Unprotected free ranging in very rural areas?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Sessie, Apr 2, 2016.

  1. Sessie

    Sessie Out Of The Brooder

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    A good friend, who was raised here in the rural area in which I now live and has spent all of her 63 years here (and who has kept chickens when she was younger) asked me why I am stressing about how big to make a run or enclosure for my chickens... She's asking me why I don't just open up the coop early in the morning, let them free range over the 4 acres I am about to move into, and let them come back to the coop at dusk - or when I call them - for the night. She says she "always free ranged hers totally, and never lost a single chicken".

    I know there are plenty of hawks in Sussex County, NJ. She knows a lot, being a lifelong country gal... but she can't be right about this, can she? She claims that the thick treeline being along one side of the chicken coop and the barn being on the other side (not fully attached, though, just very near to) will "provide cover" for the chickens and stop hawks from winging in/down to snatch one... Is that statement true? And what about other predators? Black bears. Red foxes. Coyotes. Coywolves. Snakes. Probably weasels. Who knows what else? Also, since the 4 acres is mostly pastures (and a pond down the hill the house sits up on and across the private "road" (if you can call a 40-inch-wide dirt road "a road", lol, but there is one neighbor past us and up the hill further who uses that road as his only access in/out of his own property) - what would stop hawks from snatching the chickens (or ducks) anywhere other than the under-trees area just in front of their coop?

    Yet, my friend IS generally pretty darn knowledgeable about livestock, in general... Is this seemingly-casual attitude towards chickens normal amongst farmers? Am I worrying overly much, needlessly? Being a city girl my whole 55 years, I can't tell if I'm just not understanding it??
    e insane for naming my new rooster
    I was considering setting, say. 6- or 7-ft tall 2x4s into cement or concrete into the ground, a few feet apart and using chicken wire (or a combo of chicken wire & hardware cloth) as walls, with a skirt around the bottom to prevent digging predators from entering, and a bird netting or plastic netting ceiling attached at the top. You know, like a 15-ft x 30-ft enclosure, one that either enclosed the coop within it and/or maybe led from the coop. My friend just stared at me and laughted at me, telling me that I was gonna waste my time and money building Fort Knox and chickens don't need such a ridiculously locked space. She has been ribbing me for a week, now, since... telling me I don't need to build "Fort ChicKnox".

    So... am I being silly? Is it true that one just has to consider a lost chicken here or there part of having chickens? She thinks I'm quite insane for giving my new rooster a name. She says "everyone" just calls their layers "this chicken" or "that chicken" or "the broody one", etc.
     
  2. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    You can do it but despite the volume of information you post above, you are missing key conditions I look for.


    First location has other livestock in addition to the chickens, such as cattle, horses and possibly hogs. Additionally their needs to be fenced in paddocks surrounding the centrally located barn. The paddocks with different stock animals present a range of forage types allowing chickens to stay relatively tight to barn. Also spilled grains helps with that. Cover patches such as brambles or low bushes are much better than trees hawks can fly through. Also a fair number of roosters interspersed around property will challenge hawk from cover if it gits on ground. The hawk part is easy to defend against as described to far. Ground predators are tougher and that is where barnyard / farm dogs can some into their own as they can create and exclusion zone for all carnivores. When I did such with multiple locations operating at any given time, the stock animals also foraged some distance beyond where the poultry ranged and the dogs patrolled those more distant locations as well. The larger area visited by stock and dogs may have made area around poultry foraging range of such low interest to predators that the predators simply did not have a reason to come in. You will still have to watch for owls that might pull chickens off roost and be able to eat them in loft where dogs cannot interfere.
     
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  3. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    All due respect to your friend, but different things work for different folks.

    There's been lots of discussion here about how folks look at chickens. Some treat them as livestock, that sounds like your friend's attitude. Losses are expected from time to time with livestock and you manage the best you can and plan accordingly.

    Some folks treat them as pets. That seems to be the direction you're heading. Naming each bird, keeping a smaller number of birds, keeping non productive birds, etc. For the pet folks, a loss is an emotional blow.

    Both outlooks are perfectly right. Some folks fall somewhere in the middle. You decide what works for you. Don't feel you need to justify yourself to your friend, agree to disagree and move on.


    I would suspect she either didn't keep birds very long, or had other layers of protection when she free ranged. Under the conditions you describe, I would think losses to predators would be a matter of course.
     
  4. enola

    enola Overrun With Chickens

    And some people are just plain lucky!

    The last place I lived, everyone in the neighborhood pretty much let their hens free range. Then we all noticed that here and there a chicken would come up missing. We had a pair of foxes working our flocks. By the time 6 weeks went past, I was the only one left with a flock of chickens. I had fastened mine in the coop. They didn't.
     
  5. Sessie

    Sessie Out Of The Brooder

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    SW Sussex County, NJ
    I tried to put all pertinent info in the first post, lol.
    What other info is missing for you?

    Where I'm living now, it's just a rooster just I bought. If the people interested in this house do not buy, and/or if the owners of the new place have another before me for their farm, there is room for more chickens than I'd originally planned for here AND other livestock, as well. I'd planned on 5 hens & the rooster, here. Now that it may have been sold - and my lease runs out with the last day of June anyhow, so I was looking anyhow. Here, I only have a medium-sized yard and a large chicken coop.

    The place I am likely to be moving into is 4 acres, a house, a garage, a barn, a chicken coop, pastures, a pond, a shed, and plenty of space for several sheds or outbuildings. I could have (and I want) goats & couple of sheep for dairy and fiber to sell, alpacas for fiber, and a llama to serve as a guard animal. And maybe some ducks for eggs, also. I have a pet dog (NOT by any means or stretch of imagination would he ever do anything useful... or even smart), but he is a rather stupid senior dog who has spent his entire life in a city house which had a small postage-stamp-sized lawn (from which we moved several months ago). I also have pet indoor-only cats (former ferals I housebroke and tamed a few years back. And a pet Eastern Box turtle who has spent about 60 years in captivity; hubby - as a teenager - accidentally injured him as a baby turtle in the early 1960s while mowing his parents' lawn and he saved the turtle, repaired it and kept it healthy ever since. My middle granddaughter (15 years old) raises show rabbits, and lives about 20 minutes from this farm, so I may end up with rabbits, as well... although I am quite allergic to rabbits. Then again, I'm allergic to cats, and have always lived with cats anyhow.

    I intend to pasture the alpacas, llama(s), goats and sheep in fenced-in pastures already in existence there. If I choose to have ducks, they will have the run of the pond, but I'll coop them separately from the chickens. (according to what advice I got here) I also intend to grow crop veggies and fruits and a kitchen herb garden, as well. Hubby's second ex- just took me as a partner in her family farm stand. I'll be growing more of our vegetables, with this new opportunity.
     
  6. Sessie

    Sessie Out Of The Brooder

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    Feb 19, 2016
    SW Sussex County, NJ
    I want the chickens for eggs. That said, while I'm not looking to make pets out of them, I will name them. That doesn't necessarily mean I'm thinking of them as pets, though. My antique Oldsmobile has a name. So does my truck. So did the garter snake I once saved from certain death out in the driveway of my old city house, healed, and turned loose into the wild, weeks later. So did the baby cardinal that fell out of a nest and broke a wing, that the city's animal control officer helped me nurse back to health. Yet the snake and the bird were successfully turned loose back into the wild. I just tend to name things. shrug


    Enola: You make a good point, too. She did have chickens, and she didn't lose any. But that could have been luck.
     
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2016
  7. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    Your second post is more complete. Four acres is generally tighter than I have done it on. Most areas I have been able to keep free-range mortalities extremely low on had about twice that many acres tied up in barnyard alone. That being said if you can keep birds in tight that would help and 6 birds will make that easier. If you are not afraid to open wallet then get some electrified poultry netting to fence in a core area. Also look into getting even old dog to sleep in barn / shed. Breed selection would be important although best layers will generally be investing more in staying fed than being alert for predators and being able to fly to safety.
     
  8. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    My Coop
    You have provided a lot of info, kudos.

    But this statement "She says she "always free ranged hers totally, and never lost a single chicken"." is sorely lacking on info.

    Could be it's an offhand remark that may not be totally true....or slightly disremembered....hehe.
    It may lack the details of a complete scenario of the situation and timeline.
    The area may have been different back then(when?) too, less development, more natural area to support a varied and balanced population of predator and prey.


    Free ranging has it's risk, benefits, and detriments.
    Only you can decide how you wish to keep chickens.....
    having a secure run can be a good thing to have in case your free ranging does result in predator losses/event.
    Then you'll have a choice, which IMO is always a good thing.
     
  9. centrarchid

    centrarchid Chicken Obsessed

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    What I have seen is some of the old timers with more resources and that are habituated to losses and otherwise better able to absorb them like to poke a little fun at the Ft. Knox approach. The old timer will tell you they can keep the birds free-range without significant loss which can be realized but they fail to relate particulars of how it is done. A few like I used to be may not really know what promotes success because they never pushed or studied the boundaries. I will say this, it is a much bigger investment than the Ft. Knox approach when flock is small and you do not already have a lot going on in an integrated animal production setting.
     
  10. HarmonyHen

    HarmonyHen Out Of The Brooder

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    We have been daytime free-ranging our small flock in rural PA for 3 years now and have lost only 1 hen to predators (type unknown). But we live in the woods with a lot of cover, they stay in the brush most of the day, and we only have brown/dark chickens that blend with our surroundings. We also have guineas, which I believe deter a good amount of predatation. Ours are clearly happier when they can be out during the day, and we realize there is additional risk with doing it, but I think 1 loss in 3 years is pretty good odds. All the birds have free access to the coop and run all day, but unless they are laying an egg, they all tend to stay outside all day.
     

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