Part-Time Free Ranging

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by mikecfry, May 12, 2016.

  1. mikecfry

    mikecfry Out Of The Brooder

    Apr 3, 2016
    Shamong, NJ
    Hi everyone,

    New to BYC, and just about have our coop finished. We have 4 chicks that are 8-9 weeks (1 Bielfelder, 1 Ameraucana,2 Gold Sex Links) and 3 more that are 4-5 weeks (2 Black Australorps and a Buff Orpington). The older 4 are already in the coop and have been for about 2 weeks. I'll be wrapping up the run this weekend, but would also like to let them out to free range in the yard (we have about an acre fenced in) occasionally. We live in a predator heavy area, especially foxes,raccoons,and raptors, so I only intend to let them free range while closely supervised. I don't however have a lot of confidence in letting them roam and being able to coax them back to the coop when we can't supervise anymore. They aren't particularly skittish and don't usually mind being picked up, but not so sure they'll come running when its time to go back home.

    Any tips for a first timer on "training" our girls to head home when we need to head out?

  2. teach1rusl

    teach1rusl Love My Chickens

    Definitely make sure that they are used to their coop/run being "home" before letting them out to range (although generally when you first let them out they will be too scared to venture very far out). Start training them now to a treat jar. I keep a mixture of scratch/black oil sunflower seed in various plastic jars around our property (we have three coops in different spots). Plain old scratch is fine. If you want it to be extra yummy mix in some dried meal worms. Starting now, shake the jar, call chicky-chicky (or any call/word as long as you're consistant) and toss a bit of scratch about. I've never met a chicken that didn't like scratch. Do that every day.

    By the time you're ready to let them out of their run, they will KNOW that treat jar and come running when you shake it and call for them. Just shake, call, and when they come running, toss a little into their run.

    Have fun!! You will laugh at how "chicken" they are when you first start letting them out [​IMG]
    Last edited: May 12, 2016
  3. eviemethugh

    eviemethugh Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2015
    North Carolina
    The first time, let them out very close to sun down, even if they don't go back in, they will go to sleep and you can easily pick them up and take them in by hand. Then you can increase the amount of time each time you let them out before sundown.
    Herding chickens isn't entirely difficult. We use a long stick about 1" wide, they have snake predator instincts and WILL begin to group up and away from the stick. stay back from them a bit, holding the stick and your other hand out wide so they continue to stay in front of you. They will group together, and with a little encouragement, go into the coop. Snapping is also effective for some reason. More so than clapping or "hollering"
    Anytime we need to get ours back in during the day we herd them. Treats work, but only if they care about them! (edit to add: I mean, they will be having tons of fun scratching around, and finding their own treats...they might not care about yours! also, treats everyday can add fat to your chickens heart & liver, which is bad) Its much easier to just let them put themselves up at night.
    Last edited: May 12, 2016
  4. mikecfry

    mikecfry Out Of The Brooder

    Apr 3, 2016
    Shamong, NJ
    Thanks, great advice! Part of me thinks I'm over thinking it- I can pick them up in the coop without so much as a flap of wing - I'm just less sure when they have the running room. I'm very conscious of predators since I've seen so many even before we had the chicks so taking every possible precaution.
  5. firedragon1982

    firedragon1982 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 9, 2015
    I second the treats thing. We have a plastic "can" that was from Kirkland Cashews that we washed and use for scratch. When they see that in hand they come running! Don't even have to shake and call! Most of the time they'll meet us at the porch if we have it.
  6. teach1rusl

    teach1rusl Love My Chickens

    LOL!! Mine too! They come running if they even see me glance at a treat jar...or if they spy a plate...hehee.

    And OP - keep in mind, it's a treat, not a meal. A small handful of scratch/treat between a little flock isn't going to make them fat. As long as their main food has good protein (16% or so generally) and they have good water, all will be fine. I've got a group of four 7-yr olds who still give me 3-4 eggs per week in the spring/summer months - and they've always started their day with a bit of treat and (usually) ended their day with a bit more. All things in moderation...
    Last edited: May 13, 2016
  7. Peeps61

    Peeps61 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Apr 19, 2014
    NW Florida
    I have a flock of 32 and I keep them in two coops, although they all free range together and it doesn't matter which coop they return to in the evening. Around early dusk, I'll go out with a ziplock bag of dried mealworms and call "Chickees!" The come from all four corners of my property and swarm around me as I am walking to the coop. The chickens that did not hear me will see the activity and come running at that point. I generally get the whole flock pinned up within about 10 minutes, counting any late comers that notice their friends have disappeared. Meal worms are like crack to my chickens! It works like a charm just about every time.
  8. pdirt

    pdirt Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 11, 2013
    Eastern WA
    In our experience, Raptors have been our worst predators during daytime. They have picked off chicks up to 12-14 weeks old. After that age, there seems to not be any problems. Either the hens are smarter or too big for our Raptors (including bald eagles) or a combination of both.
  9. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    You might try a cardboard box. Make an opening big enough they can get into it. Then let them sleep there for a while. Then when you want to let them out, do so shortly before dark, and put the cardboard box down and they will return to that. Later you can put that in your run. In a relatively short time, the box will grow to small for them, but by then they will be comfortable with the new coup and run and leave the box by themselves without any stress.

    My first flock, I had a garden fenced with chicken wire, so I put the chicks outside in the garden so they could get some exercise. They were too little to cause any damage, and they would all be in the box at dark. They were much stronger due to their outdoor time, and had no stress when I moved the card board box to the new set up.

    As for predators, day time are the raptors and coyotes, and at night the coons, weasles or minks. They will test just how tight your set up is.

    I also herd mine in by using a long stick. I put a bit of feed just inside the gate, and walk out until the chickens are between me and the place I want them, I move slowly toward them tapping the ground until they move away from me. Once they move, I stop, then when they stop I move again, just until the pressure on them cause them to move toward the gate. If one goes the wrong direction, just tap the ground in front of them. Move slow, is faster. They will get closer and closer to the gate and most will go in, if not all, just leave them be. Go in and put out more food, this will cause excitement, and the run away will reconsider, just go out past that one, and that one should head straight in.

    Good luck, this is a fun hobby.

    Mrs K
  10. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I like doing the part-time free-range in the evening as well. Treat system is not effective when they get good crop fill. While they are out you can increase the quality and quantity of avialable forages by making a compost pile or two accessible and having some heavy plantings of edible plants like clover. A dust bathing station oriented so it catches the last sun rays of the day can also help keep chickens tight around coop. You might even consider placing a feeding stating with something different like BOSS to diversify they intake further and to give you an opportunity to quantify some of the intake occurring outside the coop.

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