Topic of the week - Free Ranging

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by sumi, Jan 9, 2017.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member 7 Years

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    If given the choice (and space) many of us prefer to free range our flocks, but there are pros and cons to this practice. This week I would like to hear you all's thoughts on free ranging and what you did to overcome the potential problems arising. Specifically:

    - What pros and cons have you experienced when deciding to free range your flock?
    - How do you keep your flock safe when out roaming?
    - How do you ensure hens lay their eggs in the coop, instead of the garden/anywhere else they deem suitable?
    - How do you train new rangers to return to the coop at night?

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    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017

  2. centrarchid

    centrarchid Free Ranging 8 Years

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    - What pros and cons have you experienced when deciding to free range your flock?
    Enough acreage present. To be truly free-range birds dictating where they will go requires a minimum of two acres even with just a couple of birds. Do I have neighbors doing same as that can set stage for range wars. Can I tolerate depredation? With brood fowl no, so they are confined. Area required will vary seasonably and sometimes with whether. Need to control adverse impacts on vegetation. No defecation on porch allowed caused me to move whole poultry operation more than a 100 yards from house making night time awareness related hearing alarm calls more difficult. Need to be able to get home quick if neighbor calls. Free-range does not mean free chicken keeping. I always keep chickens in a variety of settings and the free-range birds are decidedly healthier but also demand a larger portion of my mental effort once nutrition is taken care of. Generally, free-range birds cost less to feed but that vary with your definition of free-range, location and time of year.

    - How do you keep your flock safe when out roaming?
    First keep them on my property which requires first sufficient acreage. Make so areas near center of property are more attractive with the presence of cover patches and feeding stations. Cover planting I like best are dense and perennial like provided by brambles, sumac, and bamboo. Patches need to be several feet in diameter and dense enough to deny raptors the ability to come in without walking. Feeding stations are were feed / food items can be found predictably away from coop and ideally near cover patches. Perimeter fencing to keep ground predators like dogs out. Electrified fencing, especially poultry netting even better. At least one fully adult rooster. Maintain good predator awareness by checking birds on roost routinely, walking entire area birds free-range, keeping out live-traps near feeding stations, near roost and areas ground predators are likely to comb in. Setup cameras to see who visits. If you can afford them, at least one dog. During late fall to early winter be more prepared to pen birds if predator working them.

    I breed free-range and a lot more comes with that.

    - How do you ensure hens lay their eggs in the coop, instead of the garden/anywhere else they deem suitable?
    Make so roost and nest sites are far enough apart with nest sites low. I spread my nest sites out a bit as well.

    - How do you train new rangers to return to the coop at night? They need to be confined to roost site for at least three days, then released late in day on fourth day so they do not get far from roost area before coming back. Make certain roost has sufficient light on it when birds do come back to roost.
    5 people like this.
  3. centrarchid

    centrarchid Free Ranging 8 Years

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    I totally missed boat on management of the forage base. The chickens will be eating more than the feed you put out, ideally a lot of quality stuff. Vegetative greens are very important. Grasses consumed but forbs, especially legumes are more important. I make no effort to produce a monoculture / manicured lawn look. Rather many plant species make up the lawn. Not all areas mowed at same frequency. You will see birds hit some areas harder than others. Insects can be produced on your property and come in as drift from neighboring areas. Both sources can vary greatly. Then you have detritus deposits that can come in two very productive forms; first is leaf bed in a wooded area, second is your compost heap.

    If the combined forage and feed inadequate, then birds will first range further potentially taking them beyond where you can protect and increase odds egg deposition and roosting moves away from you. You can also see denuding of vegetation if birds range what is effectively an island in a forage desert as they birds will not move away from core area to feed. This happens around barn area here when feed really good and birds otherwise not motivated to forage further away.
    2 people like this.
  4. I Love Layers

    I Love Layers Crowing

    Apr 25, 2015
    North Dakota
    - What pros and cons have you experienced when deciding to free range your flock?
    My birds use less feed, they are able to enjoy the grass and bugs like chickens should be are the pros. Cons are they can stash their eggs, but that can be fixed by locking them in a coop for a few days. I've never had an attack either, get a rooster who respects you and the hens and your problems will be solved.

    - How do you keep your flock safe when out roaming?
    I have 2 roosters, and when my family and I are not home our LGD goes down there and watches them. Also having bushes always helps. My birds often hide under some bushes when they do see a hawk. I don't think if you are going to free range you need fences around them so I won't comment on that.

    - How do you ensure hens lay their eggs in the coop, instead of the garden/anywhere else they deem suitable?
    Like I said above I lock them in for 3 days or so. Or if you see one laying an egg where its not supposed to be take it to the coop put it in a nest box and wait for it to lays it egg in there and then give it a treat or something along those lines.

    - How do you train new rangers to return to the coop at night?
    You lock them in the coop for anywhere from 3 days to one week. Usually for new birds I lock them in a cage for about 3 days before letting them out. If anything they come in with the other chickens or they are outside the coop and I will put them on the ramp and make them walk up.
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2017
    2 people like this.

  5. JayColli

    JayColli Chirping

    Aug 13, 2016
    Nova Scotia
    - What pros and cons have you experienced when deciding to free range your flock?
    I have quite a bit of space (a few acres) of mixed lawn, old pasture and woodland for my flock to range on and they are able to find a lot of their food on their own. The yolks of their eggs are noticeably more rich and flavourful when free ranging spring til fall as compared to the winter months. Their run stays much cleaner since they spend very little time in there on a daily basis.

    - How do you keep your flock safe when out roaming?
    I'm relying entirely on my rooster and letting natural selection make the decisions for me. They tend to spend most of the day under the low canopies of conifers so safe (for the most part) from aerial predators and we haven't had any issues with loose dogs so attacks from primarily nocturnal predators like raccoons or coyotes are unlikely. No fox troubles yet either!

    - How do you ensure hens lay their eggs in the coop, instead of the garden/anywhere else they deem suitable?
    Haven't been able to figure this one out yet. Normally they'll lay for weeks in one or two spots as long as they can be convinced that they're amassing a clutch so when I find a clutch I take the eggs and leave 2 - 3 golf balls behind to keep them laying there.

    - How do you train new rangers to return to the coop at night?
    I keep the entire flock in their run for 2-3 days or until they've worked out their new pecking order. Once everyone knows their place and I don't have birds fleeing out of fear the more experienced birds will lead the flock back home in the evenings but I have had some strike out on their own for days at a time.
    1 person likes this.
  6. kadavis08

    kadavis08 Chirping

    Sep 21, 2016
    I have two backyard chickens as we live in a neighborhood and they free range in our third acre yard during the day. As a pro, our feed costs are negligible. I do provide commercial feed in their coop and some mixed grains, free choice in a bowl (BOSS, red wheat berries, oat groats and millet) and they forage all day on a third acre. I do have the luxury of a 6 ft privacy fence so we have had no issues to date with predators. We have two dogs which serve as a predator deterrent, but they are inside at night. I would say no "cons" to our set up. Only one of my girls is laying right now, they are both 6 months old, but she has laid both days in the nesting box of their coop. She actually is laying mid-day, so she's going from wherever she is back to the coop to lay and then back out. Pretty impressive.

    I think it's critical to confine new birds to the coop for 2-3 days so they know to go back there. That has worked well for us.
  7. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Chicken tender Premium Member

    Jul 16, 2015
    central Wisconsin
    Pros and cons of free ranging?
    Pro: My birds are mentally and physically more healthy in my opinion. I don't experience any behavioral problems. My yard is bug free.
    Con:Occasional predation, mostly Fox or coyote. The chickens can make a mess of garden beds and scratch mulch out repeatedly. Occasional poop on the patio.

    How do I keep my flock safe while out roaming?
    There's plenty of cover from shrubs and trees to protect against aerial predators. Multiple roosters accompany the hens during their foraging, and three donkeys offer some protection from other predators.

    How do I ensure my flock lays in the coop?
    Most of mine do lay in the coop, occasionally a new layer will get a goofy idea of where to lay, but eventually they return to the coop where it's safe. Fake eggs and roosters as well as appealing nestboxes keeps them coming back.

    How do I train new rangers to return to the coop?
    I integrate all purchased chicks at 6-8 weeks of age. They stay close to the pen they are initially put in for a month or so before slowly enlarging their area. I will make sure they are all inside during that first month at dusk, after that they follow the flock and put themselves back in the shed.
    1 person likes this.

  8. PeepersMama

    PeepersMama Living in a galaxy far, far away...

    I would say that I haven't found a big enough con to free-ranging to discourage me from doing it. Now, Dad would say that keeping them off the patio and out of the immediate backyard is the worst thing. If there is somewhere that you don't want them to go, they will go there, and if there's somewhere that you do want them to go, they will refuse it. "Sharing feed" with the sparrow is another con. They eat the feed and poop in it, and they brought mites to our flock;we have still not completely gotten rid of them. We got feeders that open when the chicken steps on the treadle, and close when they leave, they were gone within 3 days. It was amazing. They did come back this winter, but not nearly as bad as before. We shoot them with BB guns whenever we get the chance, and the occasional hit keeps the population down.

    Honestly, we don't do much as far as safety is concerned. I can confidently say that God keeps my chickens safe; we have only lost four to predators - the first 2 to the nieghbors dogs, and the other 2 to most likely foxes. Only a couple of them will go all the way to the back of our 5 acres, we are surrounded by people who own dogs and have a great pyrenees ourselves. As she has matured she has become a great guardian, but that isn't her sole purpose. If we are going to be gone for more than a coupe of hours, we lock them in their run, but when we don't, God has kept them safe.

    Well.... laying in the coop isn't nescisarily one of the flock's strong points... there are a couple girls that are lower on the pecking order who will try to lay outside, but whenever we find their nest, they quit and start laying in the coop. They have plenty of nestboxes inside the coop, and I have more than one story of me trying to settle disputes about who gets the favorite box [​IMG]. Sometimes I will leave eggs in the boxes; they seem to prefer sitting on an egg.

    When I am adding younger birds to the flock, I will typically let them free-range with the established flock for about a week before making them sleep in the coop. Once it is totally dark outside, I take them out of whatever place they are used to sleeping in (brooder, mini-coop, etc.), and put them on the roost next to some of the more gentle chickens. They will try to go back to the place they are used to sleeping for about a week, but as long as we consistently put them back were they are suposed to sleep, they get the idea pretty quick. The hardest thing is teaching them not to sleep in the boxes. If they get chased/knocked off the roost, more than one of them will look for an alternative roosting place, which is usually either the feedbin or the boxes.
  9. chickenhawkct

    chickenhawkct Hatching

    Apr 18, 2016
    I live in town on a 1/4 acre lot most of that is house. there are no fences between most of my neighbors. just disgusting arborvitae which I have grown to tolerate since they provide cover for chickens. I get home at 4pm let them out to roam, usually put them back 5-530pm. Because they just want to forage after being cooped up all day they don't go onto any porches. however several driveways have been pooped upon. they end up in neighbors yards sometimes two houses down. I round them up shepherd them back to the coup where fresh water and feed are waiting wish them a good night and I'm done. Neighbors get eggs so they don't complain. and the chickens can scratch their brains out around the yards. they did get into a rose bed once but that was when the wandered out the farthest. they haven't gone close to that far since. my neighbor across the street does pretty much the same thing except his chickens come back on their own. personally I'm to nervous to just let them run until they come home. they did gang up on a cat and steal his mouse once though.
    1 person likes this.

  10. mkeawsh

    mkeawsh Woody Hollow

    Sep 23, 2007
    Beaufort, MO
    Free-ranging - Pros are they are more happy and we get to see a lot of their antics. They free-range with guineas which are better watch dogs than my Pyrenees. Not that Buddy does not do an awesome job but sometimes he gets a heads up and warnings from the guineas before he sees or smells the predators. Since we live in a hollow on many acres of woods and then surrounded by hundreds of farmland acreage, to keep them safe from predators is not a given. I have over 70 chickens and except for the youngest 19, I incubated and brooded them in our living room. I just brooded the 19. I have names for all, so when one goes missing it hits me hard but at the same time, I thank the Lord for giving me the opportunity to have them and love them for as long as I did. There is no way I could keep them cooped up because of worry about predators - they have too good of a time out there. We have numerous hawks, owls, families of red foxes and gray foxes, along with coyotes and now a bob cat but I have not lost a chicken in two years to one. Older age is the way my go. I still have one original chicken from my first incubation - Mops - and she is 12 years old.

    The ten that sleep in the barn with the guineas lay in the nest boxes in there and the rest lay in the ones in the chicken house or the three tractors attached. I have a significant number of eggs each day and have been giving dozens away to family,our pastor and friends. Along with acquiring many egg recipes.

    All my chickens go into the enclosures at night to what they have deemed their designated roost. There will be some squabbling when the younger ones are still vying for position in the flock but they soon mature to accept where they belong. And that always changes with attrition with deaths. Then I have the 10 stubborn ones that like to sleep in the barn. No problem. :)
    1 person likes this.

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