Do You Have Fully Pasture Raised Chickens? No protected coop?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by lfreem2, Jun 5, 2011.

  1. lfreem2

    lfreem2 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Today I began an experiment with a few of my chickens that I'm hoping will go well. I have 17 in total that are about 3 months old at this point. All of them have been housed in a 10x12 coop with a 35 foot run on the back and an auto pop door that shuts tight at night.

    I knew that I would selling/re-homing some of them as soon as I discovered which were roosters. Now that I've clearly i.d.'ed the cocks (there are three of them), I've decided on a different tactic and thusly begins the experiment.

    I have a pasture at the back of my property that is a bit over half an acre. It is fully fenced in with a five foot tall no-climb horse field fence and there is a 16x16 barn there (always open at the front) as well that houses my two Nigerian Dwarf goats. In the next few months, we will also have a horse join them. There is a gorgeous pasture of grass here that is green all year round thanks to our mild winters here in NC. There are a few tall trees that offer shade on certain parts of the pasture as well (but they are way too tall for them to roost in however).

    I decided that instead of re-homing one of the roosters and two of the hens (I selected the largest Sussex rooster, 1 sussex hen and 1 australorp hen), that I would take them down to the pasture instead to see what would happen with them. This would mean that they would have the barn to sleep in with the goats, they would be on the pasture all day, BUT they would not have a locked coop to sleep in at night. So, they are technically open to whatever predators we have locally. In our case, we have hawks, owls and a few neighborhood cats that could pose a threat. I have a buff orpington that I was going to take down to the pasture as well, but I figured with her color she would be quite the target. She was one of the birds I was planning on re-homing, so I'm still undecided on putting her on the pasture.

    Do any of you have your chickens 100% pastured the way I describe? I'd love to hear about your success rate (or not) of having any chickens succumb to predators. They will still have their chick starter available, though I would suspect they'd be eating a lot less of it since they will be on the pasture and able to eat the variety of grasses, flowers, seeds, bugs they will have access to.

    Here is a photo of the barn where they will live. It's been slightly modified since this photo in that it now has windows on each side, but this will give you the general picture:

    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2011
  2. scratch'n'peck

    scratch'n'peck Overrun With Chickens

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    My Coop
    First, I will tell you about my free ranging experience. my husband and I moved to a property that came with free ranging Old English Game Hens and some variation of supposed red jungle fowl which eventually interbred. They are both excellent foragers and can actually fly pretty well. They were in an open shed much like the one you show (but it wasn't fenced in) and they roosted in the rafters. It had a couple of nest boxes in there, but they also laid eggs in some fairly inaccessible places. The previous owner said he would lose a few to hawks and owls each year but that that a few chicks would be raised by the hens and survive to repopulate the flock of about 15. They tended to run away from us at first because they had never been handled. We decided to hand raise some of the chicks ourselves. We introduced several back into the free ranging flock. The next year at the home we think a raccoon climbed up the wooden wall into the rafters. I found at least 2 hens gutted on the ledge at rafter height and the alpha rooster was nowhere to be found. The rest of the chickens refused to roost in the shed at night and would roost in the trees. One of the hand raised roos took the alpha roo position and the flock became more friendly. They stayed roosting in the trees near our coop chickens the whole summer. All ten or so survived into the fall despite rain and wind. As fall approached we knew their leafy cover would be gone. But it took some effort to coax them back to the shed. We made a covered run for the chickens and opened the door for them in the day. The chickens do love being outside, and they do eat a lot less feed when on pasture.

    Some things you may want to consider:

    How high do you think they will be able to roost? Cats can jump pretty high.

    If you don't have raccoons around, you are very lucky, because they can take out a flock, but electric fencing can be an effective deterrent for them.
     
  3. lfreem2

    lfreem2 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Dec 27, 2010
    Waxhaw, NC
    There are no rafters in this barn, so I will need to add roost poles. None of the birds are roosting yet as they are still young. When I went down to the barn a bit ago, they were nestled on the dirt floor rolling around.

    We actually do have racoons, but I've never seen any back there because there really isn't much to eat (well, there wasn't until the chickens showed up). They tend to stay near the homes where they jump into the garbage cans every now and again, etc.

    I did buy an electric charger, but haven't installed the wire on the fence yet. I'm planning on that next week.

    I realize I am taking a risk with these birds indeed. It is not going to make me happy to go to the pasture and see any of these dead or gone. I'm not taking their lives lightly by any means, but I guess we will see what happens...
     
  4. Beekissed

    Beekissed True BYC Addict

    I'll be surprised if you find they have survived for long. Even if they roost high the owls can get them, they will have no protection in the day against anything else that wishes to eat them. Don't get me wrong...it could happen and they could get by for quite some time and even survive pretty well...but eventually they will be food for another.

    I free ranged and had an unprotected coop, if that is what they are called now, but I did have protection in the form of dogs that lived beside the coop and guarded all on the property at all times. Even with the coop being in my back yard and dogs on patrol, I had a few chickens that didn't want to roost in the coop and became victims to great horned owls/red tail hawks. It happens. Free rangers accept the risk of some predation and a few chickens lost in 6 years isn't so bad and can happen in a Ft. Knox coop/run just the same.

    Good luck! [​IMG]
     
  5. lfreem2

    lfreem2 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Waxhaw, NC
    Ugh! I feel terribly now! I will fetch them from the pasture tomorrow. I keep thinking how horrible it will be if something eats them! Well, I guess they had a one day free-ranging vacation!
     
  6. welasharon

    welasharon Chillin' With My Peeps

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    North Florida
    I have a feral rooster that took up here after something got his two hens. He is the last one to survive. Each year after the lady down the road let hers loose the group got smaller and smaller. He spends the day inside my picket fence waiting for me to get home and let the girls out. At night he goes back to roost in the pine trees. I am trying to get him to take up here and not go outside the fence. I think the worst enemy here are dogs running loose although I do have an owl, racoons and oppossums.
    sharon
     
  7. cmom

    cmom Hilltop Farm

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    My Coop
    My birds have coops but my brothers live in his barn. He leaves the barn door open and they forage in the pasture with their horses. They lay their eggs in the barn in the hay. They did have problems with racoons going into the barn and getting some of the birds. My brother put X-Lax under a bucket. The coons ate the X-Lax and no more coons.
     
  8. scratch'n'peck

    scratch'n'peck Overrun With Chickens

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    You might have read elsewhere on the forum that putting a hot wire on the outside of the fence about a foot up is generally recommended for keeping predators out. That's funny about the x-lax
     
  9. cmom

    cmom Hilltop Farm

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    My Coop
    I have an electric fence. It works great. I have heard critters cry out when they have touched the wire. The don't come back to test it again.
     
  10. TDM

    TDM Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:We normally run our 250 hens in mobile hen houses surrounded by electric poultry netting that gets moved around a large pasture every few days. However, we do keep about 100 birds behind the house in a situation as you described. However, we would be decimated if it weren't for our using a Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dog to deter predators. If something ever happened to the dog, then we would have to lock the animals in at night.
     

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