How do you know if it's safe to free-range your chickens?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by lalyswishytail, Jan 20, 2009.

  1. lalyswishytail

    lalyswishytail In the Brooder

    Jan 13, 2009
    Chicago area
    I'd like to build a coop that holds about 12 chickens during the night. During the day, I'd like them to be able to run around, either totally free over 15 acres or confined to a large fenced-in space, (no roof). I see hawks and hear owls all the time. Foxes come through once in a while. I suppose once a year, a coyote may tour the land as well. The land is a vegetable farm in Illinois near Chicago in the middle of a suburb with over 140,000 people. Does anyone have some advice about whether or not we could free-range during the day? Are there too many predators? What about in the cold winter--can the chickens still come out? Thanks!

  2. SterlingAcres

    SterlingAcres Songster

    Apr 17, 2008
    Poconos, PA
    Free Range is more like recess. It should be time managed. If you leave them out all day alone with no protection, you're bound to lose a few.

    Good luck with whatever you decide. [​IMG]
  3. jab91864

    jab91864 Songster

    Apr 3, 2007
    Northern Michigan
    There are up's and down's to free ranging. Ideally it should be supervised but lets be honest many of us don't have that much free time. I let mine out everyday spring, summer, and fall.

    Yes I've lost some along the way. And while every loss saddens me I continue to let them out. The flock in general is happy and healthy and many of them easily go over the fenced in yard to get out (4ft and 6ft fencing).

    You will find as many ppl for free ranging as you will who are against it. In the end you'll have to decide what works best for you and be prepared for some losses...we've even had folks who have had losses while they were standing watch. Sometimes death swoops quickly from the sky or darts out of a bush that seemed otherwise normal.

    A good watch dog helps a lot. I have a sheltie that helps protect my flock. His brother is more of a nusance to the flock than a help (he continually tries to herd them ). But when I want a round up I put my rat terrier on them she is tiny but fast and can get in the little spots they go for when running.
    A good rooster who takes his position as flock defender seriously helps as well.... they set up the alarm and the flock takes cover... it does work a lot of the time.

    Best of luck.

    Julie [​IMG]
  4. morelcabin

    morelcabin Songster

    Feb 8, 2007
    Ontario Canada
    Ours used to free range full time when we had a dog that would watch out for them. I still lost a few but it was a give and take to how healthy the birds were! I wish I could free range here...but we have a neighbors dog that would be here in a minute everytime I them out...and I lost 5 birds to it the spring before last...just not a good idea here, but anywhere else I definitely would:>)

  5. The chickies really like the free range. The roos like it that they can find a territory and "defend" it. The hens group with their roos and the roos take care of their hens.

    I do not like it that I can not protect them. But, have you ever tried to round up 100 chickens and try to get them back in a run ?

    Not a going to happen.

    I have to wait until THEY decide to go back into the barn for the roost and a get bit of food and water before nite nite time.
  6. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD Premium Member

    Free ranging is never "safe". Even your fort knox coop can have a hull breach.

    However, with free ranging, you can't really control what goes in and out. In city settings, the most common reason for death is someone's never hurt a flea pet dog. Even hawks will go after smaller birds in the city.

    I free range and have 7 acres, land locked in a city just north of Seattle, but take the risk knowing that the birds are nature's snack. Have lost 3 to hawks in 11 years of birds so am pretty lucky so far. However, have lost 20+ to coons, and with most of those in one night due to a pesky coon family who learned how to open the coop door at night. [​IMG]

    The others who were lost to coons decided it was a good idea to sleep on top of the coop or high up in a tree. [​IMG]

    Only you can access what your local dangers are and take the risk accordingly.
  7. bluey

    bluey thootp veteran

    Apr 10, 2008
    Washington, PA
    "With free ranging comes great responsibility." ~ Uncle Ben Parker

    Okay, so I lifted the quote in my signature line from "Spiderman".

    I free range 7 hens and one rooster on 10 acres of property. People ask me all the time what is the secret to free ranging without losing birds.

    The answer is, there is no secret. Free Ranging requires constant vigilance and is still, at best a [email protected]

    I have a webcam mounted in the coop area to document any day/night visitors to the coop. When a land predator appears in the digital cam which I review weekly, I mount a light in the area, stay awake a night or two and take it out with a rifle (assuming it is allowable by local laws).

    The chickens are still locked in the coops at dusk and the coops are as secure as they can be. The coops are opened at first light or as near to it as possible.

    Aerial predators are dissuaded by feeding crows. Personally, I am unwilling to directly harass birds of prey or shoot a neighbors dog unless neighbors have been profusely warned and the authorities have given me permission to do so.

    After all of that, I accept the fact that a stray dog or a daytime aerial predator can take my chickens at any time. I am okay with that. To me, chickens are fun but are not pets. $5 gets me a replacement.

    To date, 21 months without a loss.

    I'm not bragging, that is mainly due to elements of chance. I like to think that all I do lower the odds, but in no way do I eliminate them.

    All that being said, I enjoy my birds and their freedom. They seem supremely happy (they run to the car everytime I pull up to greet me and to be petted) and don't wander too far (2 acres tops).

    The main key to judging whether to free range or not is in knowing the topography of your area and your neighbors. If you live by a busy road, near neighbors with free running dogs, etc... you are better off containing them to save yourself grief. A chicken with no physical boundaries will wander. That requires space to do so unattended.

    If you are unwilling/unable to kill predators, I wouldn't free range. I do not recommend relocating predators.

    Silkiechicken is absolutely ranging is never "safe"

    I hope that helps!

  8. what was i thinking

    what was i thinking Songster

    Oct 1, 2008
    cny ny
    i free range mine with out being home. i let them out by 10 am and then when it is dark out they go in. some i have to round up but most part they go in. (this is when it is at least 20 degrees out or warmer) when i am home i have to chase them out of the neighbors yard every once in a while but the neighbors don't mind. i don't have to get them, but i just feel better. anyway, i probably do it all wrong, but boy are they happy. i lost one once but it just was missing and it was at night not from free ranging. i think it got out of the barn or something.
  9. rooster0209

    rooster0209 Songster

    Apr 7, 2008
    North Dakota
    I free range mine on 7 acrea's plus the crop land that surrounds our home. We do have hawks and a bald eagles nest about a mile away. I have lost one hen to a hawk and one younger guinea on a nest by an Eagle. It is just a chance I take. I don't want to keep my birds locked up, especially Guinea's. I open the coop up in the morning and close it at night. When we are farming, I may not be home all day.

    The Guinea's & Chickens have spent most of the winter locked up because its been so darn cold. Since they are sitting in the nesting boxes, I am hoping they will use them, instead of the shelter belt around the yard.

    I have a somewhat agressive rooster and 3 other roosters. They defend the hens. Also the Guinea's sound alarms each time a big bird flies over head. The chickens and guinea's then head for the trees.

    You just have to way the pros & cons

  10. BayCityBabe

    BayCityBabe Songster

    May 1, 2008
    I think safe is a relative term. My birds are pets, so I do not consider them at all "safe" outside the run. When my friend with 40 acres says that his girls do "well" freeranging, it prompts an explanation of how many losses he is willing to stand.
    My DD and I recently gave a presentation to young vet-tech students. We were careful to explore this distinction. Everyone, lately, is associating freeranging with good flock care. It is "good;" do it. My ol' grampa would cuss if the neighbors dog got a bird, then the "sin" was forgotten. For those of us a bit more wrapped up in our birds, those who would have a problem with cleaning up after a kill or shrugging it off, we have to things differently.

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