Can I free range an already established cooped flock

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by caliclucker, Jul 29, 2011.

  1. caliclucker

    caliclucker Out Of The Brooder

    May 1, 2011
    I have 15 RIRs, all laying adults 1-2 years old. They presently live in a coop and large run set up. I've been toying with the idea of allowing them to free range during the day. I live on an acre that is surrounded by 6 ft. chain link fencing. The property is split in two with fencing so the hens would have access to the back 1/2 acre. (My dog would be on the front half). I have a few questions:

    1. Are they too old (set in their way) to start free ranging?
    2. Would they return to their coop at night?
    3. Can they potentially "fly" over the chain link? If yes can I trim their wings?
    4. Will they still lay in the coop?
    5. Can redtail hawks kill RIRs?
    6. Will they eat the tomatoes in my garden?

    I really want to try free ranging if it is possible. I love my girls and feel sorry for them at times knowing how much they would love exploring. Any tips, advice,warnings etc. to help me with this will be appreciated. [​IMG]
  2. 7L Farm

    7L Farm Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 22, 2010
    Anderson, Texas
    They would love to range. They will return to the coop. That's their home they feel safe there. They can fly over the fence. I have 25 reds but I live on a farm with alot of land & have no fences so can't answer. Mine never fly over my fenced in garden & the fence is only 4 ft. My chickens free range & lay all their eggs in the coop. Red tail hawks can & will kill your chickens. Chickens love tomatoes!! I will never clip my chickens wings I want them to have the ability to fly if they are being attacked by a predator. You can clip their wings if desired. I have read to only clip one wing . Someone with more experience would have to explain how.
  3. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    Mine are mostly in the run in the winter time, and chickens are a creature of habit, so even mine are a little leary of leaving the run at first. But they will get over it and love to come out. But they will tear up all of your gardens and can put heavy damage on your grass, they love to scratch and dig, and will do so.

    If you have predators, vary your schedule so that they are not always out at the same time. This has helped reduce my losses to predators, and I have a roo. but if you free range them, you do have a much higher chance of loss to predators. But I think your chickens are healthier.

  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    1. Are they too old (set in their way) to start free ranging?

    No. When they start, they may be relunctant ot leave their familiar surroundings, but gradual they will roam further afield. They will not forage as well as chickens that learned younger, so they will still depend on the feed you feed them quite a bit, but they will definitely love chasing bugs and eating all the green stuff.

    2. Would they return to their coop at night?

    They definitely should return just before bedtime. Watch them the first couple of days. Chickens don't have a good concept of "gate". Usually when I first let mine out, they desperately want to go back to the coop at night, but a few get themselves on the wrong side of the fence and don't know enough to go to the run gate to get inside. After I show them once or twice, they figure it out. Most figure it out on their own, but there are always a few that don't.

    3. Can they potentially "fly" over the chain link? If yes can I trim their wings?

    Potentially, yes, if they are motivated to. Usually, I would not expect them to want to, but if a rooster traps an unwilling hen against the fence, if a predator is after them, or sometimes one just seems to have the wanderlust, they can get over a six foot fence. Personally, I would not clip the wings because on a plot that size, I would not expect them to fly over it. If one does, then deal with the problem then. I think you will be OK.

    4. Will they still lay in the coop?

    Almost certainly if that is where they are used to laying. Occasionally one might try to hide a nest in you, but they are pretty good about trooping back to the coop to lay.

    5. Can redtail hawks kill RIRs?

    Redtailed hawks can kill chickens, even adult full sized fowl chickens. If they have bushes or sheds or such to hide under, the risk is much less. Anytime you free range, you take the risk of predators. I let mine free range and there are a lot of large hawks around here. I've never lost one to a hawk, but I know there is always that risk.

    6. Will they eat the tomatoes in my garden?

    What they don't eat in a garden they will probably scratch up. They love emerging plants and will strip many plants of their leaves. They love tomatoes, sweet peppers, squash anything like that. Chickens and gardens do not mix. They really like scratching in mulch or freshly worked bare ground. The only solution I've found is a fence, either around the garden or around their run.

    What I suggest is that you start letting hem out about an hour or so before dark when you can be with them. As you gain more confidence in what they do, you can extend that time. Depending on your circumstances and experiences, you will decide either you don't want to do this, you'll keep doing it when you are out there, or you'll let them go all the time. We all do it differently. There is no one right way or wrong way for all of us.
  5. moetrout

    moetrout Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 5, 2010
    Milan, MI
    [1. Are they too old (set in their way) to start free ranging? - Never too old

    2. Would they return to their coop at night? - Mostly likey they will as that is home to them

    3. Can they potentially "fly" over the chain link? If yes can I trim their wings? - Yes and yes. If yours are like mine they won't fly over the fence, but they can. If you trim their wings only do one. By only doing one, if they try to fly they will fly in a circle. If you trim both they can still fly straight, but just have to try harder since you have trimmed off some of their "lift".

    4. Will they still lay in the coop? - Yes. Mine free range all day every day and I have yet to find an egg anywhere but in the coup.

    5. Can redtail hawks kill RIRs? - Yes, but I have yet to have any problems with the hawks in my area. This is a risk I have accepted and I do expect at some point to loose one. It could be the hawks that live in my back 18 acres have plenty enough to eat or it could be my chickens are too big for them to try it....I dunno.

    6. Will they eat the tomatoes in my garden? - I think tomatoes are one of my chickens favorites! They probably won't stop at just the tomatoes either.....
  6. JodyJo

    JodyJo Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 27, 2010
    your above poster nailed it all...

    I have much more property, over 300 acres, but my chickens never go farther than 100 yds from the coop or barn...they feel safe there. I have nesting hawks, but in the past 2 years since I have had chickens, no fatalities yet...but I am aware that they can and will if given the chance. (good reason to have a rooster...they will warn of impending troubles)

    they will take a while to get used to the freedom, but will usually put themselves to bed at night in the coop, mine are all in and settled by 7:30.

    Mine never fly...they run real fast and flap, and I have a RIR pullet...I highly doubt they will fly away, they have no reason to right? And trying to clear a 6 foot fence, would be quite the feat I would imagine, based on what mine can do!

    If there are any tomatoes on the ground, they may, but I haven't seen mine strip any fruits off the vine yet....bugs beware though!

    They will love it!
  7. ECBW

    ECBW Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 12, 2011
    Things we would do for our birds!

    Free them to range. I have always free ranged. After seeing my flock, a friend with 2-year-old flock decided to free range too.

    My flock of 11 ranges mostly within about 100 feet radius and rarely beyond 150. They have access to a lawn of 50x100 and surrounding forest. They will eat any plant including tomato. There is a balance on how much free ranging and maintaining your lawn. My flock gets about 2 to 3 hours a day. If I leave them out all day, the lawn will likely be bare. When I had 4 birds, I could leave them out all day and the lawn was fine. So, start out slowly, keep observing, and derive a balance that will work for your scenario.

    The birds will go back to roost in the coop at dusk. Just make sure to lock up because that is when predators come out.

    I have hawks or falcons but there has not been an attack on the adult bird. The young chicks would be at risk.
  8. caliclucker

    caliclucker Out Of The Brooder

    May 1, 2011
    Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the helpful responses! I am so excited about this and can't wait to introduce them to life outside the run. I am definitely going to watch them like a hawk (pun intended) until they get the hang of it. I'm crossing my fingers the hawks won't be a huge problem because there are soooooo many cottontails around here! Seriously it is creepy how many rabbits are around my place. I'm thinking a hawk will prefer a rabbit over a chicken since it is more its natural diet. Anyway I think I'll start this afternoon, it will give me a chance to really clean the coop/run. Wish us luck!

    P.S. Is it totally weird to be this excited about chickens?? [​IMG]
  9. ailurophile23

    ailurophile23 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 21, 2010
    P.S. Is it totally weird to be this excited about chickens??

    You are definitely asking this question to the wrong group of people![​IMG]
  10. Niss

    Niss Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 29, 2011
    Good Luck!
    And, Noooo--it's not wierd at all [​IMG]

    I agree with everything said above except maybe two things:
    5. Mrs. K and others let the chickens out at different times to limit preditor's ablity to catch on to rutines. I have no hope of getting ALL my birds inside for anything except sleep.
    6. I have the coop and the garden at opposite ends of my 1 acer and although some hens get up there daily they have yet to do damage--I did limit their access to it when things were just going in and coming up, but now I am trying to get them to patrol for bugs. I also have a smaller kictchen garden much closer and they dug out everything but my mint and one pepper which looks pathetic because they snipped a bunch of leaves. I guess the moral of this is you may get the garden and birds to coexist if you don't let them in it in the spring and then pick ripe produce daily before they can...especially if there is other stuff to hold thier interest.

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