How to start free-ranging my flock?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Noelle, Jun 22, 2007.

  1. Noelle

    Noelle Hatching

    Jun 22, 2007
    Afton, MN, USA
    Hi all,

    I have 14 pullets and 1 cockerel (we think he's the only one!) who are 8 weeks old. Is it too early to get them free-ranging? Can you give me suggestions on HOW to go about beginning that, ie. what time of day should I allow them out, for how long, should I put water out on the range yet, etc? Will they be easy pickin's for hawks since they're small? Their range area is not covered by net.

    I know to bring them in before dusk begins, but can you give me suggestions on HOW to bring them in? So far, most of them seem motivated by ripped up dandelion leaves in their coop. I'm a bit worried I'll be out there chasing them down when it's time to bring them in!

    Should I allow all 15 out at the same time or in smaller groups?

    Any suggestions would be great - thanks!

  2. polychickens

    polychickens In the Brooder

    Apr 23, 2007
    Noelle, it depends on where you live as to the danger of predators, etc, but if daytime predators are not a concern the chickens will do fine at 8 weeks free ranging. Just open a door, prop it and let them spill out at will.
    If they have never been out, they will be reluctant to walk outside. You can either encourage it by tossing some scratch out for them, or simply go back in the house and allow them to get curious on their own.

    Getting the chickens back inside consists of two easy steps:
    1. Leave the door propped open.
    2. Wait until dark.

    They will all be inside on the roosts at dark, so lock 'em in. I currently have some 5 week olds that started free ranging with the 14 wk and 10 week olds this week. The younsters stick REAL close to the coop, but the rest love to range.

    Make sure they can get to water! It's hot out there. Leave access to the coop especially if your yard doesn't offer plenty of shade and birds prefer to hang out in/under the spruce trees.

    Good luck!
  3. MayberrySaint

    MayberrySaint Chillin' Out

    Mar 7, 2007
    Mount Airy, NC
    I started mine out at about the same time. The first night I panicked when it was getting dark and spent 30 min chasing them around. The next night I was patient and they went in themselves. It may be almost dark, but they will definitely go back to the coop.
  4. eggchel

    eggchel Crowing

    Dec 26, 2006
    Both Coasts
    The first couple times that I let them out, I do it late in the day so that they just have a couple hours free ranging before dusk. That way they dont have a chance to go too far or get into trouble. They stick pretty close to the coop. After a few days they know how to get back to the coop for food, water, laying, and putting them selves to bed.

  5. chickflick

    chickflick Crowing

    Mar 10, 2007
    Not all flocks stick close to home! When I let mine out, they go crazy! One minute they're out in back and the next time I look and they're all the way in front. They're here, there, and every where!! But... they do come home at dusk. They actually like to go into their run in late afternoon for a nap. I'm hoping they settle down a bit and relax. They're like kids right now, exploring and so much to see and so little time to do better hurry and get every thing in! What a hoot!![​IMG]
  6. Noelle

    Noelle Hatching

    Jun 22, 2007
    Afton, MN, USA
    Thanks for all the great suggestions, everyone! Another thought my husband had was for us to give them some tasty leftovers as a treat a bit before dusk in their coop for a few days before letting them out, to give them the extra incentive to be back in at that time. Truly, every evening now, all 15 of them are lined up sleeping on the top roost in there (they don't even wink when I go in at that time, even if I have treats), so I doubt they just won't come back. It's whether they come back in time to not be somebody's dinner that concerns me!

    I'll let you all know how it goes. It's exciting - they're so curious and are alway trying to get out the human door (which we designed as opening outward, probably not the best idea, but oh well). They're also so curious as to the chicken door. I think they're going to totally dig being outside!

    Thanks again!
  7. ozark hen

    ozark hen Living My Dream

    Apr 4, 2007
    Mansfield, MO
    I was terrified to let my twenty ten week old chicks loose to free range for the first time the day before yesterday. I sat right there in a lawn chair ready to jump up and save someone. [​IMG] No need, they took three steps outside and ran as fast as they could right back in. They did this all day long. Any bird that flew over, any loud noise, bang they were right back in their run. Now they come out when they feel like it but most of the time they stay in their run. They go inside the coop to eat or nap if they aren't napping under the sheets of corrugated tin I propped up against the building for morning shade. You can walk out there and it looks like nothing is there but they are all napping. They go back in many, many times a day and go back into the coop by themselves at night, except for Lucy, who wants to watch us chase the ducks in each night. She goes in last when the entertainment is all over. For those of you who don't know Lucy...she is this week's pic of the week on BYC's home page. I know....that was shameless. [​IMG]
  8. Hangin Wit My Peeps

    Hangin Wit My Peeps

    Apr 20, 2008
    Birnamwood, Wisconsin
    This makes me really anxious for my chicks now! I'm planning on letting them free range too but were not going to have a fence around our yard at all. Just plan on letting the run open so they can get in and out as they please. I hope I don't lose to many chickens to predictors.
  9. pattycake

    pattycake Songster

    May 7, 2007
    fingerlakes, ny
    My chickens come in on command -- I trained them. It's really easy to do. For a week or two before I let them out, I started hitting their china food bowl with a fork, right before I fed them their delicious snack: bang bang bang! They'd come running! So then I started letting them out for an hour or two, and they'd stick pretty close to the coop. Then I'd hit the bowl and they came running for their snack. The first few weeks I occasionally had to chase them to get them in. (It's good to get started before they're totally grown up, or you won't be able to catch them)

    I let them out longer and longer, and they'd wander farther and farther. Now they all come in whenever I want them to, which is helpful if they're ever freeranging and I need to go somewhere.
  10. Zanadi

    Zanadi In the Brooder

    Aug 26, 2008
    Salem Oregon
    My first batch of chickens I raised from young chicks. I started from the beginning to do that 'here chick chick chick chick' call anytime I was near them.

    I did that several times a day when I could and then eventually start tossing about half a handful of goodies for them.... granted they wouldn't come super close at first but when they did make an effort I'd scatter/toss towards them.

    Soon they'd come anytime I'd call. It'd be kinda funny to watch them all the way on the other side of the yard up in our 30 year old blueberry bushes, have me call and then one by one the gals would scamper down and make their waddle run to me for treats. We joked they were little feathery dogs. [​IMG]

    Just start out slow and consistent. Once they know where their 'home' is they'll usually start filing there on their own as it gets dark. Then all you have to do is shut their door and wait 'til morning [​IMG]

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