the run and coop at all. How they love taking test flights in the yard, foraging and eating bugs!
  42. Joan71
    Thanks to all of the articles like this one, I have been able to make good decisions for my girls. They have a 10 x 12 dog pen as a run so they have plenty of room to exercise, food, water, a birdbath as a pool. Sure are spoiled. I let my girls out every evening around 7:30 - 9 PM. They hunt worms, crickets, scratch around the shrubs for worms, and fly to exercise their wings. I stay outside with them to keep them from straying to my neighbors backyard. One girl is very curious and always looking for adventure. When they are ready for night, they just go into the pen and coop. They love to chase my grandson around the yard. He gives them treats when they catch up with him. One evening I heard a screech owl into the top of a pine tree. By the time I heard him the second or third time, the girls were headed for the coop/pen area on their own. Take care everyone.
  43. doiron5
    Does anyone know if a chicken can find her way home? My hen vanished today, not sure if a fox or hawk got her, but one time the neighbor's dog chased her crazy and she went under my shed for hours. didn't come out til it was dark. I guess I'm hoping something like this happened today and she ran for cover, but out of my yard because I cant find her anywhere. could she find her way home if she's up the street? This is the first time I have lost a hen so I'm not doing so good :(
  44. Tropit
    Great article! I've raised chickens for most of my life. In my experience, predators have been the main drawback to allowing free ranging.
    We moved a couple of years ago and now have a new coop for our girls. At our old place, the chickens had a large, high fenced area in the fruit orchard to roam around in. They also had a couple of completely enclosed pens, for times when we weren't home. We still had the occasional marauder that climbed the oak trees and jumped in for the kill, but for the most part, they were safe and happy.
    When we got to our new place, we let our hens and rooster free range during the day and cooped them up at night. However, we soon discovered that chickens can get botulism from browsing in the streambed. The area seemed so pristine, but falling leaves, rotting logs, etc. can harbor bacteria and disease that chickens can't cope with. We lost a few that way. Predators got the rest of our flock. Our new flock is now in a very large, enclosed pen. I feel sad about it, but better safe than sorry.
  45. Taylorcoop
    Thank you,it was very interesting and helpful,I have a 100 hens,They have a 160 x 100ft. cage and cover on top,so is no grass only straw and oyster shell beside their water container and feed tray ,however I like for them to be loose,so I have some of the plastic chicken wire like I use as a roof over the back of there coop open field,and have a big silvery willow tree that I attach it to,and when I am able to be with them I let them all over cause like you say they do can ruin a flowers bed in no time.However I have a problemI think,and wondering if you could comment on it .I have two hens that have like a pretty big smooth ball on one foot around there ankle,what this could be and can a be a remedy for it.I appreciate if somoene would know,Sincerely
  46. lilpiggy89
    Great article, thank you for sharing :)
  47. Shanti Marie
    Good article, with our pigs free range made them a little more muscular and not as good for eating, boy did they run a lot!
  48. RangingChicks
    Thanks for writing this :) It is very informative.
  49. Purruchicks
    Maybe what is needed to bring these "free rangers" home is A) a chicken dog. (with 4 legs) 2) a chicken whistle (one that offers a food reward) 3) a "drone" rooster (electronically controlled of course) 4) when all else fails a recording to be played appropriately at the right time: Here chick, chick, here chicky chick repeat: here chicks, chicks .... any one and all will work. DHL
  50. Jenny1
    Hmmm.. I will have to try the can thing. So far I've been grabbing a broom or something large and scaring them back in (day time) They are terrified of my broom- run any time I pick it up, even just to sweep the patio.

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