free-range chickens

cityboygonecountryMarch 23, 2007

After spending a lot of money on my pig pen, fruit orchard, and vegetable garden, I'm running pretty low on available funds. I want to add some chickens into the mix, but I simply cannot afford to build any sort of elaborate place for them to stay. I've heard about free-ranging chickens and I have some questions.

1. What stops them from wandering away?

2. Would they damage my vegetable garden?

3. How do you protect them from predators?

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Well, there are different degrees of "free range." I free range our flock. But they have their own shelter which I close up securely at night. If I didn't they would suffer from predator attacks. I've heard of some who have game hens which will roost in a cedar tree at night. But my guess is that even these birds started out with a coop and still have access to man made shelter.

The answer to your second question is "yes." If they are allowed free access to your garden they will sometimes harm your plants. For instance, chickens love to scratch and take dust baths. For this purpose, there is nothing more inviting to them than freshly tilled dirt. Unfortunately, freshly tilled dirt usually has seeds or transplants in it! Chickens can be murder on tomatoes! Our main vegetable garden is far enough away from the chicken coop that they never get over there, and we have low fences around our other gardens.

The reason most free range chickens don't wander away is that most folk give them at least some feed and a nice place to sleep and lay eggs. Also, you should have in mind that not all breeds of chicken are equal when it comes to this life style. Generally you want something pretty active, alert and thrifty (easy on feed). We raise Kraienkoppes, which like the Old English Game are light bodied, very alert and good at evading day time predators, can fly, are very strong constitutionally and easily raise their own chicks. Other possible breeds to consider would be darker colored leghorns, Campines, Egyptian Fayoumis, Sumatras, Old English Game, many kinds of bantams, Cubalayas, Dominiques, Hamburgs and probably a good many I'm forgetting. Any colored hybrid like Production Reds, Comets, etc. will probably do well. Birds shouldn't be white so as to be less susceptible to predators. Some of these breeds will raise little ones. Some won't. I've seen Sumatras free range and they were awesome.

Hope this helps!

Tahlequah, OK

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 7:32AM
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Good luck! 1st, I own chickens on my farm and the only way we keep them from wandering is feed them(Bread is #1 on their list), 2nd, Yeah, they kind of would. They destroyed my mom's front and back gardens(we had tomatoes growing, they destroyed those. Mom wasn't happy) They will scratch at anything. And finally, 3rd, our chickens go back in the barn when the sun begins to set. Then we just go out and close the door.

Does any of this help you, cityboy?

    Bookmark   May 1, 2007 at 11:28AM
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ruthieg__tx(z8 TX)

I agree with what has been said but want to make sure that you understand that they have to have a secure shelter for night of some kind or they will become dinner for every varmit that you can imagine....even varmits as small as a raccoon will decimate your flock in a matter of a few days...and the scoundrels find your dinner table and they will come back every night even if they have to dig, fight, claw there way back in every night...

    Bookmark   May 6, 2007 at 7:33AM
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I had a grandfather that owned a mixed poultry flock that roamed free by day and slept in a barn at night. Chickens need a safe place to sleep as they are somewhat helpless and blind at night. The predators like coyote fox possum coons dogs even cats know and exploit this. Predators are everywhere so beware. Nothing better than eggs from a chicken with acess to dirt. Once you get chickens in the habit of sleeping a certain place they will come in and roost on their own as dusk falls then all you need to do is close the cage or dooor etc after they come in, open it in the morning to let them out.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2007 at 2:23PM
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Chickens are hard sleepers! Even if they're in a coop of some sort, you need to make sure the roost is in an area that is not near the chicken wire. Critters will reach in and grab for them. My brother had a raccoon tear body parts off his sleeping chickens this way. It was a mess! Even if you have a shed or something, that will work for nighttime as long as it has a bottom. Otherwise any type of wooden structure that has chicken wire on the bottom and one side (for ventilation) will wor for nighttime. You could just build a plywood box, really, and put a hinge and latch on the top section. I've seen some pretty fancy "tractor" coops that you can move around while keeping the chickens safe from predators. I have thought about getting one of those cheapo screened canopies for our chickens to use during the day. They won't be happy that they aren't able to roam, but they'll like it more than being stuck in a teeny tiny run that never changes.

    Bookmark   June 25, 2007 at 4:06PM
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One method for free ranging chickens, safely and heathy, is to build a coop on wheels, with a wire mesh yard.

The coop need not be fancy, and can range from a simple shelter, for meat birds, to a nest coop for layers.

A small fenced yard, (sides and top) is attached to the coop and the whole thing is on wheels, an inch or two above the ground.

The coop is moved daily, allowing the chickens to suppliment their feed with grass, weeds, seeds and bugs, a sort of movable pasture for them.

The coop needs to have a good solid floor, and a latchable door, to keep predators out. the fenced yard area will keep them safe during the day from most predators.

Access to the coop, for egg collection, is usually done by making the whole back of the coop, hinge open.

A 12 x 8 foot yard will be large enough for at least 6 layers and a rooster.

One of my neighbors made his from recycled chain link fence parts that he got for free,.....

another neighbor has a more elaborate structure, made from industrial temporary fence sections, that he picked up for their scrap metal price from the rental company, because they were damaged. A few minutes with a torch and carefull tapping, and the bent sections were straightened, the holes were patched with chicken wire. In his case, only the coop is on wheels, and the yard is reconstructed by moving the fence panels. The top protection is formed by a pole supported bird mesh net.

    Bookmark   June 26, 2007 at 1:29PM
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hotzcatz(Hamakua, Hawaii)

If you get adult chickens, keep them locked in their coop for about two weeks before letting them out to forage for food. Then start letting them out in the late afternoon for a couple days, then they can be let out in the morning. Chickens will go home to roost, but they have to know where home is and it takes them awhile to figure out that the new coop is now "home". If you get chicks, they will not wander off since they will always have been "home".

They will dig up gardens, but after your garden is established, they won't do as much damage. I fence in my garden and let the chickens wander the back yard.

They do need some sort of secure sleeping place at night, but it doesn't have to be fancy. We have mongooses and feral cats that would bother our chickens so most of our chicken protection is the two border collies which keep most chicken eating critters away. The chickens sleep in a wire bottomed large cage with a tin roof and a tin back to keep the wind out and it is about three feet off the ground so mongoose can't get in. There's two nest boxes at the side and a coffee can with a water drip going into it for them to drink out of. The coop doors are usually open and the chickens go in and out as they please. The coop was made of "found" materials and when the purple bougainvillea covered over the coop that improved it to no end.

We feed the chickens at the kitchen window so we can enjoy our "yard art" and get them to use the nest boxes by the kitchen to save trips to the coop to collect eggs.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2007 at 2:05AM
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Hi. In the past, we've had about 100 free ranging hens with one skinny rooster...he was too busy to

At first, I lost quite a few of my hens to roaming until a centurian farmer filled me in on a couple of key points. I followed her "golden rules" of chicken farming and we rarely lost a chicken after that. Problem was, they never left home and I was tripping over the damned things all the time

So I'll pass on her sage advice to you with a pinch of humour to make the reading enjoyable:

#1. Any lady will wander if she doesn't have a partner to "satisfy" her needs. (just watch divorce court on tv) Same goes for hens.

#2. Guys tend to be homebodies once they've sown their "wild oats" and settled down. (remember that wild n crazy brother whose now married with 3 kids?) Same goes for roosters.

#3. Guys tend to like being close to their lady and vice versa. (like most couples) Same goes for roosters and hens.

#4. Roosters keep their hens "in line" with subtle gestures and vocals. (like most guys try to do) Now before you ladies get your feminist knickers in a knot, watch your barnyard rooster the next time he's around his hens. See how he prances so the hens stay close and watch him. (like most guys) Notice how the hens come running over when he pecks the ground and clucks "sweet talk". (like most ladies when a guy is "wooing" her) The hens always seem to be close by or ready to run when the rooster starts his show. (don't most girls?)

#4. Always have enough roosters to satisfy the ladies. One rooster with too many ladies will be too busy to eat and simply die from exhaustion or starvation. (just look at the average single guy in a sports bar) Also, the hens will get impatient waiting their "turn" and simply wander off looking for greener to speak. (just watch the average girl in a sports bar) The best ratio tends to be 1 rooster for every 10 hens. (I have an ex-husband like that)

#5. In the morning, take a couple of scoops of hen scratch and scatter it all over the area you want the hens to stay. They will usually spend the day scratching contently in that area. (just like your teenagers & friends with a well stocked fridge) The rooster will also have lots of little "love tokens" to point out to his hens. (just like the guy who brings home chinese instead of taking you out for dinner)

#6. At night, scatter some hen scratch in the hen house before it gets dark. They'll all show up for "dinner" and usually roost shortly afterwards. (just like your family) So make sure to lock up the coop every night after this little ritual. Chickens love a routine and tend to become habitual with their patterns. (just like people)

The only exception to these rules tends to be bantams. They seem to have minds of their own. Running wild and having fun is what their all about! (just like the boyz and girlz of generation X)


    Bookmark   October 3, 2007 at 3:38AM
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Forget freerange. Buy only 5-7 hens and pen them directly on top of your compost, enclosed with 1/2" hardware cloth, 4' high, 5-6' diameter. Connect a small but adequate coop with nesting boxes, feed, water, etc.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2007 at 2:57PM
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I have 12 hens, no roosters. Only 2 are laying. The other ten should start soon. The ones that are laying seem skinny. I feed them cracked corn & 7 layer crumbles. They don't seem to like them. I also give some sunflower seeds (they love). I keep them in a large fenced are & have been letting them into the yard lately for a couple hours to free range for extra food. What should I feed them? And do they need medications? Thanks

    Bookmark   October 12, 2007 at 1:28PM
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I let my chickens out of their coop & small fenced area into the large yard. They love it. The problem is--laying eggs! One has chosen to go to a different spot each time I let her out to lay (& paces back & forth until I let her out), the other one chooses not to lay an egg every day because she gets so distracted by walking around the yard all day. I have 10 other hens that it's time for them to start laying very soon. Where will they lay? They have a coop inside their area with nests, but they all want OUTSIDE their area every morning. Any suggestions? I know they get extra nutrition by coming out, but I want EGGS!!

    Bookmark   October 14, 2007 at 10:12AM
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1. Choose where you want them to lay and make it desirable to them: is it too bright? too small? buggy? they like it semi- dark and private... they want to feel safe there.

2. Put some starter "eggs" in. They could be wood, plastic Easter eggs or golf balls... They need help figuring out what this "special place" is for.

3. Start by keeping the girls penned until you get your daily egg.... then let them out... so they aren't dropping their nuggets all over the yard.

3. after they learn where they are supposed to lay, and are somewhat trained to it, they'll run back to lay there... UNLESS they start going broody... then they hide their nests... and you start hunting all over!

    Bookmark   November 25, 2007 at 2:08PM
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