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To free-range or not to free-range

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by wroblow, Dec 28, 2011.

  1. wroblow

    wroblow In the Brooder

    May 16, 2008
    Portland, OR
    I live in Portland, Or, but about 8 miles from the downtown area. My neighborhood isn't rural, but it isn't exactly urban either (I have 5 doug fir trees and 1 cedar tree in my front yard if that tells you anything). I really want to let my flock free range in my yard, but I'm worried about predators. There are a few stray cats that think my yard is their playground during the day and I've had raccoons and possums 'inspecting' my coop a couple of times at night, but as far as I know there are no foxes, coyotes, or predatory birds in the area. I know a lot of people with chickens who let them roam their whole neighborhood and don't seem to have any issues with chickens going missing, so I'm assuming that the cats aren't really a problem. I know I could make a tractor and solve the whole predator issue, but my yard really isn't THAT big and the chickens would still be stuck in a cage all day.

    does anyone out there have experience letting their semi-urban flock free range? I'd love advice.

  2. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    Well, before I moved up here to the rural mountains, I lived in a semi-urban area, on an acre. My landlady's house was on the same acre. The whole acre was fenced. There were horses on other parcels very near. I let my chickens range freely there.

    (I let my flock range freely up here, too - but my property is fenced. I didn't move the flock until it WAS fenced.)

    My dominant rooster watched for and warned of any aerial predators. There were also crows to chase off hawk and they did a great job of it. However, the crows would also sneak in the coop(s) through the pop door to steal an egg, now and then. The flock did sleep in their coops, securely, at night. Most of the (rental) acre was open space, but there was a line of trees in my back yard under which they would take shelter, too.

    They were much happier ranging freely than when they were in the run I'd built. After a while I took down the run. I put "Nite Guard" lights around the back yard, which kept the raccoons away.

    Only lost one bird, a broody duck on a hidden nest in the FRONT yard, under an old car belonging to my landlady. Not protected by the Nite Guard lights.

    Lots of folks think the Nite Guard lights are hokum, but I swear by 'em. I had nightly predation of my goldfish ponds until I put those things up!
  3. You mean to imply that there is some way of poultry raising other than extense?
  4. calicokat

    calicokat Songster

    Apr 2, 2009
    azalia, indiana
    I'd be wary.

    We let ours free range and we've had to stop this year. Went about 2 years with only a few rare incidents (neighbor's dogs mostly.) But this year, it's been awful. A hawk got 3 that we know about, a few just flat disappeared, and in a completly freak accident, one roo got into the swimming pool and drowned. All this was in broad daylight [​IMG]

    Now they only get to free range if someone is there to babysit the whole time. You have to situate the lawn chair so that you have a view of the yard and the coop - not letting anyone out of sight. They are really not happy about this, and I don't blame them. But it's the only safe answer right now for us.
  5. wroblow

    wroblow In the Brooder

    May 16, 2008
    Portland, OR
    thank you for the replies! it seems like some people have had issues while others haven't. I'd still like to know if anyone has had problems with neighborhood cats.

    I really need to let my girls out for at least a few hours a day, but I can't watch over them (I work and go to school full time, so I leave before dawn and come home well after sundown). Does anyone have suggestions on fencing off an area? my yard has two fenced areas, one of them is a large, old dog run, which would be an ideal area to let the chickens roam, but it sounds like I would need to "cover" the area (to keep chickens in and other animals out). Horse fencing is the only thing I can think of....but is there something else out there that might be easier to put up, but just as effective?
  6. BWKatz

    BWKatz Songster

    May 22, 2010
    U can use pvc and a tarp to cover the run and keep them out of rain & snow too.
  7. Erica

    Erica Songster

    Dec 5, 2010
    I can't free range because of goshawks. Beautiful but they put their claws in everything, even cornish x the size of turkeys.

    I don't feel a chicken can be quite as healthy in a pen as on free range, but if they're given lots of fresh extras it can be close. They miss the insect diet that's so great at adding omega 3s etc, but there are ways to add that kind of thing (e.g. worm farm, mealworms).

    So I wouldn't write off penning if the pens are large. The way I see it one benefit is that I get to keep all that lovely mucky soil for my vege patches.

    Free range is the true life but then there's realism... [​IMG]

  8. discoveregg

    discoveregg Songster

    Apr 15, 2011
    Northern Idaho
    Do you have a dog? My Saint unknowingly scares off the predators with a deep loud bark, even though he has no clue what he's barking at [​IMG] I live on 15 acres, free range, and keep the coops close to the back porch. No problems so far. We have coyotes, wolves, bears etc who have left their mark on our property but leave my hens alone. Keep the motion sensor on my back porch to set off the lights. Free range can be done [​IMG]
  9. auto5man

    auto5man Songster

    Jul 27, 2011
    Don't think I could classify as 'semi-urban' as I live in the middle of the city, in the middle of a neighborhood with houses lining both sides of the street....lots of old growth trees, my home was built in the 50's. Anyway, I have a 7 ft wood privacy fence surrounding the backyard and my girls free range all day every day most of the time unsupervised.we have an abundance of cats in our neighborhood I see them slinking around every day.....none have seemed interested in my backyard. Also an abundance of coons, but my coop is closed at night and pretty stout. At first I was really worried about coons, but have had no troubles or seen any in my backyard at night (coop is visible from back porch lights). My theory is that they have so much food in the city just laying around...why work at breaking into a coop when u can eat half a big Mac right out of the trash can with no effort. My biggest fear is hawks and the seasonal threat they represent. You won't see one for 6 months, then BAM! I was sitting out with my girls giving them all treats when they all made some really strange clicking noises I've never heard before and bolted for the bushes. I saw Cody's eye cocked up at the sky, and looked u,p and there was a giant red-tailed hawk high up in my giant oak tree! I've never seen a red tail in the middle of the city before! The girls do have lots of cover in my yard, my back porch is large and roofed over and surrounded by shrubbery...they spend a lot of their time loafing and dirt bathing there. We also have owls around, but my girls are shut in the coop by dusk. I do think I've been lucky, but at the same time my fears about predators have lessened somewhat. I'm also not trying to say my way is the best or completely safe, but to give perspective from my experiences with free-ranging. It's a big family activity for us, being outside with them alot. An endlessly entertaining hobby!

    Also my coop is about 10 feet from the back porch and easily visible.
  10. mpare

    mpare In the Brooder

    Jul 16, 2010
    Dillsburg, PA
    I let my chickens out each evening an hour before sunset. I do not watch them but just set a timer so that I don't forget to go out and shut the coop door after they have put themselves back to bed. Because it is near dark they roam the yard but do not go too far from the house. I am sure they would like more time outside but at least they have an opportunity to enjoy some free ranging each day. I also remind myself they could be factory farm chickens and live a horrible short life without ever seeing real sunlight. It has been two years and I haven't lost any of them yet to predators.

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