The End of Free-Range

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by PaisyQ, Jul 8, 2018.

  1. PaisyQ

    PaisyQ Songster

    Apr 9, 2013
    SW Michigan
    I've come to the unhappy conclusion that I am going to have to stop allowing my birds out to for free range time. They have been quite happy to roam for most of the day for the last several years, but I have now lost most of my flock after a 2nd fox attack yesterday. The remaining birds will not be allowed out again.
    There are 7 birds left, and I will be adding 2-5 more once the 2 week old chicks let me know who is a boy and who is a girl. Their coop is approximately 4ftx4ft, but they only sleep and lay eggs in there. I currently have a run attached to the coop, that is about 9ftx15ft, and I plan on adding another 8ftx8ft section on to that. The current run is covered and stays shaded for most of the day, with the exception of a few hours in the afternoon, when the angle of the sun means it gets no shade at all. The ground in the run is bare dirt. Before I covered the run I was able to section of part of it and grow things in there, since covering it I haven't been able to get anything to grow inside the run.
    I am trying to figure out ways to enrich there lives now that they are going to be locked up constantly. I'm wondering what other people have done, what ideas may be out there? I've been used to letting them entertain themselves outside, and am not sure what I can try.
  2. featheredplanets

    featheredplanets Songster

    Nov 28, 2017
    You can add different substrates, a compost heap, safe shrubbery, logs, mirrors, hanging food, chairs; there’s lots you can do to add entertainment if you put your mind to it.

    The best advice I can give is to buy/make a larger coop. It’s too small for seven birds, never mind a possible 12. 4sqft per bird is the bare minimum we should be providing our birds in a coop. A 4x4 coop can hold a max of 4 birds. For 7 birds, you’ll need a floorspace of 28sqft, ex, a 6x5ft coop. For 12, 48sqft. The bigger the better, especially if they aren’t free ranging; they’ll be spending more time in the coop. Overcrowding leads to stress, stress leads to self mutilation, mutilating others and a decrease in egg production.

    Your run will be perfect if you do build the add on.

    Just my opinions :)
    ChickenCanoe likes this.
  3. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Free Ranging

    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    Shade cloth is essential if your run isn't shaded or you can plant trees/shrubs to provide some but that needs attention immediately.
    You can get remnants here at a reduced price. look for 90% in a size close to what you need. If you attach it to the south side of your run, you'll find your chickens hanging out in its protective zone.|Shade+Remnants&breadcrumb_categoryIds=|231453&maxRecords=20
    I see a 12'X9' piece of 90% for $32.
    The run will be bare dirt (after the birds eating and scratching out plants by the roots) due to compacted soil and elevated phosphorus.
    You can solve the compaction problem in a couple ways. Simplest is a deep cover of straw. More complicated but very effective is a ladderlike frame structure over part of the space laying on the ground covered with 1x2" or 2x2" wire mesh. The plants will grow up through giving the birds something to munch on each morning but without the ability to dig in the soil.
    Last edited: Jul 8, 2018
  4. Trish1974

    Trish1974 Araucana enthusiast

    Mar 16, 2016
    North Central IN
    My Coop
    So sorry you lost some of your chickens. :hugs Before I got my flock I had lovely visions of beautiful chickens out foraging in the green grass... and then my neighbor's flock started coming onto my property where they were getting picked off by everything from bald eagles to foxes. Seeing the carnage first hand put and end to my future free-ranging flock.

    I don't know if this is feasible for you, but I built a 4'x8' movable pen that I put my flock in to move around the yard while I was outside (which I am alot). I cut a door in one end and a corresponding door into their chicken run for them to exit it in and out. I trained them to come into the pen with mealworms. After a week they knew they were getting green grass to eat so they were basically trampling each other to get into the pen! Getting them out was never an issue, it seemed like they were homesick and ready to go back to the run when I was done.
    WP_20161009_17_59_31_Pro.jpg WP_20161009_17_59_10_Pro.jpg
    I don't use it anymore. Over time I've gotten less paranoid and now use temporary fence on plastic t-posts to walk them into the fenced in garden. I also have a rooster now that is very predator alert which helps. I'm still outside while they are out, but I don't have to mess with stopping what I'm doing and go move the pen.

    To help ease boredom while in the run you can put large branches (elevated) for them to hang out on, maybe add a chicken swing, and random items like a board angled up against the fence they can get under, old chairs to sit on and lay under, etc. They are easily entertained!
  5. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler!

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
  6. rosemarythyme

    rosemarythyme Crowing

    Jul 3, 2016
    Pac NW
    My Coop
    Add litter for them to dig through - a pile of weeds or grass can keep them busy for hours. And things for them to climb on (like in aart's photo) - it'll help if you're going to be integrating chicks in the future as well, by giving them things to hide behind/under.

    I agree that you need to expand the coop before adding more birds. You're already over capacity and integrating chicks requires space.
  7. sirrobyn0

    sirrobyn0 Songster

    Feb 1, 2015
    Pacific Northwest
    I'm so sorry for the loss of you're birds. Unfortunately I've been there. I have had daytime predator attacks, while the birds are out free ranging, fortunately it's never been mass carnage. Now at night is when I've had the worst problems. Back when I first started keeping chickens, I didn't build a good coop at all. Basically I had a large shipping box on wheels and a make shift run with no real roof. That first year I had the entire flock wiped out with the exception of just one. If she hadn't survived I probably would have stopped keeping chickens. So I built a REAL coop and run. I've talked about it before on here it was out of pallets. It was a find coop for the chickens but it was terrible for me to get into and out of and worse to clean out. Eventually I enclosed two pig sheds, and built two really big runs. Today I have 30 chickens, and 10 guinea fowl. And they free range during the day. The guinea fowl have nearly eliminated daytime attackes, and the coop is secure at night. If you live in the country and can handle the noise they create consider getting a few guinea fowl to ward off the predators during free range. Otherwise to answer your question I don't think you can really have to big of run. Though it is rare these days there are times, like when I'm out of town that the birds have to stay in so there's plenty of enrichments in the run. I've screwed branches together on homemade saw horses. I have a specially made dust bath area, multiple waterers ect.
  8. Monguire

    Monguire Songster

    May 18, 2014
    Manassas, VA
    I have found that proper fencing can provide most of the free-range predator-protection that my chooks need. I am a HUGE proponent of the Premier1 PermaNet double-spike fencing. This fence STAYS where it's placed and doesn't blow over like their PoultryNet line. It is very easily adjusted/moved unlike permanent fencing.

    This fencing allows them to free-range most of the property without letting them too deep into the woods where a four-legged predator could snatch 'em up. I have yet to need to electrify my fence (though I have everything I need), just having that physical barrier is enough to keep rural-suburban predators out. It also acts as a huge fenced buffer-zone around my coop/run at dusk when the fox like to prowl for wayward chooks.

    I love the idea of TRULY free-roaming chooks as much as the next guy, but the trade-off is the occasional loss to predation.
  9. JDN

    JDN Songster

    Feb 28, 2018
    Raleigh NC
    If the birds aren't ever confined to the coop, only using it for laying and roosting, it should be fine.

    Agree on a bigger run though.

    I'd actually look at an electric fence...They're relatively inexpensive compared to hardware cloth.
  10. Cindy in PA

    Cindy in PA Crowing

    Jul 8, 2008
    Fleetwood, PA
    I think in Michigan, in the winter, they will do a lot more than sleep & lay eggs in the coop. 4 by 4 is only big enough for 4 chickens. I am surprised you never had problems before.

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