Introducing free ranging

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by BarnGoddess01, Oct 19, 2009.

  1. BarnGoddess01

    BarnGoddess01 I [IMG]emojione/assets/png/2665.png?v=2.2.7[/IMG]

    Hello there! This is my first post on BYC but I’ve been lurking for awhile. (I’ve learned MUCH here!!) My question: I have 6 - 2 month old chickens (2 black sex link females, 1 barred rock hen, 1 barred rock roo, and 2 Rhode Island Red/Columbian females) destined to be layers/pets living on a small horse farm in south western Ontario, Canada (4.5 acres). Right now, they’re living in a fabulous, spacious, insulated coop with windows but I hope to free range them during the day, much like I do my horses except without fence. My horse fence is electric which offers some protection from larger predators (I hope!) like dogs and coyotes. Does anyone have any advice on how I should introduce my flock to the outside world that is likely to maximize their chance of survival and my peace of mind and the likelihood that I’ll be able to entice them back to the safety of the coop at night?

  2. citrusdreams

    citrusdreams Songster

    May 4, 2009
    Well, you're the only one who knows (or will soon know) your predator load, so I can't comment on that.

    As to introducing them to free ranging, try letting them out about an hour or two before dusk, when you are available to oversee them. They probably won't venture out too far, and as dusk approaches they will try to make their way back in the henhouse. You'll need to oversee for those one or two that might not be able to figure their way back by themselves. But they all should return "home" at dusk. Then when everyone is inside, close up the coop. Eventually they'll venture out further and further every day but they'll always stay relatively close to their henhouse. When you are comfortable with free ranging,you can try doing it all day.

    Different people have different predator loads. My neighbors get a lot of raccoons, possums, etc. But I don't see them here, and they haven't bothered my own chickens. I haven't lost a chicken or guinea to a natural predator in quite a while. But a neighbor's dogs are a problem sometimes right now.

    If the fencing that you use to contain your horses keeps out dogs and coyotes, that's good, it *shoould* be okay if it really is keeping them at bay. What kind of fencing is it?

    I'm sure your horse fencing probably won't keep out owls, possums and raccoons, but they are usually nocturnal hunters, so they *shouldn't* bother your chickens while they free range during the day.

    You may have trouble with hawks. When I see hawks out, I let my dogs out and their ruckus drives the hawks away. I also have guineas that raise a ruckus when hawks fly overhead. I also have multiple places for the chickens to run to when they're scared: under outbuildings, under porches, under the deck, in the sheds, under the bushes.

    Oh! I almost forgot! [​IMG]
    Last edited: Oct 19, 2009
  3. BarnGoddess01

    BarnGoddess01 I [IMG]emojione/assets/png/2665.png?v=2.2.7[/IMG]

    I have "electrobraid" fencing which is 1 foot off the ground (goes up from there) and stops, in theory, anything taller than that (including our own beagles, proven). I do have an issue with predators here (coons, possums, skunks, hawks, owls, coyotes, fox, neighbours dogs - I've seen and regularly hear/smell them all) but usually not during the day. The chickens' coop faces the horses' paddock and is well protected from the bush, ravine, and road, literally in the middle of the property, and surrounded on 2 sides by the horses' fence, the other 2 sides are horse barn and humans' house/lawn. I suspect the chickens will be attracted to our lawn, the horses' pasture, sand paddock and sand riding arena, all well fenced (for horses) and very close to their coop, as is the manure pile.
  4. NellaBean

    NellaBean Graceland Farms

    Mar 4, 2009
    Broodyland, TN
    My Coop
    My electric fence was not dog proof. Dogs would just hit it as they were running in, get zapped, and then not want to get back out. It was a 5 strand 4 foot tall electric tape fence. I had the bottom strand about a foot off the ground, and each strand a bit less than a foot apart. I had small dogs (chihuahua mix?) that would hop right between the strands and go in and out as the pleased. I had a neighbor's boxer who was able to somehow wiggle under the bottom strand without even getting hit (low spot in the ground maybe? I wouldn't have believed it if I didn't witness it).

    Having said that, you can still free range, but don't expect an electric strand fence to be dog proof.

  5. PortageGirl

    PortageGirl Songster

    Nov 8, 2008
    Portage County, Ohio
    Your place sounds like chicken heaven. My girls free range all day, night time is the biggest worry for me, and I'm near the "south shore of Lake Erie"! (or as we call it, the North Coast of Ohio! [​IMG] ) Hawks and dogs are my biggest worry during the day, but it's a risk I accept, and not one that's been any trouble 99% of the time over many years. Night time, all that you mentioned but we also have mink due to a defunct mink farm that just released many animals when they went out of business. Your situation may be very different, but there's only one way to find out.

    If they spend time inside the coop, locked in for a time as they are now, they'll return on their own at dusk. At first, they'll just look at the open door like it's a reallllly weird thing, then after a few days, they may even poke their beaks out for a few minutes. It'll take them weeks to really get confident, so don't worry about them finding the roosts, they'll figure it out.

    They'll cause no end of curiosity for the horses, my horse would walk along behind my chickens, nose low to the ground, following them. Pretty funny. The hens will also tear apart any dung piles and find all the poorly digested grain, since horses have such inefficient digestive systems. They'll all love each other in their own way! You'll love having them and being around the horses will discourage hawks at least a bit. I think they'll all be fine. Just give it a try.
  6. PortageGirl

    PortageGirl Songster

    Nov 8, 2008
    Portage County, Ohio
    OH and [​IMG] Happy to meet you! Glad you're here! [​IMG] Hope you enjoy your stay with us!! [​IMG]
  7. Tala

    Tala Flock Mistress

    A single strand of e-fence keeps my dog in. She learned fast as a puppy, plus she's just easy to keep in anyway.

    I used to have a Boxer that lived next door who would slip his collar (he was chained, poor thing) and CHARGE full speed through the e-wire because he learned as soon as the wires broke he wouldn't get shocked anymore.

    I fixed him though. I electrified a chain that wouldn't break when he hit it and ran a ground wire a couple of inches from it so he had to touch both. [​IMG]

    Point is. E-fence may not keep out the most determined predators, but you might be able to make it work anyway.

  8. Big C

    Big C J & C Farms

    Dec 15, 2008
    Vernon Texas
    "Free Range" is up to the predators you have around.

    We free range on 8 acres, but it is fenced with 3x3 wire that is 4 ft tall, hot wire on top and on the outside at 8 inches.

    Free Range is a relative term as long as you can protect your flock.
  9. BarnGoddess01

    BarnGoddess01 I [IMG]emojione/assets/png/2665.png?v=2.2.7[/IMG]

    Thanks for the responses (and words of encouragement!!) I don't believe for a minute that my horses' fence will truly afford any sort of real protection for the chickens, especially as they won't be restricted by it but I'm hoping the fence might at least discourage some of the 4 legged predators. I've seen Cooper's Hawks at work here during the day in wintertime, preying on the small birds I feed but I'm assuming the chickens will be too big for them at this point, or rather, hoping, I guess! I do have these chickens hopelessly addicted to raisins which I hand feed them daily so I'm hoping I might be able to lure them back to the coop with raisins if all else fails. I intend to try letting them have an hour or so outside tomorrow afternoon. Weather forecast calls for glorious conditions here for the next couple of days. I am curious to see how the horses respond to them as well.

  10. PortageGirl

    PortageGirl Songster

    Nov 8, 2008
    Portage County, Ohio
    Well, Cooper's will hit pigeons and mourning dove sized birds, I have seen that for a fact. An elderly friend who's had chickens for centuries I think, says they're real 'chicken hawks' He calls any hawk that kills chickens 'chicken hawks' but yeah, it might be a problem, but if there's anyplace where they can take cover, they can learn to avoid them. Shrubs, trees, and I've seen where people who have large areas make open ended A-frame ...thingies, open ended and not even all the way to the ground, but the hens can run under it for cover. (does that make sense?)

    You have roos, so they are usually more watchful and call a warning if they see a shadow from above. I say there's real hope, and I have hawks and feel it's worth the risk. (I also have LOTS of cover too though)

    //edit to add// Oh, and back when I had a horse, (teenage years, LOoooooong ago, yes I’m old) one hen always made a nest on my horses hay, (I ground fed it) and would lay her egg there. The horse used to nibble all around her, and leave a little pile of hay around the egg after she got up, till I came and got the egg. It was so funny that my greedy piggy horse would leave that little bunch of hay and never broke the egg! I think the hen pecked his nose often enough he figured he’d better leave it alone.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2009

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