Should I convert my cooped chickens into free-range chickens?


12 Years
Dec 15, 2007

We have a coop with 4 New Hampshire Red youngsters and it's been quite a while now and things are doing fine. I let them free-range daily for about an hour, with me watching over them to protect them from predators or prevent them from going too far away.

But it seems that they are, well, sad. Whenever I put them back in the coop they just sit there and sleep and do nothing. When I let them free-range again they become happy and playful.So I was thinking of letting them free-range the whole day - let them outside in the morning then put them back in the coop in the evening. . But I had a flock of Cornish Crosses and they have been killed(some ran away) for being outside all the time.

We have a few stray, street cats visiting our backyard, but they don't seem to mind the chickens very much, but still. The backyard is highly fenced, but the chickens can sometimes jump over it or escape through other pathways. Do you think letting them live in free range is good?

Thanks in advance!

Edited to add: Oh, and their coop has a small run.
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Can you let them out for longer and longer periods each day? At night time/dusk chickens usually go back to roost in the coop. I would start later in the day so you don't have to chase them all over the yard to get them in. My chickens go all over the place (we have 5 acres), and they always seem to find their way back to the coop.

We also have cats, but the chickens will chase them away. Don't underestimate the power of flapping chicken wings!
I have a friend who let her flock begin to free-range near a brook. She says the coyotes got them, and now she can't have chickens because the predators waited beside the coop after that. Um, I guess it depends on your circumstances. Yikes.
Thank you everyone! Your replies somehow made me feel happy.

Hmmm......yes, I could let the chicken door of the coop open so they can enter whenever they want(eat, drink, rest, etc.), but my grandma also has her own free-ranging flock that would like to enter the coop and eat all the feed(that's my chickens' feed!). I wish I had some kind of automated chicken door where the chicken would step on a plank to open and close the door, and my chickens would be trained to use it and not the other chickens and creatures.......hmmm.....

Flapping chicken wings are truly great! One of our chickens got near our dog cages and the dogs started barking at it, but then it flapped its wings madly on the cage and the dogs backed away and became silent. That's good. I'm happily relieved that chickens can scare those scaredy cats away(just walk towards them and they will run like crazy)

Thanks again and more info is greatly appreciated!
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Do you have an enclosed run for them? I think that is the best compromise between free-range risk and being inside all day (I know I don't like being "cooped up"!).

We made our current run out of those free standing fence panels folks use for dog pens. they are 6 feet square and one has a gate. These are not the cheapest option, but certainly the easiest and can be moved if needed. The other option would be a fence with a bird netting top or frame with good fencing all around. there are lots of options. Check out the housing forum for photos, etc. You can even dig the run down into the ground so nothing can get in there at night. The hens all go in the coop in the evening so we lock them in, but if the run were sturdy enough you could leave the pop door open and have a relatively daily-maintenance free set up.

I believe free range chickens are happier and healthier, BUT anytime you free range your chickens you run the risk of predators - be it the neighbor's dogs, coyotes or hawks.

Nothing is more depressing than finding your pets killed or maimed.

Some people have livestock guardian dogs or their own dogs that act as pretectors for the animals. That would be ideal.

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