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I QUIT free-ranging! (for now, anyway)

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by naturemom, Jul 12, 2008.

  1. naturemom

    naturemom Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 28, 2007
    northern IL
    My chickens are in a tractor but have been free-range most of the day since spring. They seem so happy to be out, but we added 2 new pullets a few weeks ago, and things have gotten much more complicated. It used to be that if I wasn't going to be around right at dusk to lock them in I could just call them and toss a treat into the tractor, they'd go in, and I'd lock it. The 2 new ones don't know to come when I call, and I can't always catch them, so I end up being out there at dusk waiting for them to go in so I can lock up when I really need to be inside putting my kids to bed! The pullets wait until the hens are in and then go in maybe 10 minutes later. I'm trying to give lots of treats so they learn what it means when I call, but it doesn't seem to help.
    I think they are reluctant to come near me when the hens are around for fear of getting pecked. I think that's why they go in so late, too. I sure hope things improve once they get the pecking order sorted out!
     
  2. chickiepoo

    chickiepoo Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 28, 2007
    coastal South Carolina
    My younger chickens are the same way. Pullets and cockerals. Pecking order issues, I guess. I never could change them. The older they get the braver they are.
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2008
  3. chickenannie

    chickenannie Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Nov 19, 2007
    Pennsylvania
    Any time you get new chickens and you want to free-range them, you must lock them all up for 3 weeks to re-home them. THEN you can put them out to range for the day. I would probably take your whole flock and your newbies and lock them up together (if they're all going to be in the tractor together) so they can re-establish changes to the pecking order. It kinda sucks, but that's what you have to do so they go inside on their own to roost.
    I think what's happening is that your existing hens are chasing away the newbies at roosting time, whether by subtle or not-so subtle means. The newbies will be low on the totem pole until they are integrated into the pecking order which will only happen if they are locked up together.
     
  4. risurocket

    risurocket Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 5, 2008
    Wisconsin
    When you say "lock up" for 3 weeks does that mean in their coop, or can they still have access to their run too? This has been confusing me for awhile now...we don't have our chickens yet, but they will have a big big run and a nice sized coop. I wasn't planning on free-ranging due to neighbor issues, but was planning on letting them be in tractors (their run doesn't have much grass yet), eventually.
     
  5. chickenannie

    chickenannie Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Nov 19, 2007
    Pennsylvania
    I think an enclosed area is fine. Most of all chickens like habits (nesting, roosting) and if they have to spend day after day enclosed in the same area, once you let them out, they really want to return to their familiar area again.
    I don't know how big your enclosure is (I've seen some huge ones on BYC -- 20 x 100 ft -- but I think it will still work fine).

    Oh, I forgot to mention, part of the training to return to the coop should include feeding them there in the late afternoon or evening (before they roost at sundown) as well as in the morning (not treats, but real feed). That helps a lot. (They should always have water available in their coop).
     
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2008
  6. naturemom

    naturemom Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 28, 2007
    northern IL
    Ok, three weeks in the tractor it is, then. I did lock them in initially so they would learn where home was, and then again after the first attempt at letting them out, because they were finding other places to roost. I guess I just didn't do it for long enough.
    Sigh.
     
  7. risurocket

    risurocket Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 5, 2008
    Wisconsin
    Thanks for the info Chickenannie. I now have more time to make tractors and things. Oh, the run is 600 sq ft...we will be starting out with 25 chickens and moving up from there as able.
     
  8. chickenannie

    chickenannie Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Nov 19, 2007
    Pennsylvania
    Your run sounds nice!

    I've only learned this stuff through experience. Usually by 3 weeks the hens are begging to be let out. But I think one week is not enough... 2 weeks is good, but 3 weeks works the best.

    I even pick grass and greens for the hens to munch on when they're inside since it's so much healthier for them to have greens in their diet and makes the eggs better. But it's a pain in the butt to pick grass every day!

    Once in a while I get a renegade hen roosting elsewhere which I knew because I would count the chickens every night as I shut their coop door. I always go find her (usually in the barn somewhere) and put her back in the coop for the night. I had read that once a hen roosts elsewhere for even one night, they'll go back again and again to their new place. Now I have too many chickens to count each night, but the hens have been well-behaved lately!

    Good luck everybody!
     
  9. risurocket

    risurocket Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 5, 2008
    Wisconsin
    thanks! The run/coop area was a chicken/other fowl run in a previous lifetime, and we got lucky enough to take it back to its roots. I hope to be able to let them free-range too, but as it stands right now, they will have their portable little tractor runs for grass and things, and me to be their humble grass picker servant, as well.

    Too many unknowns around us and a very busy road not to far from the house.., even though our landlord is all for free-ranging...I have yet to figure out how he did it.
     
  10. bills

    bills Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jan 4, 2008
    vancouver island
    Risurocket-a 600 sq foot run should serve your hens nicely, so I see no need to let them wander the entire yard freely, and risking them wandering out on to the road. My run is 800 sq feet, and there is lots of room for them to dig for bugs, dust bath holes, pick at weeds, grass, etc.. This also prevents them from falling prey to neighbors dogs/cats/eagles, etc.. As well I don't have chicken poop throughout my yard, which the grandkids can track into the house, nor are my gardens being destroyed.

    Now, if you enlarge your flock substantially, you may need to enlarge your run area as well, or fence off a portion of your yard.
     

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