When to let chicks roam the garden?

Discussion in 'Raising Baby Chicks' started by Demidog, Aug 17, 2014.

  1. Demidog

    Demidog Chillin' With My Peeps

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    My chicks are mostly fully feathered now. I think they're are 2-3 months old (I've lost count!). I've got them in a tractor at the moment and am moving it around the garden. We're in the process of converting our stone shed into a chicken house. When can i let the chicks roam free in the garden? Will they run away, or stay close by? We've got a big wall round our garden except on one side which has an iron fence. There's a lot a cats around here and my first lot of baby chicks got eaten when i left them outside for a few hours during the day. The same cat has been snooping round these chicks too but we built a proper tractor this time with chicken wire on every side including the bottom. I want to be able to let them out in the garden during the day under supervision, but I'm worried about getting them back in the tractor again. They're getting big, they can fly and run fast. I don't want to lose any. What's your advice? Should i clip their wings, and if so when and how? Can cat's eat fully grown chickens too? No doubt some will turn out to be cockerels, will the males chase off a cat to protect the flock? Also, unrelated question, when do they start laying eggs??
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2014
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    Feral cats occasionally eat a mature chicken, but it's unusual. It's not just the cockerels that chase a cat away; a good peck on the nose from a hen has kept both my cats in their place.

    Clipping wings is a two edged sword. It may slow down how well they fly but not top them entirely. It can interfere with their ability to getr away from a predator. It's an individual choice.

    Onset of egglaying depends on breed, breeding of the line of pullets, external factors, individual differences -- and varies a lot. Some of them that were bred for eggs may start at 18 or 20 weeks, even slightly earlier. I know of an Ameraucana who did not lay til after her first birthday. My EE's started around 24 to 26 weeks, the Barred Rocks and production Reds around 19 or 20.
     
  3. BantamLover21

    BantamLover21 Overrun With Chickens

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    I would only let your chickens out in the garden, unsupervised, when they are about full size. That usually happens around 4-6 months of age. Until they get full grown, cats will definitely be a problem. Cats don't usually attack full grown hens, but they can easily kill chicks and young birds. Roosters may indeed chase cats out of the area, but then again, they may not--it depends on the bird. If any of your birds are bantams, I don't think I would ever let them free range on their own, unless you are willing to take the chance that a cat will kill some of them.

    Usually, chickens come to think of their housing (tractor or regular coop) as their home, and will return at night. Whether they will go in during the day with you chasing them is another story. I have four chickens that range around my backyard, and they will go into their coop as I gently herd them. Others aren't quite that easy. Something that might help you get them into their coop is to get them used to you giving them treats--mealworms, etc. Then, when you want them to go in, walk towards the coop holding some of their treats. If they are interested enough in the food, they will follow. Wing clipping will stop them from flying up, but it won't slow down their running ability.

    Most chickens start laying eggs at 5-6 months of age. Some start sooner, while others may only start laying when they are eight months or older. Signs that eggs are close include "squatting," developing large/red combs, and sometimes a change in voice.
     
  4. DanEP

    DanEP Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Feral cats can and will take full grown chickens. 90% of my losses have been to feral cats, the last one being a 2 year old white rock rooster that was about 9lbs.
    If you want to let them roam your garden I would do it late in the day when you can watch them and let them put themselves to bed. If they have been roosting in the tractor for awhile they will usually put themselves to bed about dark That being said watch them for awhile cuz it seems like every new flock has one dufus that takes a few days to learn where the run door is.
     
  5. Demidog

    Demidog Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for your advice guys! I let them out for a few hours before dusk without any problems and they all went back in again. Well, i picked up some and put them in then the others followed. Yesterday we were working in the garden all day fixing the shed for them so i let them out again. This time we had a few incidents. Our dog got out and charged through the middle of them sending them fluttering in different directions. She never caught any and with us screaming at her she knew she'd done bad and ran back to the door with her tail between her legs. But after that we were 1 chicken short and i was looking for it everywhere with no luck and beginning to question if the dog had got it. Eventually it came back to the tractor, it must have been hiding somewhere in the bushes separated from the others. Then when i was trying to get them all back in the tractor there was that 1 chicken that just would not go in! And it's flighty and wouldn't let me catch it. I was trying to entice it with food but it wouldn't go up the ladder. I left it to go itself and it went up to the door a few times and was looking in at the other chickens but i didn't go inside! It just jumped back down again. After a few hours with no success it eventually took 4 of us to catch it and get it back in the tractor so we could leave the garden. And I saw that cat again, lying in wait on the other side of our fence. At least the dog barks at it. If our dog wasn't so stupid it would be good to be able to leave her to protect the chickens, but she chases everything so i doubt that will ever work.

    I have another question. How high can they fly? Our wall is about 8-10ft high, do you think that will keep them in?
     
  6. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    Ugh, dogs may be the most common chicken predator. With a lot of patience (it took me maybe 6 months,) some can be trained to leave them alone, but I'm not convinced they are ever 100% dependable, even then.

    Flying depends a lot on breed, how heavy they are. I have seen a Leghorn over 10' in the air, flying parallel to the ground, but I doubt my Australorps could manage 5' They do jump up to a 30" roost, though. Game birds usually fly quite well. They definitely fly better as chicks than adults.

    THIS CHART gives a bunch of basic info about the various breeds, including some indication of how well they fly. My flock never tries to leave its 6' fenced yard, but it is a large yard, big enough that greenery is always growing in there.
     

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