Letting the chicks free!

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by TheFreemanFarm, Jan 13, 2015.

  1. TheFreemanFarm

    TheFreemanFarm New Egg

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    Hello! First time cook owner and full time researcher! I have 25 4week old chicks in my coop now. They will eventually have free range of my land and the woods next door. What age do you let them out? They have been outside in a tiny little pen but nothing without enclosure. We do not have a run, and don't plan to make one. Thanks!
     
  2. Odelia

    Odelia Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Well that is a question that varies based on the situation. If they had been raised by a momma hen they would have been fine to go out with her day one. These are silly little girls who can be pains in your rear when let out. At this age they often don't have the sense to go back to the coop to roost. That leaves you at dusk hunting them down and sticking them in there until they get the idea. Not sure where you live, but for most of us it is cold this time of year. At 4 weeks old they are not feathered enough to provide their own heat. Generally the rule of thumb is about 6 weeks old before they are feathered enough to warm themselves. That isn't in below freezing weather though. Also do you have a light in the coop. If you do it helps draw them in at night. Personally I would not let them loose for a few more weeks. Any way to run the tiny pen up against the coop so that they get used to going in by themselves?
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  3. MistyMountain

    MistyMountain Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Keep in mind that little chickens make bigger targets for predators as well. They also lack predator experience if they have not had a Momma or older flock members to show them or warn them.

    What about a temporary "run" around the coop door? That will let them go outside but still have direct access to the coop to put themselves to bed? If you don't have big four legged daytime predators (fox, coyote, dog to name a few) something that is simply "chicken proof" would do the trick. I don't know what part of the world you are in, but it is hawk season here. A simple and cheap netting cover like those used to keep birds out of gardens would work over the top. It would be enough to discourage an aerial attack for the most part, and keep the little ones in place until their routine is established.

    Again, I do not know your local predator situation, but you will probably still want to lock them up tight at night. It seems most attacks happen after dark.
     
  4. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    Many people don't plan to make a run, until a predator changes their minds. Everything likes to eat chicken.

    Mrs K
     
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  5. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    I am a big proponent of free-range keeping of chickens but you need to be prepared. Birds must be physically and mentally prepared which comes from a combination of breed, age and experience. Then you need to have environment suited to limit losses long enough for you to step in to take corrective measures. The environment can come in the form of how birds are contained, available cover, roost quality, and whatever can repel or otherwise neutralize predators. The information you provided thus far is extremely limited, so based on that free-range is not a good option until you get a firm handle on what birds and yourself are up against.

    What predators are you likely to deal with?

    How can your birds avoid capture?

    What can you do to make predators job more difficult?
     
  6. Folly's place

    Folly's place Overrun With Chickens

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    I started with totally free ranging chickens, and after a couple of years of horrible predator episodes, I finally wised up and built a very safe coop and covered run, and free range daytimes as much as possible. This cut my predator losses maybe 90%, and life is much better! You WILL have many losses, and no way will your young chicks have a clue until at least some deaths occur. Mary
     
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    I agree, it tends to be very much a racheting up process to control losses. My first real forays into raising American Dominques bordered on being a joke and is hard to distinguish from your (TheFreemanFarm's) current approach. What saved my birds is the fact I was a nut willing to stay out overnight with birds regardless of season or weather. I also had lots of experience with a tougher breed of chicken and wildlife in general. Still I had painful experiences like having to hear a commotion in the front yard followed by seeing from the rear window a male Coopers Hawk flying down hill with a 4-week old chick that was alive and could hear being dismembered alive in a tree just barely into the woods. Lost all but a gizzard and some feathers on that one. After loosing a couple more to same hawk on successive days I moved feeder to a more protected location and restricted free-range to late in the day with direct supervision. Hawk still visited but got no more in part because chicks got too big. Then fox worked my pens at night where young birds kept so pens were moved directly below bedroom window so I could run out a better part naked carrying a baseball bat and flashlite that went out whenever I tried to run through the brambles. Then came the raccoons I overran more than once (suprisingly when mad I am faster than raccoon) and had actually use the bat or face a raccoon that wanted to chew my leg. Then came the Great Horned Owls, Red Foxes again, Coyotes, Mink, weasel, Striped Skunks, Red-tailed Hawks, Ferruginous Hawk, Bobcat, and even crazy neighbors. All that being said my flock has been closed since that first year in this new home. I raise a good number of young birds every year and bulk are culled by my hand with predators only serving to keep me on my toes. Now that I invested fences and dogs the predators are much less a problem than parasites and cold spring rains with chicks not tended by momma. I lost more chicks about four weeks of age to one storm than all chickens to predators over the last six years yet that could easily be reversed if I ceased taking predator management seriously.
     
    Last edited: Jan 13, 2015
  8. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    What is your climate? Putting your location in your profile helps folks give better advice.
    Are they fully feathered? The temps you heated the chicks at can change the time they fully feather out.

    Do they go into the coop to roost at dusk by themselves yet?

    You can start by letting them out of their enclosure an hour or so before they usually go to roost.
    That way they won't range too far afield before roost time.
    Next day let them out to range a little earlier....rinse and repeat, depending on behaviors observed.
     
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  9. TheFreemanFarm

    TheFreemanFarm New Egg

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    Sorry, I'm missing some info here! We are in Georgia- and while it's been chilly and hovering around freezing, nothing insane. I should also have added that I don't plan on letting them out for a little while longer yet! They've been outside in the coop or garage since they were hatched, and are now about 95% feathered and most no longer sleep on their Brinsea EcoGlow plate.

    We definitely have predators, including dogs, minks, coyotes, raccoon, opossums, foxes, hawks, etc. We have two dogs for now that can hang outside during the day with them, and will be getting a permanently outside dog soon (but we are researching breeds currently).

    I do realize that we are at risk for predation by not having a run, but I really don't want a run- if they have to be restricted, I don't want to keep them. We have a very wooded back area (which i know can be both advantageous and a risk), and lots of hiding areas in the yard.

    For those that do let them out, at what age do you feel comfortable doing so?
     
  10. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    Whenever you want to start feeding the wild life. You got those predators in the area, you are going to be feeding them. And often times dogs can be predators too.

    I hate to rain on your parade, I love to free range mine, I have had better luck with a year old rooster in my flock, but I have lost a lot of birds due to predators. Once the raccoon left a note, "Please leave BBQ sauce, I am tired of them plain." And just this fall, I butchered the first roo, and while I was catching the second rooster to butcher, something took my the first one. My flock has been in lock up since December..... I have let them out and about a couple of times lately. As when the predators don't get a free and easy meal, they move on.

    My girls on the top of a creek, lots of cover, and until I had a year old rooster, I lost something 2-3 times a month. When I got an adult rooster, it did help, till something got him. I do have a dog that does not bother chickens which is what I have, I think they get used to her, and are not as wary to fox and coyotes.

    I love to free range them, and I do weigh it with the risk. But I have a predator proof run, and I do use it.
    Mrs K
     

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