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Author Topic: First chickens- free range or not?  (Read 5823 times)

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
First chickens- free range or not?
« on: June 13, 2015, 08:16:24 pm »
Our first chickens arrived today. They are all hybrids - we have a Black Rock, a Blue Bell, a White Star and a Light Sussex - all very lovely! We are keeping them mainly for eggs (but hoping they will also help deal with our weed problem). They have a raised house with a run underneath and to the side and we are keeping them in there for the moment until they settle in. After that I would like them to free range - their hut is in an area of about 1/4 acre with a 2.5 acre field next door. Concern is predators of course (I have seen foxes and a pole cat - plus there are definitely field rats around). I have been told they are safer free ranging and unclipped as they can get themselves out of trouble - rather than finding themselves trapped in the corner of a run. Is that the case?  The alternative will be to get a large movable pen and put the henhouse in there.

Would be interested in experience/advice on full free ranging - good idea or not? And how long do I keep them in the small pen before letting them out to free range (If that is what we end up doing) Have seen everything from 24 hours to a week mentioned! Don't want to let them out and then not be able to get them in again!

Thanks for any advice.
Voss Electric Fence

Kimbo

  • Joined Feb 2015
  • Anglezarke, Lancashire
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2015, 08:29:53 pm »
Hi,
I started very like you at Xmas with 6 hybrid girls. Sounds like you don't have a cockerel; neither did I.
I had my girls in an enclosure for about a week...I wanted to make sure I knew that they knew where home was. Ive never clipped their wings. I let them free range when we are at home as we are a fox area. When I go out I put them in the enclosure, tempted in with corn.
There is no right or wrong way. if you have predators, and you probably do, there is always a risk that your hens will be killed. So do you want to keep them confined ( Im afraid yours sounds like quite a small pen :-\ ) or do you want to let them enjoy freedom and foraging while they can? Either way a predator might get them. Id rather do the 2nd, but take the precaution of putting mine inside the run when Im not there to keep an eye on them. They enjoy foraging so much that its a shame to deny them the chance.

Now I have pure breeds too and they just fly out of the 6ft high  run when they want to so they are free ranging more than Id like! ( Netting is going over the run very soon!)
Is it time to retire yet?

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2015, 08:59:13 pm »
Yes you are right - the attached run is tiny and definitely not suitable long term - they are just going to be in that while they settle in. The question is whether to get a big run (am looking at a 4m x 4m covered run - walk in height) or just let them free range. Answer might actually be to do both. Get the big run to keep them in when we are not around (and when the dogs are out!) and let them free range when we are around. No cockerel - thinking of neighbours!

Eve

  • Joined Jul 2010
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #3 on: June 13, 2015, 09:01:45 pm »
If their wings have been clipped then indeed they won't be able to fly away from danger!
I would definitely make a predator proof movable run, foxes will take your birds in the middle of the day whilst you're standing there. Or just a large fixed run, one of ours is a 50sqm run for only 12 birds, that's pretty much the same as free range except much safer :)  Don't forget a skirt around the base. Can polecats dig?


Train your chickens to come to you by giving them treats and making the same sound every time you do so, I call them with a high pitched 'choooooook'.  They will soon associate the sound with treats and come running to you when you call. Let them out once they've been trained, maybe within a temporary enclosure to be on the safe side (just a roll of mesh will do). It makes life so much easier when they've been trained.

They will help with the weeding but will prefer your seedlings  :)



Jon Feather

  • Joined Jun 2015
  • South West Cumbria
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2015, 09:10:37 pm »
I'd keep them in for a week to be on the safe side.
As for free range or not: I'd always say free range if you can.  You just have to use your own judgement about the predators.  Rats wont be a problem.  Stoats will take the heads off bantams but I've no experience of Polecats.  Foxes are your main problem.  My experience (25+ years) is that you will be fine for ages, sometimes years.  You start to think there isn't a threat and them one day Mr Reynard come to call.  Morning, afternoon or evening, although evening is the big danger time.  We hadn't lost any hens for about 5 years, then, 3 weeks ago we lost 3 at about 8pm.  I call them all in before 8pm at the moment.  Easily done if you have trained your hens to come when they are called.
I'd also get yourself a cockerel because it is likely it will he him that lets you know a fox is about.

Good luck.

PS: we recently bought 50m of electric netting and left all our hen, duck and goose houses open all weekend while we were away.  We didn't loose a single bird.

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #5 on: June 13, 2015, 09:40:07 pm »
Thanks for the replies - lots to think about. Their wings aren''t clipped so they should be able to fly a bit. Will start the training in the morning. Any particular treats or will pellets do?

At the moment there are no seedlings - just weed ridden land that has been neglected for years. We strimmed the weeds and tried to rotovate but was too much for the rotovator. So am hoping the chickens will help to clear it up a bit. Once we get it fit for planting (will be our veggie patch) we'll move them to the are that is destined to be an orchard (currently growing a very good crop of nettles!) and do the same thing again.

Electric netting is possible. I have a roll of it that I got for the sheep but in the end didn't need it with them. Is it the same size for chickens? I could see about setting that up round the hut - 50m run I think so would give them plenty of space. Will have a look at that tomorrow - might be the perfect solution.

Will think about the cockerel! ;)

Jon Feather

  • Joined Jun 2015
  • South West Cumbria
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #6 on: June 13, 2015, 11:08:00 pm »
I don't clip wings without a good reason. 

You need corn or mixed corn to train chicken.  Start tomorrow while they are still confined to their run.  Sprinkle some about for them and chant something; comeon comeon, chick chick, I'm a moron for doing this I'm a moron for doing this.  It really doesn't matter.  They just need to associate the sound with getting corn.

Rotavators are for rotavating, not for digging.  Dig first, then rotavate.

Nettles hints at fertile soil.  That's a good thing.
 
Electric fencing for  hens is a similar pattern to steel sheep netting except that it is 1.1m high.  If you are concerned about the foxes, this would be my preferred route: freedom and safety.

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #7 on: June 14, 2015, 07:36:55 am »
OK I will get the electric netting up today ready for letting them out. When I let them out is there anything to do to introduce them to the electric fence?

Will also sort out a covered larger run for when we are not around. That combination seems safest.

Jon - yes I think the ground is very fertile. Apparently the holding was used for years for horses and these two areas were at various times (years ago) the muck heaps. They didn't seem to move them out - when one filled up they just started another. So I think a lot of the ground on this side is just rotted manure! Once we get it cleared it should be great for growing stuff we want!

Carey boy

  • Joined May 2014
  • Caernarfon, North Wales
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #8 on: June 14, 2015, 09:53:15 am »
Hi,
 
A fox and a pole cat WILL dig under the run.  Predators don,t kill poultry when there flying but  when there are in the hedge bottom scratching about for food or trapped in the corner of a hen house due to the door not being sut.

If you free range poultry and don't shut them up a night some (if not all) will be killed and how will you ever find all the egg's and how old will the ones that you do find be?

Dave

Kimbo

  • Joined Feb 2015
  • Anglezarke, Lancashire
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #9 on: June 14, 2015, 09:53:38 am »
Im sure mixed corn is the best for your hens but Im afraid I spoil mine rotten! Its mealworms that get them running here; mind you, they are so expensive that I have to buy them in bulk on the Net! My hens come to the song  "come on Laydeeees!"  ::)
Jon is absolutely right about foxes. I haven't had any losses yet but my neighbour lost 25 in one attack last year and 3 last week. Last year's attack was in the middle of the day. The only time I ever see foxes though is early in the morning, presumably returning home after hunting.
Its only a matter of time before Mr Fox visits me, I know. But I don't want to keep my ladies confined every day until then because, as Jon says, it might be years away.
I haven't had a cockerel so far either, although ive got some among my 4week old chicks. But I think a cockerel is helpful in 2 ways: he will alert you to a predator better than your hens will , and he will keep your hens in a smaller range closer to home than they will on their own. My hens regularly stray way down the field, which obviously increases the risk of them being taken.
My view is that you have to do what you can best live with. Im philosophical about the risks, I take some basic precautions (although my Legbars have other ideas) , but I love to watch the hens enjoying their explorations and I wouldn't miss that part of our life.

re electric netting: I am always pondering this one. I think its very good BUT you will have to really keep on top of the grass and weeds under and near the bottom of the fence. At this time of year they are growing as you stand and look at them and once they touch your electric netting its useless. I just don't have time to cut the grass twice a week. Can you put concrete slabs or gravel under it? I cant as our run moves around the grass every few weeks. 
Is it time to retire yet?

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #10 on: June 14, 2015, 10:02:09 am »
The coop has a 3 ft wire skirt pegged out around it - so will the larger pen. Have been told foxes dig but don't tunnel so that will deter them? But they are going to be shut in the hen house over night anyway. My concern is really foxes coming by day.

On electric netting - weeds/grass is an issue. Someone suggested laying damp proof membrane under the fence to reduce that so will try it and see how it works.

Kimbo

  • Joined Feb 2015
  • Anglezarke, Lancashire
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #11 on: June 14, 2015, 10:06:04 am »
oh yes that might work. Good idea.

Are you enjoying the hens? I just love mine. But beware.....they are terribly addictive!
Is it time to retire yet?

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #12 on: June 14, 2015, 10:15:23 am »
Yes they are lovely! Though two haven't made it out of the hen house this morning - the door has been open since 6.30. I am guessing they are not too familiar with the ladder down (I had to lift them in last night - but I want them to learn so am leaving them to it for now. It is really wet and miserable here today so they may just prefer to be in the warm!

lowlander

  • Joined Sep 2014
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #13 on: June 14, 2015, 10:47:46 am »
And we have eggs! I think from the White Star and Light Sussex judging by the colours. The other two are still in the nesting box so hopefully they are laying too! How exciting. :)

Kimbo

  • Joined Feb 2015
  • Anglezarke, Lancashire
Re: First chickens- free range or not?
« Reply #14 on: June 14, 2015, 11:26:17 am »
that's nice...its magic isn't it?
Don't worry about them staying indoors. Mine wont venture out in the rain...they are all Divas!
Enjoy your first home grown boiled eggs  :excited:
Is it time to retire yet?

 

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