Urban Free Range?

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by Crash, Aug 15, 2008.

  1. Crash

    Crash New Egg

    Aug 15, 2008
    I am researching chickens. I am in college and unfortunately still live in town. I do have a rather large backyard that wraps around three sides of the house and is fenced in with a privacy fence. I am looking to raise three chickens (start small to see if it works for me). I am interested in if I can build a coop and just turn them loose in the back yard?

    With that much area, will their scratching tear up the grass, or will they move around enough to allow the grass to recover? Will they stay in that area or try and fly away?

    Do any of you have experience free ranging chickens in your back yard with a coop for them to spend the night in?

  2. DrakeMaiden

    DrakeMaiden Overrun with Drakes

    Jun 8, 2007
    Kitsap County, WA
    How tall is your fence?

    Make sure you know what your town or city ordinances are regarding chickens.

    What sort of predators are in your neighborhood? Hawks, eagles, racoons, ferral cats?
  3. keljonma

    keljonma Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 12, 2007
    8A East Texas
    See if you can't find this book at your local library. The author keeps 3 hens in Portland, Oregon. Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, suburbs, and Other Small Spaces by Barbara Kilarski. It is published by Storey Publishing.
  4. chickster88

    chickster88 Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 27, 2008
    Hi, I've had three hens in a tiny urban backyard since springtime (when we moved them outdoors--we started them as chicks inside the house). They range freely through a tiny roughly 15 by 30 foot backyard that is filled with perennial flower beds, two small raised vegetable beds, a patio, pond and pea gravel path. We recently built them a small 6 by 4 grass patch under a lilac bush in case they wanted some lawn.

    So far, they have been destroying the perennial beds--they stomp over everything and eat leaves, and take dustbaths in the soil on sunny days. They also dig plants up to get at bugs. They ignore the pond, and they love foraging under the rose bush and Japanese maple tree. They like to sit on their grassy knoll and nibble a bit on the grass, and rest in the shade, but are not that destructive with the grass, actually. (Although I've read that typically they are.)

    My tip--and I am a newbie to this--would be that once you commit to letting them run free-range, you can't really go back to caging them. I wanted them to be in their 5 by 8 indoor coop or 2 1/2 by 10 outdoor run for most of the day and only go free range from about 5pm to 8 pm to minimize the damage they could do to my plants, but once my husband started letting them out at noon, they wouldn't have it any other way. So now they are free range.

    They do NOT fly over the fence (although they can fly), but they might if they got frightened by a cat, dog or stranger.

    Issues: they leave poo everywhere which is an issue if you like to spend time in your yard (i have to clean daily), this will attract more flies to your area, and finally, you may think you can raise them on the down-low, but they will vocalize at some time and your neighbours WILL find out about them.

    Right now I am terrified my obnoxious neighbour next door is about to turn us in to the bylaw police.

    These are all things to consider when thinking about chickens.

    Also, they live a long time, so when I think back to my post-university days, I don't think it would have been a good idea to get one back then. They require a certain routine and stability that I know I could not provide until I bought a house and had a kid. It's not necessarily a money issue, but being home or hiring a sitter when you go on vacation, not being able to suddenly sleep over at someone else's house b/c the hens need feeding the next morningetc etc.
  5. LindaN

    LindaN Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 28, 2007
    You'd be surprised at how much they can tear up in a short period of time!

    I have 3 hens that were allowed to run around a rather large yard, too. In a matter of just a few months they had pecked down most of my plantings to just about nothing. This included things that weren't edible, however they had to keep trying them and pecking at them.

    Tractoring them around every day or two is a better way to ensure they only mess up the areas you don't mind getting messed up.
  6. chickster88

    chickster88 Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 27, 2008
    Oh, another thing I meant to say was, the trio worked out great for living in the city. One hen would be lonely, two would leave you with the same problem if you buy chicks and one dies, and three is the perfect urban flock. Neither too many nor too loud. And I get one to two eggs every day.

    The hens stick together, so on the plus side, if one or two start heading back to their run or coop at night, the last one will follow. By 8:30, all three are on their perch inside the indoor coop and I lock the gate to their outdoor run and indoor coop.
  7. EweSheep

    EweSheep Flock Mistress

    Jan 12, 2007
    Land of Lincoln
    I live in the city limits and I never let my girls free range. They would bawk all the time if I started free ranging them.
  8. chickster88

    chickster88 Out Of The Brooder

    Mar 27, 2008
    Oh another thing my cat just reminded me of: some people swear by bantams for the city, but I have 3 cats and there are other house cats and strays on my street, some of whom go into my backyard. My hens are rhode island red crossed with columbian rocks and they are pretty big (still growing).

    They get spooked by cats jumping out at them (which my cats will do on purpose to "play" which the hens seem to know is harmless!), but otherwise, the hens are safe because they are taller than the cats.

    One has developed a taste for mice and has been ambushing my cats when they come home with mice, and taking the mice away from the cats to devour.

    I work from home so I see a lot of their interaction daily, and having bigger hens, while damaging to my flower beds, has proved to be the right choice in terms of hen safety as well as my peace of mind. Also, the big white ones are easier to spot in the heavy foliage at the back of my yard and under bushes etc.
  9. jessupfamily

    jessupfamily Chillin' With My Peeps

    May 14, 2007
    SW Indiana
    We have a lot of chickens of various ages in our backyard (50ftx60ft). We have a 6ft privacy fence and the chickens have gotten over it by flying onto the coop and flying over, so we clipped wings and it hasn't happened again. We have 15 laying hens, 2 roos, 1 bantam couple, and 56 chicks from 3 weeks to teenagers, and a mama sitting on 7 eggs. We are hatching babies to help start non-hatchery flocks and to butcher roos. We live as outlaws [​IMG] (we ignore the ordinances, because the neighbors don't mind)! The chickens have destroyed the grass. We keep layering straw every week or two and it composts down super fast! This keeps the poo issue resolved and the mud/dirt issue resolved. We love our urban set up and so do the neighbors and the children in the neighborhood get a big kick out of it! Here's a picture of the yard. The ropes overhead are falcon deterrents. And the coop/tractor is for the new mamas with babies to live in the first week or two.
  10. JennsPeeps

    JennsPeeps Rhymes with 'henn'

    Jun 14, 2008
    South Puget Sound
    I've got 4 urban chickens (3 standards, 1 banty). It is pretty impressive how much damage they can do to perennials. They've trampled the day lilies flat. Next year I'll put cages around the vertically-growing plants to keep the chickens from walking on top of them. Though, this probably just means a higher perch point for my 4 girls. [​IMG]

    The grass is OK so far, but I'm not a summer-watering kind of gardener. The heck with the grass - nature can water it in the fall. I haven't mowed all summer because of the chickens and their "help" mowing.

    As for a run, we've got a run next to the house. The girls stay in there during the work day and get to free range in the back yard only when we're home. The great thing about the run is that it's at the end of a side yard, so herding the chooks into the run is very easy.

    I got cats in college and waited until I'd gotten a house to get chickens. The hardest thing about chickens in college would have been not knowing when/where I was going to move next. Chicken coops tend not to be very portable, even tractors.

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