So how does free ranging work?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Pequena Bandada, Jul 12, 2010.

  1. Pequena Bandada

    Pequena Bandada Small Flock

    Jun 13, 2010
    My four lovely chickens (14 week old pullets) are all settled into their coop and run after a week at our house. I would now like to let them free range from time to time. Mostly it would be for an hour or two when I'm home and out in the yard with them. But how do I convince them to get back in their covered run when free range time is done? Do I need to keep them out until sunset when they typically go into their coop?

    I'm really excited to allow them out to run around and eat all of the weeds in my yard, but concerned that I'll have chickens running/flying in all directions and won't be able to corral them. We live on five non-fenced acres but I plan to keep them to the area around our house. Will they generally stay put or will they run off the instant I let them out of the run?

    Also, we have lots of cactuses here - mostly barrel and prickly pear. Are chickens smart enough to know not to rub themselves on a cactus?
  2. chicmom

    chicmom Dances with Chickens

    Feb 24, 2009
    Strasburg Ohio
    Hello there! First, I would leave them inside the coop/run for about two weeks total. Then, when you're ready to let them free range a bit, about an hour before dark, simply open the run door. They may not come out at first, but usually they just venture out very close to the coop/run, and walk around it a bit. Once it starts to get dark, you will see them go back into their run automatically. It's really something! They instinctually know to go to their "safe place" once it is dark. If you need to get them in sooner, you'll have to catch them and put them back in, which is a pain in the tush. That's why I suggest you wait until about an hour before dark to let them begin to free range. I always sat outside with them and watched them at first, then as time went on, and they were adult sized, I didn't watch them every minute.
  3. pixie74943

    pixie74943 Songster

    May 25, 2009
    Adelaide, Australia
    I also like mine to know the value of treats before I let them out, then I can coax them home within about 30seconds if I have the right treats.

    They tend to move around togther as a group, and for the first few outings will stay pretty close to home.
  4. Lifetime chicken lover

    Lifetime chicken lover Songster

    Jun 26, 2009
    Rogers, MN
    There are a lot of ways you can free-range. Most chickens will find their way back to the coop around dusk.
    Just to ensure they come home at a decent time, I always give my girls some treats in their run- bread, fruit, dinner leftovers, etc around 6 or 7 o'clock. They know that I'm coming and always are back in their run for treat-time.
    My girls usually stay close to the run, but everyday seem to stray further. They seem to know where the borders are and I've never found them leaving our 7 acres.
    If you have to, corralling is not that hard. Just have to be quiet and calm. Find a long stick (or 2) and slowly walk behind them, moving the stick out to the side when they start to stray in the wrong direction.
    You will find that your chickens are MUCH happier when you let them free-range!
  5. SallyF

    SallyF Songster 9 Years

    Jul 5, 2009
    Middle Tennessee
    Quote:I use the stick method also. I have a stick about the length of a broom handle and carry it horizontally. When I want the chickens to go toward the right I move the left side of the stick forward a little and they veer over. Works like a champ.
  6. Keri78

    Keri78 Songster

    Oct 17, 2009
    I think that letting them out for an hour or two at dinnertime is a great suggestion to start out. Once you're comfortable with that then you could always let them out first thing in the morning(that's what I do) and they will all march themselves right back into the coop at night to sleep![​IMG] I don't bother wrangling chickens long as their home instinct is established they'll all go back to the coop at night. And once they are of laying age they will kind of wander in and out of the coop all day to lay eggs! I also live on 5 acres(wooded and not wooded) unfenced and my chickens tend to range a little farther out the older they get. When they are young they tend to be a little more insecure and stick closer to the coop. I wouldn't worry about the cactus...they have great instincts about things that could be dangerous. Have fun! Enjoy them! Keri
    Last edited: Jul 12, 2010
  7. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging 9 Years

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    I don't have a lot to add to these responses, just reinforce them a bit. They will return to the coop just before it gets dark, sometimes just before it gets dark. Training them to come to you when you have a treat call like "chickie, chickie" or maybe rattling a special treats bucket helps. They can be herded if you move slowly.

    They may or may not rush out when you first open the gate. Don't rush them. They will eventually find their way around. Initially they will probably stay in a group and will stick around fairly close, but after they get comfortable outside they will probably start splitting up into groups a bit, depending on how many you have and whether or not you have a rooster. Some may start to roam fair distances, but they are usually not that far from the coop. A few hundred feet at the most. After they get comfortable outside, they will probably rush the gate expecting to be let out whenever you open it.
  8. newTexan2chickens

    newTexan2chickens Chirping

    Jun 15, 2010
    Getting them in is not really that hard for me either. I throw them treats when they come in so now they all come running... even when I am just going out to check for eggs they all come running! LOL
  9. gwill23

    gwill23 Songster

    Mar 14, 2010
    Grangeville Idaho
    I just let mine out in the morning and lock them up at night. I have lost a few to preditors when they are out and now the flock stays pretty close to the house all day. I have 30 acres they can roam and they don't even venture more than maybe 5 of it at most. I have 11 hens and 14 chicks right now and they all to pretty good at getting out and going in at night. I still have 3 chicks that have an issue with getting in but I always find them in the same place roosted so I scoop them up and put them in the way they are supposed to go in at night and they learn.

    When I first put the chicks in with the others none of them made it in at night [​IMG]. Usually they learn within a few days or a week.
  10. aggieterpkatie

    aggieterpkatie Songster

    Apr 26, 2009
    Some of my older girls start roosting around 4:30-5pm ([​IMG]) and some of the "teenagers" wait until juuuust before dark to finally go to bed.

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