Transitioning to Free Range?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by WiseAlliOwl, Apr 1, 2015.

  1. WiseAlliOwl

    WiseAlliOwl Out Of The Brooder

    Apr 30, 2013
    Hello! So this spring I've decided to start free ranging my flock! I live on a large farm in a very rural area but have kept the birds in a large indoor/outdoor coop due to fear of predators (we have many wide open spaces and birds of prey, plus foxes at night). I'd like to give the hens full opportunity to free range all throughout the day on fresh grass and by letting them roam just seems like the best option.
    However, I do have a few questions. The hens are older and have never really had the ability to free range without confinement so I'm worried exactly how to transition them to be comfortable without protection and ensure they come back at night (they aren't the type of chickens you can just pick up and be friendly with, they'd give more than a chase so I don't think I'd be able to catch them and just put them in the pen at night).
    Any advice would be wonderful :) I'd prefer not to build fences (as I don't clip my birds wings I don't think they'd stay in any fencing to be honest), and I know I may take a loss from free ranging them, but any way to minimize those losses and how to transition them would be great.

    Thank you!
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2015
  2. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner True BYC Addict

    Feb 2, 2009
    Northwest Arkansas
    Foxes, coyotes, bobcats, and many other critters can and do hunt during the day. There is more risk at night but you don’t get a free pass during the day. My biggest issue is dogs abandoned in the country for the good life, not wild animals. I see foxes, hawks, and coyotes fairly regularly and a neighbor has seen a bobcat during the day. Over three years free ranging I lost two to a fox. I can handle that. Dogs are another issue.

    The best way to transition them is to open the gate or door and leave them alone. Sometimes they will all be out foraging within fifteen minutes, sometimes it takes days for them to build up the courage to venture out of what feels safe and comfortable. Each flock has different dynamics, but before too long they will be out really enjoying themselves.

    Since they see the coop as home they should go back to it at night without any problem at all. As old as yours are they should go straight to the roosts where they are comfortable sleeping. The younger ones that are not used to roosting yet will often sleep in a pile near the coop the first few days they are let out. You are dealing with living animals so no one can give you any guarantees but them going back at least to the coop vicinity at night is as close to a guarantee as you can get. You’ll need to be there to lock them up about dark anyway so you can correct any problem you see. After dark they are really easy to catch, even flighty chickens. That’s another reason you need to lock them up, they can’t get away from a predator after dark.

    I lost so many to dogs dropped off in the country that I put up electric netting to protect them. It won’t stop a flying predator but it does stop ground-based and climbing predators. The biggest problem you have is that the grass and weeds will grow up into it and short it out when it is wet, plus they are pretty worthless in snow, but I have not lost any to anything except an owl one night when I failed to get there in time to lock them up since I got that netting. You might want to consider that.
  3. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Good way to start the free ranging endeavor is to open the run door an hour or so before dusk, so they don't wander too far before feeling the need to go roost.
    Let them out earlier and earlier each day depending on what you observe.
    They are creatures of habit and don't much like change, but you can observe and 'modify' their behaviors somewhat by modifying their environment.

    Maybe even start some 'training' by shaking a scratch can just for this purpose in the run and sprinkle some around to further encourage them to come back in.
    Some folks are able to 'call their chickens' any time of day with this method with consistent application.

    Protecting against predation is a crap shoot and highly variable depending on your location.
    You either accept the risk of loss or leave them confined.... or lots of somethings in between, but with live animals (wild and the chooks) nothing is written in stone.

    Try an advanced search and you'll get lots of anecdotes, techniques, ideas and options.
    Advanced search>titles only>free range
  4. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    Some times, after you have left them out, you will want to round them up before their urge to roost. So if you call here chick chick and shake scratch in a can, with in a few days you can get them to come running.

    The other trick is to use a long stick that you can tap the ground with. Start so that the hens are between you and the gate. They will naturally move away from you. You just want them to walk, not run or get upset. Stay still as long as they are moving towards the gate. When they stop, take a slow step forward until they start moving again. If they try and move around you, just reach out with the stick and tap the ground in front of you. Don't rush them, and you can get them in the run pretty quickly, without any flighty behavior.

    Mrs K

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