Scared to let them out, but worried they'll get bored.

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by kla37, Oct 6, 2010.

  1. kla37

    kla37 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Hillsborough, NC USA
    My chickens are 19-20 weeks old, and I've had them from day old chicks. All but one of them are pretty friendly, and they have a nice big coop and run, but I'd like to let them out to free range. I am worried about them getting killed though. This is a picture of part of my backyard and the coop is in the back.
    [​IMG]
    We put in a lawn a few years ago, but we are completely surrounded by woods. My main concern is hawks during the day! Am I being overprotective and silly? This is their coop/run:
    [​IMG]
    I want them to have happy little chicken lives, but I'm so afraid of sacrificing them to a predator.
     
  2. dawg53

    dawg53 Humble

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    You have a beautiful setup and yard. I understand your concerns with hawks too, it happens. Another thing to consider is that once your chickens are released into your new lawn, it'll be very tough to keep them in where you have them now. Additionally, they will dig holes in your new lawn. Flowerbeds will be doomed. Is it possible to fence in a larger run using pressure treated 4x4 posts in the ground and using chicken wire along the sides and as an apron, then use the plastic netting on top to prevent hawks from flying in? You have control how big you want your run and how it would fit your budget. You could put a tarp on top as well for inclement weather. I've done this and it has worked out real well. All my chickens are over 1.5 years old and I let them free range now all over the backyard. They know when to take cover when the squirrels start barking or when the mockingbirds or bluejays are going ballistic over a predator.... usually a hawk or owl. My rooster is seperated from the girls. He's able to watch the girls from either side of the house and goes nuts when he sees a squirrel much less a hawk, bocking real loud lol.
     
  3. kla37

    kla37 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Quote:What do you mean by it will be very difficult to keep them in where I have them now? Do you mean that they'll never want to go back into their coop and run? Cause I'm scared of that too. Yes I'm a sissy, but that works for me. [​IMG] The lawn is really tough creeping zoysia grass, so I'm not too worried about that. Would be nice if they could do some dethatching for me. Don't think I could get away with building more in the yard. We have plans to put in a treehouse complex type thing next....
    I wonder if my dog could babysit them? She doesn't see them as food, mostly as walking things with sharp pointy faces that she'd rather avoid...
     
  4. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    No, no, no, don't worry about them coming back to their coop if you let them free range! If they've been kept in a run and go back to their coop NOW, they'll do the same when they free range.

    The best way to ensure that is to start letting them out about an hour before dusk.. at first they won't go very far, anyway. Give 'em a week of an hour a day in the evenings, and you can start letting them out for longer periods of time. Over a period of time they will wander further, the more time they have outside. But by then they will already have the "homing instinct" to come back to the run and coop as usual.

    Mine ALWAYS go back to their coops at night.

    The comment about it being hard to keep them in when you've let them out refers to the noisy chickens at the run gate demanding you to open said gate and let 'em out. [​IMG]
     
  5. dawg53

    dawg53 Humble

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    Quote:What do you mean by it will be very difficult to keep them in where I have them now? Do you mean that they'll never want to go back into their coop and run? Cause I'm scared of that too. Yes I'm a sissy, but that works for me. [​IMG] The lawn is really tough creeping zoysia grass, so I'm not too worried about that. Would be nice if they could do some dethatching for me. Don't think I could get away with building more in the yard. We have plans to put in a treehouse complex type thing next....
    I wonder if my dog could babysit them? She doesn't see them as food, mostly as walking things with sharp pointy faces that she'd rather avoid...

    Once you let them out in the yard, they will not want to return to their house except maybe to lay an egg in the nest., or maybe to eat and get a drink. They will then return to the yard and will only return to their house at dusk to go to sleep. Then, if you keep them penned up after letting them out in the yard, they will pace back and forth in their coop wanting back out in the yard. Kinda like opening pandora's box. Then you will have to keep them occupied. I would never trust a dog to babysit chickens...unless it was a dog specifically trained to guard chickens. Tough zoysia grass...it will succumb to chickens lol.
     
  6. kla37

    kla37 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for the tip, I think I'll just have to keep them in. If they ever do go out, it will have to be evening when it's close to roosting time anyway.
     
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I'm not going to tell you to do one thing or the other. That is your choice. I make your coop about 4' x 8' and the run probably 8' x 12'. With your 8 chickens, that should be big enough for them to live a very happy life. You can always increase the size of your run if you wish, but the bigger you make it, the harder it is to really make it predator proof. And unless you make it really huge, they will soon clean all the grass out of it. I don't think you really need to, but more room never hurts.

    If you let them out to roam, even when you are present, there is always a danger from predators. It's not just hawks. In North Carolina, you have most of the ones we are concerned with. Most of them are more active at night, but they can come out during the day. I can't tell you how big your risk of loss to predators is. Nobody truly can because we all have different situations and it depends on the individual actions of the individual predators. My parents let the chickens totally free range. They were never locked up at night. We had pastureland and woods all around. We would go years between predator attack, but then a fox or something would find the flock and would have to be dealt with. I let mine free range in the country and have not lost one yet, but I know that day is coming. Many people let them out about an hour before bedtime and stay with them to protect them. It's not 100% guaranteed that nothing will happen, but it is a pretty safe way to do it. You might try this and eventually build up confidence that this isn't too bad. But there is always a risk.

    You might let yours out and go years without a loss. You might lose one within a few minutes of letting them out. I think yours will be quite happy in the current set-up. I think they would really enjoy being let out to enjoy the yard. What you do is purely your choice.

    Good luck!
     
  8. jettgirl24

    jettgirl24 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 21, 2010
    Duvall, WA
    I let mine free range and while my yard isn't quite as big as yours I've never had trouble with them not coming back to the coop/run. In fact, mine will stand at the gate and bawk to be let in after a couple hours. I can't quite tell how many girls you have but as it's only 5 or 6 they're fairly easy to round up when needed too. If they don't want to go back in I usually pick mine up two at a time and put them back. By the time I get to the last few they usually just run back in to be with their sisters.

    As far as predators, I worry too. I only let mine out when I'm home to hear if anything happens. I have had one run in with a neighborhood feral cat. Luckily no one had a scratch on them, they were just scared. We don't have too many hawks by my house but when I do see one I leave the girls in or round them up quickly. I also make sure they have plenty of places to run and hide. That could be the danger with your large lawn, not many places to duck and cover. If you do decide to let them free range I would be sure to check on them regularly and be aware of potential dangers. There is always the possibility of something bad happening so you have to decide if the risk is worth the reward.
     
  9. vfem

    vfem Yoga...The Chicken Pose

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    After losing 15 birds this year, I am down to 13. Only 7 were from a predator, 1 was from fighting and the rest were the weather.

    I now only let them out 2-3 times a week, in the evenings... they only get about 2 hours now that the sun is going down early.

    As for being bored.... I put some logs, bricks and rocks stacked up in their runs. They have stuff to hop and and run around now. It seems to really help!
     
  10. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    Either way, you can put things in the run to entertain them more. Hanging cabbages, etc for them to pick at is great. Put a flat board or such in the run and flip it over every few days, bugs will collect under there and they'll have a field day scratching. A rock or log, to give differences in elevation, just things like that.
    Good luck whatever you decide.
     

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