To Free Range or not? Need advice!

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by sallihennipenni, Jun 8, 2011.

  1. sallihennipenni

    sallihennipenni Out Of The Brooder

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    Jun 6, 2011
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    We live on 20 heavily wooded acres with a fairly clear area of about 5 acres where the house, shed, pond and coop are. All is surrounded by woods. This is in Central Illinois and we have many different kinds of predators. So far we've had the most trouble with racoons. We started with 16 pullets (mixed, Black Australorp, RIR ,Buff O's and Barred Rocks) and have lost 2 to the racoons. Our girls are about 9 weeks old. Their coop is 8x8 and the run is 15x10. We have some yard which we mow around the house, some which we rough cut in the wooded areas. I'd like so much to be able to let the girls out and free range during the day. We have no dog. Would I be crazy to let them out? Would they stay near me if I was out with them and then would they go back in to the run when I try to shoo them in???

    If free ranging isn't possible, we may try fencing in an area adjacent to their run for daytime use. Heavy welded wire with electrical wire at top and bottom. There would be large trees in this fenced area. I'm wondering if this still would not be good enough?? Hawks?

    Here's a couple of pictures which will hopefully give you an idea of our setting.

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    I'd really appreciate the advice of more experienced chicken lovers! Thanks!
     
  2. Capvin

    Capvin Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I would be interested in some of the answers also. We live in an area that is surounded by about 100 acres of scrub pine and palmetto. Lots of potential predators around also. Have 6 11 week old chicks in a 4 x 8 coop with a very secure 8 x 16 run. Over the last two weeks we have been letting them out during the evening for about an hour or so under our strict watch and me sitting with a shotgun. We do try and keep them in areas that we want by just gently herding them to where we ant them to be. They all will stay together so all you need is to herd one or two and they all follow. They do not go back into their run area willingly but it has not been hard to herd them back in when we want. Since we have been letting them out for a short while in the evenings they are always obsessed with going out and everytime someone goes to their area they run to the door in hopes of being let out. We would really love to let them out for the entire day but we are not willing to risk losing any of them because we consider them favorite pets.
     
  3. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

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    My chickens free range pretty much all day every day. Not predator losses so far this year, but they have plenty of cover from hawks, and we're surrounded by fields, a grove, a big slough and lots of grassland so the critters that would be a threat have plenty of wildlife to eat and stay away from our building site. Any potential predators that happen into our building site die. All bets are off at night, though, when the dog is sleeping and we're not out and about. If you're worried "shooing them in" you might want to let them out for an hour or so before dusk so they don't get too far away from the run to begin with and will go in on their own to roost. Another option - when you go out to visit your chickens bring them a little treat of some sort. Not every time, necessarily, but enough that when they see you coming they come to check out what you might have for them. You can then toss the treats into the run or coop and lock them in when they go after the treats. If you choose to free range, you can expect some losses. It happens to everyone. But, you can also expect losses if you don't. You've already learned that it's not a matter of "if" you're going to lose chickens, but "when". If you choose to fence in a larger area, bird netting may be an option to try to keep hawks out.
     
  4. scratch'n'peck

    scratch'n'peck Overrun With Chickens

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    My Coop
    My husband and I live in a similar situation. Our coop chickens only get let out of the run when we can supervise them. We have Old English Game in aviaries with geese and ducks, too. Those are covered with avian netting and even then there have been a few occasions over the past couple years when a hawk will find a hole in the netting chewed by a squirrel.

    I have trained my coop chickens with some success to follow me into the run when I have treats. Generally chickens don't like to range too far from the coop. I have heard they like to keep it in sight when ranging. At the very least, they always come back to the coop by dusk.

    I am thinking of devising a light weight hoop style run - maybe out of cattle panels and PVC Pipe frame. It would be a portable run that I could move easily to fresh grass and it would keep them protected from hawks or being carried away by a raccoon. I may not actually put them in such a run unless I were within ear shot, just in case there were digging predators or a raccoon would try to grab them thru the wire ( but those are usually night time predators).
     
  5. sallihennipenni

    sallihennipenni Out Of The Brooder

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    Jun 6, 2011
    Central Illinois
    You've given me hope! Thanks for all your replies. I was worried that if I let my girls out for a while with me outside that they may scatter....that one or more may run and hide. There's just so many places around here that they could hide and I would not be able to find them until it's too late. If I'm hearing you right, it sounds like they'd stick together and not go far from me. Is that right?

    I'm curious as to what kind of treats work best for you???

    Also.....to "scratch 'n' peck......I checked out your page. What great pictures! You have so many kinds of birds! You must really enjoy them!
     
  6. scratch'n'peck

    scratch'n'peck Overrun With Chickens

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    My Coop
    We inherited the Old english game and swans with the house we bought, we enjoyed them so much we got more breeds.

    My chickens usually stay within 30 feet of the coop when they are out. They either stick together or sometimes a couple will stay near the coop, while the others explore. My chickens like dandelion greens and spinach, etc, but I reserve the extra special treat, whole wheat bread, for back to the coop time. It's not the healthiest treat, but I usually only give them about a half piece for 8 chickens.

    Here is a link to a treat chart: https://www.backyardchickens.com/web/viewblog.php?id=2593-Treats_Chart

    You
    can find out what your chickens find most exciting.

    The only time I had to search for one of my chickens was when a friend's dog unexpectedly came running toward the coop. I scooped up two hens, some ran into the run but one ran into the underbrush in a wooded area. I searched for 15 minutes, but it felt a lot longer. It ended up that she was not far from the coop, but she didn't come out because she was scared.

    The chickens really do come home to roost, but in this case it is a good thing. They are creatures of habit.
     
  7. teach1rusl

    teach1rusl Love My Chickens

    TREATS!! Get a container - mason jar or mayo jar, something along those lines. Keep either scratch or sunflower seeds in it (both will make noise when you shake the jar). Teach them that shaking that jar and "chick-chick" means TREAT TIME before you start letting them out. Shake...call...toss them a little bit. They will quickly learn to come running when you do that if you're consistant. It's really just like training a dog to come.
    Mine will come to either the jar shaking (or if in eyesight will run at the sight of the jar) or my calling now. Very sure way of getting them back to the run when you need them to be there. And of course eventually they will learn to go back to the run and coop on their own.
     
  8. sallihennipenni

    sallihennipenni Out Of The Brooder

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    Jun 6, 2011
    Central Illinois
    Ok! Tomorrow I'm going to take the girls out for a little while. I thank you so much for the treat ideas and other advice.

    teach1rusl - I love your jar idea. I'll definitely do that.

    scratch'n'peck - Thanks for the link. I didn't know about it. It's great!
     
  9. bryan99705

    bryan99705 Chillin' With My Peeps

    What a great place to raise birds!

    You should be good with secure fence and a tight skirted fence around the range area and a electric fence in your situation may not gain you a whole lot more with the maintainance you would have to do on it.

    Hawks may be a issue depending on if the have room to swoop and glide. A few spots for the birds to hide under and a alert rooster will go a long way to keep them safe. Might consider a couple turkey or geese for additional defence.

    Yes, a little "Chick Chick" training is helpful in gathering birds but be aware, after a while they will mob you every time you step outside. We did our training with old bread and now, even though they don't like to be picked up, we have to be careful where we step because they gather so closely
     
  10. CupOJoe42

    CupOJoe42 CT Chicken Whisperer

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    Our backyard is fenced in. Once my chickens get used to their coop and run, would it be okay to let them free-range in the backyard if I am outside with them in the daytime? I live in CT. We have all kinds of predators and the coop and run would definitely be the most secure place. Should I even bother to chance it? Would a hawk take them if I'm outside with them?
     

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