Would like to try free range . . . .

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by cmarlowdrive, Aug 12, 2016.

  1. cmarlowdrive

    cmarlowdrive Chirping

    Mar 29, 2016
    I have a nice size 8X4 coop and a nice size 24X16 covered run for 10 hens but, would like to try free ranging on weekends while I am home with them.
    Is it possible to free range while keeping them safe during the day? My only concern are the hawks patrolling the sky above with nests close by. There is a lab dog in the yard that keep coyotes, raccoons and Opossums at bay while my girls sleep. Right now, my girls are fed in the covered run and put themselves to bed at night. They are safe as things are now, but the run has no grass left to forage in. They get plenty of nutritious available food, which includes but is not limited to, fresh cut grass, lettuces, kale, cabbage, squash, zucchini, blueberries, grapes, watermelon, tomato, oats, etc. along with a choice of complete pellet or grain.

    Question: Will they stay close to pen for safety while they free range or are they likely to wonder into neighbors yard and venture into the nearby woods? Is this too risky for my girls, and totally not worth trying? I don't want to put them in danger.

    Please advise if you have tried this. Thanks
  2. islandgirl82

    islandgirl82 Songster

    Jul 4, 2014
    You could start by letting them out an hour or two before they usually go to roost if it makes you feel more comfortable and build up to full days. If they've never ranged before, they're likely to stick pretty close to the run (in sight of it) until they get more confident about exploring your yard (and if you have neighbors nearby, they may eventually try to expand their range). Offering them plenty of hiding places, whether it's benches to duck under, shrubs or big leafy plants, vehicles or what ever else you can come up with will help them when it comes to aerial predators but I would still be cautious if there is a hawk nest in the area as they'll be keeping a very close eye on your flock and won't necessarily be bothered by you, even if you're standing right there. They know the coop is home and will return to it on their own, without any herding (unless something spooks them - like a predator making it's way into the coop/run).
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2016
  3. PhoenixFan

    PhoenixFan In the Brooder

    Jul 29, 2016
    Northern Illinois
    I free range my layers during the fall and spring, so they don't destroy the garden and flowerbeds (Forty chickens are a bit destructive). They usually stay close to the coop. Hawks usually target smaller birds like bantams and young chicks, at least that is the case for me. My Phoenixes free range year round, and I have only had problems with the chicks, not the adult birds. If space is limited, supervise the hens constantly, because they may want to roam. They will eventually begin to know their boundaries. I hope I helped! [​IMG]
  4. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Crossing the Road

    Nov 7, 2012
    I lost 3 full grown birds to hawks last year. So, I had to build a much larger run, and covered it with bird netting. The hawk predation has been unreal this year, with them sitting in the trees over the run, taunting both me and the birds. I actually had one circling as I worked in the garden, and I directed a jet spray up at him. He circled lower so he could get a closer look at the pretty rainbow! If you want to minimize your risk, let them out only under supervision. If you let them out to range, they will initially stay close to the coop, but will slowly expand their range as they get more comfortable. Any where you don't want them to go? That's where they will want to be. They absolutely love digging around in the litter in the woods.

    Which brings me to my recommendation: Put a deep litter in your run. It will make the run much more healthy for them. My goal is to have a 6" layer of mulch/compost/bedding in my run, but I fail miserably b/c the stuff just melts into the soil while giving them hours of digging pleasure, beneficial insects and worms, beneficial bacteria and fungi. You can use: grass clippings, garden weeds, spent crops, leaves, wood chips, any litter you remove from your coop, old hay, even stable litter. Basically, anything that would go into the compost pile can go in your run, and your flock will thank you for it and be much healthier, as will your soil.
    1 person likes this.
  5. cmarlowdrive

    cmarlowdrive Chirping

    Mar 29, 2016
    Thank you . . . . all great ideas and advice. I will try free ranging and hour or two before bedtime. The resident hawk has a nest close by because she has found easy pickin' from the grazing doves/pigeons in my neighbor's bird sanctuary any time of day. This is a concern because out of my 10 hens 4 are small bantams. I might keep the bantams in the run and let the rest FR which will be a challenge.
    I hope to expand the run next spring another 8 feet.

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