Managing a fully free range flock, tips please!

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by chameleon, May 9, 2017.

  1. chameleon

    chameleon Chirping

    Hi, I'm looking for some advice on managing a fully free range flock.

    I rescued a broody hen that was abandoned by my neighbour. I built her a tractor and let her hatch and raise her chicks in the safety of the tractor until they were 4 weeks old. Before that she had been free and wild for at least 3 years with just 1 rooster for company, and kept losing all her chicks to predators within a day or two of hatching. Her rooster was killed by the neighbour's dog just before she went broody. Anyway, because she was wild for so long, she really hates being confined, and by the time the chicks were 4 weeks old they were all getting very restless, so I secured a section of my yard for them and let them free range during the day, just locking them in the tractor at night. They are very good fliers and I cant keep them in the yard though, so they range outside the yard too.

    The chicks are now almost 7 weeks old and last night she took them up into the tree she used to sleep in before she went broody. They really are infinitely happier free range so I don't have the heart to confine them. My tractor is big enough for three chickens to live quite comfortably, as my original plan was to keep two of her daughters to keep her company and sell the rest. With them fully free range I'm rethinking my whole plan.

    I have the mother hen and 9 chicks. I am 99% certain I have 4 cockerels and 5 pullets. The hen is an NN bantam and the father is our landlord's GLW, standard size. He doesn't range with them, he has his own flock in a completey seperate area of the property. But after her roo died the hen went over to that side a few times probably looking for company. Sorry for the long history, but the background might be important to the final management plan.

    My questions:

    Which ones should I keep?
    As I mentioned, I wanted to keep 2 of her daughters for company. But because they're free ranging full time now space is no longer an issue and there's the issue of safety in numbers to be considered. So for now I think I should keep the mother, all 5 pullets and one of the cockerels. Other options could be to keep all of them, a smaller number, or pullets only. Any recommendations?

    How do I keep track of the eggs?
    Is there a way to ecourage them to lay in a specific area or am I doomed to a daily treasure hunt? [​IMG] The mother is an incorrigible broody and her daughters will probably be the same, so I want to be able to manage the eggs so that I don't end up with endless numbers of chicks to take care of. And I need the eggs to eat. She lays huge eggs for her size, they're the same as medium store bought eggs, and as the father of her chicks was a standard GLW, her daughters eggs will be even bigger, so they are more than good enough for eating. Selling all the cockerels could solve the issue of too many chicks, but I would like to have the option to increase the flock or replace lost birds when necessary. The hen was alone for so long that she does not integrate with other birds at all unless she's raised them herself.

    How do I keep them relatively safe and healthy?
    Both parents have survived virtually wild with little to no help from people so they are pretty tough, disease resistant and weather hardy in our climate. The mother survived for a very long time on her own so knows how to find shelter in bad weather and from predators and I'm sure she'll teach all of that to her babies. I want to keep them close though so that I can keep an eye on them and intervene/help when necessary. The mom has learned that I am here to help her and that my yard is a safe zone, so she is not wondering too far for now. Will keeping a steady supply of fresh food and water be sufficient to keep her around?

    Any advice will be greatly appreciated, on the questions I've asked and anything else I haven't thought of.
     
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  2. chameleon

    chameleon Chirping

    Just giving this a bump, as I accidentally posted it right before the move ;)
     
  3. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Chicken tender Premium Member

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    I have a free range flock. The difference with mine is, my birds like the shed and think of it as safe and as a home, so they return to eat, drink, lay and roost in it.

    Yours don't like theirs as it's too confining, and is an uncomfortable situation for a chicken. If you are interested in keeping some you would need to make a better secure coop. You are probably fighting an uphill battle with your current situation.

    Setting up a nest somewhere with fake eggs in may lure them to laying that area.
     
  4. igorsMistress

    igorsMistress Free Ranging Premium Member 5 Years

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    I had a friend with at least 60 chickens. She had a few that just showed up in her backyard and took up residence. They never would go to the coop at night but they fully integrated into the flock and stuck around until they died. They weren't ever especially friendly but they did come over for sctatch and treats.

    You can either let them roost in the tree or build a bigger coop with roost space above ground where the chickens will feel safe. Then move them in one night and don't let them out for a while. Then let them out for longer periods of time starting with an hour before dark and gradually extending their free range time.

    I think you're doing fine. Just decide what you for sure want to do but keep in mind you're going to have to make them stay in that coop until they know it's home.

    Good luck and let us know how it goes!

    You can always get hatching eggs when someone goes broody the next time to help diversify your flock in the future and ease some of the problems that come with new additions.
     
  5. chameleon

    chameleon Chirping

    Thanks for taking the time to read my long post and taking the time to answer :)

    I actually have another bigger coop with a big run for my standard size laying hens. I unfortunately can't build another full sized coop and run right now. And I tried integrating the hen in that coop before, but it really didn't go well. I had her in there for a couple of months with an area sectioned off for her but she remained very agressive towards my other chickens.

    That's why then next time she went broody I built her her own tractor to raise her chicks in, and it served it's purpose well, the chicks had a chance to get stronger before I let them out and are still thriving. They've been roosting in the tree for a couple of weeks now and no losses so far :yesss: Considering that every other clutch she hatched on her own never made it past day 2, I'm happy that I've given them a fighting chance and also provided her with a flock of her own so she isn't lonely anymore. She has also learned that I keep them fed and safe so she doesn't wonder as far as she used to, and they come knocking on my window whenever the feeder needs refilling :lol:

    So I'd love to build them a coop but that's not an option right now, maybe one day if I can save up and convince my husband. I will set up a nest box for her and put some eggs in it and hope for the best.

    As for how many I should keep: I was thinking of probably keeping all the pullets and one cockerel, but I read somewhere that when they are completely free range they sometimes prefer to be in smaller groups? Do you think keeping 2 cockerels could work? That would mean 3 hens each, and also means if something happened to one there will still be another one to take over. I am mostly worried about having to start all over again if I keep too few and something happens to them, leaving one all alone again. I rent a cottage on a small farm, so there is plenty of space for them to roam. Our landlord doesn't mind as long as they're taken care of, he also has a flock that free ranges on the property, but they rarely come as far as our side. And my laying flock stays in my yard, they don't roam very far at all.
     
  6. igorsMistress

    igorsMistress Free Ranging Premium Member 5 Years

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    I really don't know if two cocks are necessary for that small a group. I've read at least 6 to 8 hens for one roo, but chicken ancestors supposedly lived in small groups of 5 or 6 hens per roo. I think 2 is too many.

    As for sticking around, if she sees your yard as a safe place I think you have a chance she will stay. Safety, food and water are powerful motivation.

    I'm sorry I didn't realize you have other chickens and coops are certainly expensive to build.

    Your girl there has been feral a long time so what you're doing is what you can. I would work on keeping the babies as tame as possible so that when mom is gone they might not be so wild and willingly join your flock.

    Keep in mind that if you keep a roo with her you will likely perpetuate the problem because she will have more babies that will be feral. Might be best to get rid of them and maybe she will join your group for the safety factor but still roost in your tree.

    Happy to know they're all there still!

    Poor little thing sounds like a tough cookie.
     
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  7. chameleon

    chameleon Chirping

    Thanks. I agree I don't want more feral babies to take care of, that's why I was hoping to be able to encourage her to lay where I can control the eggs. If they start hiding nests all over the place I will have to get rid of the roo. She just sat on a nest of dead eggs for 2 months once and when I removed the eggs she was upset for days, it breaks my heart to do that to her, so having them hide infertile eggs isn't ideal either. Although I just remembered, with the landlord's free ranging rooster around, the eggs will probably be fertile whether I keep a roo or not. So either way I must keep track of the eggs :thI see daily treasure hunts in my future. Oh well, it'll give my toddler some fun exercise outdoors :wee

    I was affraid you'd say I should only keep one, I'm just looking for an excuse to keep 2 because I can't decide which one :lau There are 2 with very interesting colours that I'm dying to see how they'll turn out. The mom is a NN bantam with wild type colouring and the father is a very handsome standard GLW. I'll see if I can get some pics later.
     
  8. igorsMistress

    igorsMistress Free Ranging Premium Member 5 Years

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    So the truth comes out!! Lol. It's so hard to avoid chicken math isn't it?

    Would love some pics! I want a NN pretty badly, but waiting til I "need" more chickens for laying.
     
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  9. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Chicken tender Premium Member

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    Since they will probably continue to be more like wild chickens for you I would just keep them all and see how it goes. If two roosters become a problem down the road than you can remove one. Otherwise you never know what will happen as far as diseases, and predation. I personally would let them do their thing and only step in if it becomes a problem.
     
    Last edited: May 17, 2017
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  10. chameleon

    chameleon Chirping

    Thanks, just the excuse I was looking for :lol: The father of her previous clutches was very friendly towards people, chicks and hens, but killed all the roosters in the original flock. Apparently the neighbour I rescued her from had a lot. So I would never keep more than one roo of his offspring. He was a game bantam I think. But the neighbours dog killed him and our landlord's GLW fathered this clutch, and I don't know much about his temperament. So maybe I'll try my luck and see how it goes. As you say, I can always get rid of one later if tensions start running high.

    My husband is getting quite sick of the chicken math :lau I'm constantly coming up with reasons why we 'need' more chickens. Started with 3 rescue chicks. Added the mom and her new clutch of 11. Sold the chicks because we had already planned a big family trip and couldn't find anyone last minute to watch all my rescues so I was left with just the hen, and my neighbour still had her roo so she wasn't completely alone. Got 10 chicks from some good laying breeds when we got back. The neighbours dog killed the roo so the hen was alone and 'needed' babies because she doesn't integrate well. Let her hatch her 9 eggs and I now have 20 chickens! Now I just need to get rid of the excess roos from both flocks and I'll still be left with 15 or 16 chickens. And I'm just itching for an excuse to breed them. It's funny how fast they grow on you :oops:
    I'll get pics of the boys first thing in the morning when I feed them.
     
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