Switching from free range to a run

FuzzyDuck

In the Brooder
Jul 17, 2021
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Not sure if this is the right place to ask, but: currently the chickens I have are 100% free range, no fence or anything. For various reasons, we’ll be enclosing them, likely using an electric fence/poultry netting. I’m wondering if there are any tips or concerns I should be aware of when switching the hens to an enclosed run? Helping them adapt to no longer having free access to the entire property?
 

DobieLover

Easily distracted by chickens
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Jul 23, 2018
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Not sure if this is the right place to ask, but: currently the chickens I have are 100% free range, no fence or anything. For various reasons, we’ll be enclosing them, likely using an electric fence/poultry netting. I’m wondering if there are any tips or concerns I should be aware of when switching the hens to an enclosed run? Helping them adapt to no longer having free access to the entire property?
I did the very same thing almost 3 years ago.
Making their new limited space as large as possible will help. I fenced in 1/3 of an acre with 42" high poultry netting (three 164' nets) powered with a 10,000 volt charger.
The first time someone hits a comb to it, they will shriek, alarm call LOUDLY, run off and pout. I think maybe 3 out of 12 birds hit the fence within the first three days of containment before all learned not to touch it.
Make your gates very high and as tight to the ground as you can get them. also make sure the netting is pretty close to the ground. The lower strand isn't live. I also bought enough extra posts to double the amount included with the net. I highly recommend that.
I still had to severely clip wings when they were first contained. They were having none of it and kept jumping out over the gates. Even when I raised the gate height to just over 4', hence the wing clipping.
Once they acclimated to their new restrictions, they no longer needed to be clipped. All subsequent generations have learned from the original flock that the pen is their area and the don't make any attempts to leave. In fact, one day I didn't fully latch the human access gate and it blew open. I returned home 11 hours later to find it wide open and not a single bird had left.
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
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They will complain, but they do not remember long.

Do add clutter to the inside of the run. Pallets, ladders, roosts, boxes, mini walls. It gives more shade, it allows birds to move away from each other, and to get out of sight. So many runs I see on here, are just an open rectangle, where as a bird can see every other bird 100% of the time.

As big as possible is good advice. Are you keeping chickens in, or are you keeping other things out? Keeping things out can be a challenge, at least if you have coons like mine. After numerous failures on my run's part, we just recently built a chain link fence , totally covered. My fingers are crossed.

Mrs K
 

FuzzyDuck

In the Brooder
Jul 17, 2021
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Thank you both, this is really helpful and good to hear how others have managed this. I’ve never clipped wings before, but will figure it out if necessary. These girls are pretty cautious, so they don’t let me touch them yet. I’m wondering about putting some sort of mesh (non-conductive) over the top of the electric net fence as a roof to stop them from jumping/flying out...

@Mrs. K , good question. At this point, the goal is to keep the hens contained and they’ll go into their coop at night which is relatively secure from predators. Unfortunately, we just moved here and discovered there is a big rat problem on the property, so we want to as quickly as possible close in the chickens to have more control over their food (avoid spillage, set feeding times) and to try to ensure the chickens won’t get harmed by any pest control measures we have to implement.
 

gtaus

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I live on a lake and there is always hawks and Bald Eagles overhead all the time. I have never let my chickens free range because of that threat. There are a few people who are determined to let their chickens free range around here - we call them former chicken owners.

My chicken run is made up of 2X4 fencing 6 foot high. I used bird netting on the top of the run to stop any aerial attacks. Going into my third year without any misfortune. For me, the 6 foot high fencing is very important because I don't want to have to constantly bend over. I can walk in my chicken run to perform any maintenance without having to bend over which makes any chore harder on the back. Because I use bird netting for protection above, I have never had to clip any wings of my chickens. The bird netting keeps the hawks and eagles out, and keeps the chickens in.

I don't have any electric wires on my setup, but my chickens are locked up at night in a very secure chicken coop. During the day, the only predators I really worry about are neighborhood dogs that may wander into the yard. So far, they just look at the chickens behind the fence and leave them alone. If the chickens get alarmed, they all run into the chicken coop via the pop door.

I don't have a rat problem. But I suppose you would not want to leave out any feed for them to get into if you have that problem. I keep my main feed and waterer inside my chicken coop. That way I never have to worry about my chickens getting fed if for some reason I cannot let them outside. Also, where I live in northern Minnesota. my chickens stay inside their coop for almost 5 months of the winter. They have no desire to leave the coop and walk out on the white snow. I built my chicken coop about 7 square feet per bird, almost double the minimum recommend space requirements, because here in the north they spend lots of time in their coop in the winter.

For the chicken run, I set up a pallet bin for them to jump up on and/or get into for shade. The back and 2 sides are full pallets, but the front pallet was cut in half with one half the pallet placed on top of the bin and the other half pallet for the front wall. So they have multiple ways to perch on the pallet bin or just jump inside under the shade.

After my chickens destroyed all the grass in the chicken run, I decided to turn the chicken run into a composting system. I throw my wood chips, grass clippings, and leaves into the run and just let the chickens peck and scratch to their heart's content. The run never gets muddy and never smells. I don't know what the chickens find to eat in all that organic stuff, but they are outside all day pecking and scratching in the compost. Over time, all that organic material breaks down and I can harvest chicken run compost anytime I want now.

All our kitchen scraps get thrown out into the run, and whatever the chickens don't eat gets composted in place with everything else. My chickens will eat just about anything else before their commercial feed. You are very hard pressed to find anything remaining in the chicken run that was thrown out there from our kitchen scraps chicken bucket.

I think my chickens are pretty happy in their chicken run. It's big enough that they are not tripping over themselves and if a pecking order fight breaks out, they have plenty of space to run away from each other. If it was safe to let my chickens free range, then I would do that. But I prefer to have live chickens so they are confined to their run which keeps them safer.
 

Mrs. K

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Rats will need poison if you have a serious problem. But there are numerous tricks to that. Mostly putting the poison in something, that nothing but rats and mice can get into.

You have to know your predators, coons are my nemesis. Not that I don't have all of them, but a couple of coons will kill an entire flock of 12. Been there, done that.

Sometimes I think chickens are get this problem solves, oh, now what to do?

Mrs K
 

gtaus

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Rats will need poison if you have a serious problem. But there are numerous tricks to that. Mostly putting the poison in something, that nothing but rats and mice can get into.

Question: If you poison the rats and mice, and they die elsewhere, is it possible for a dog, cat, or chicken for that matter that might try to eat the poisoned rodent would get itself poisoned?
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
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western South Dakota
You need to know your poisons. Read the label carefully. But most poisons are designed to prevent that problem since the wreck they had in the 50's(?) with the bald eagles and DDT.

Check out the Predator and pest forum on this. People have great solutions. Recently there was quite a post on rats.
 

Ridgerunner

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Question: If you poison the rats and mice, and they die elsewhere, is it possible for a dog, cat, or chicken for that matter that might try to eat the poisoned rodent would get itself poisoned?

You need to know your poisons.
Exactly. Some are a real danger, some aren't that much of a problem. Where do you get credible information? I don't trust many sources on the internet, you don't know if they have any real knowledge or if they are just spouting prejudice and bias. You can probably chat with your county extension office about a specific poison, they may even have a recommended poison and have ways to use it. I haven't done it myself but I'd expect the CDC to have pretty reliable info.

One factor is how the poison works. Another is how fast the dog or chicken's body filters it out of their system. Do they get rid of it or does it accumulate? Dosage is a big factor. The amount of poison to kill a tiny mouse might not be enough to even be noticed by a chicken or dog. Does the mouse die after a few bites or does it need to return to eat more before it dies?

I was talking to the owners of a hardware store about poisons. They had a big lab, beautiful dog. That lab had eaten a at poison so they called the CDC to see what they needed to do. The CDC hotline person asked which specific poison was it. Then they asked how much the dog ate and how much did the dog weigh. The CDC said that amount of that poison will not harm that dog, you don't need to do anything. If it were a much smaller dog it could be a problem.
 

FuzzyDuck

In the Brooder
Jul 17, 2021
27
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Good tips, and interesting to know that you set yours up to compost for you, @gtaus! Part of why we’re thinking electric fence is so we can eventually move them around the yard more, but if we do something more permanent, that sounds like a cool system.

And yeah, we’ll have to use poison, especially with the number of rats here at the moment, to get it under control. I feel weird about poison but it seems both effective and necessary in this case! We had a pest control person come out and obviously the first tip is to enclose the chickens, and then we can work more safely on the rats.. ugh. So, hopefully our chickens will adapt to being enclosed! And we can experiment a bit with how to set it up and keep them happy in a run, with the advice above :)
 

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