Some Stupid Free Range Chicken Questions : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

I really want to raise our chickens free range; however, I has some, what I am sure will sound stupid, free range poultry questions.

First, even if you coop them up at night, don't you loose a lot of chickens to preditors in the day? Especially with wondering dogs that occassionally are passing through.

How do you keep the chickens from going to close neighbor's yards? Or wondering into the garden (assuming you have enclose your garden??).

With them wondering all over the place, how do you ever find the eggs? You have to go out and scan the whole property couple times of day???

Do they start perching or pecking at things like cars, children's outside toys, etc?

Do you put food and water outside for them during the day or let them fend mostly for themselves (we have a pond) and put the feed and water in the coop just at night?

Thanks a lot for bearing with me on this one! I really appreciate all your thoughts and suggestions.

-- Lisa (, February 03, 2002


Hawks during the day, owls and bobcats at night, eggs in the picker bushes, snakes like them, if they peck your car they never will again, yes they eat bugs, but supplement with food, and water is needed or they die. I quit free ranging, my dog killed theym all one night. oh and poop everywhere.

-- julie (, February 03, 2002.

I quit too. Dogs, poop all over, they pecked holes in all the tomatoes and the mulch under my bushes had to be raked back once a day. It was a mess. My neighbors free range rooster decided his favorite roost was the wicker love seat on my front porch. Made a nasty mess and he would crow all night long, right outside my bedroom window. It was funny for a day. I think the chicken tractor might be the thing to do. Good luck!

-- Christi in KY (, February 03, 2002.

Every day is an easter egg hunt! Usually they find out of the way hidden places and many of them will lay in the same nest. Our trick was to find them before the dogs. Lots of times I would watch out the window when it was laying time ans see where they would go. Or follow the dog. Chickens tend to make a big fuss when they lay, they are proud and like to shout the news. When you hear a big racket go check it out.

I lost chicken in the day to fox. They were very bold and would come right into to yard. Neighborhood dogs are the worse though.

I feed them and yes they do get in to everything. They really love styrofom (sp). They can distroy a garden if you have very young seedlings. They are great for eating bugs,and tomatoes they got all of mine before I did this past summer. Fences don't keep them out if they know there is food behind it.

Good luck! Susan

-- Susan in Minnesota (, February 03, 2002.

free range doesnt mean you have to let them run free,, just enough room to exercise. Fence them in ,,or fence thjem out,, shoot the dogs if the attack your birds,, mine have always laid their eggs in the nest boxes

-- Stan (, February 03, 2002.

Think... CONTROLLED free range.

Make a large chicken yard with a dog proof fence. We have a six foot hogwire fence to keep the dogs out, around about 1/4 acre. Chickens have free range in their safe enclosure.

In the chicken house, there are nest boxes. They lay in there. Here in south Texas, we don't have to have a closed coop for the winters, so there are no doors on the coop. It is open to the south.

I have a dear friend with free range chickens, and they poop on everything, yard furniture, the lawn mower seat, his tools in his shop. I can't imagine WHY he lets them out. Disgusting.

-- Rose in Texas (, February 03, 2002.

I have a large inclosed chicken pen. It works fine if I can keep them in it. :~)! We added another row of wire around the top and now it is about 6 feet tall. It keeps them in pretty well now, with the occasional escapee. The chicken yard is about 100 X 50. It is large enough for all of my chickens. We have 50 +.

-- Nan (, February 03, 2002.

make you a chicken tractor out of pvc pipe and cover it with poultry wire.It's light,easy to move,and you'll always know where your chickens and eggs are.

-- T.O. (, February 03, 2002.

I've seen that on a web site,but can't remember it. Anyway it was easy to build and move around.Just glue one together whatever size you want.I'm going to make one for my sister because it's so light to move.The one I saw was round,but you could make to fit whatever you needed,and as large or small as you wanted.Good luck.

-- Tim (, February 03, 2002.

We have a chicken house with long runs built for each group of chickens. They can run around outside, but can get inside if the weather is bad. It is completely enclosed on the sides and top with the smaller 1" x 1" welded type wire (like bunny wire). We have a board at the bottom that is pressure treated (should've used concrete, but now know that)that keeps the dogs from digging in. We've lost a few chickens to old age or some sort of illness from time to time, but never to predators. However, snakes can and will find a way in - we had to kill several last year.

Don't let them "freely range" all over your property, they'll poop everywhere and will roost on your cars, etc. I have a rooster right now that roosts on my truck (I am going to get that bird soon!) and put him back in the pen. They will also eat all your young seedlings in the garden. And attract predators as they will be easy to catch out running around. It is easier to provide a large pen with a henhouse so you can keep up with them! My granny used to let her hens run out all over everywhere and they would come right up on the backporch and roost on the railings, there was poop everywhere you stepped, but she thought it was good to keep the bugs down. But even then, she had hens that would go off and "steal a nest" and we'd never find it and then there'd be a new flock of biddies just show up! Sometimes granny had over a hundred hens running loose, but then the foxes, possums, and coons had a field day and would take the population back down to around 25 to 30. Of course, we never really knew how many she had and she didn't either. Best to keep them controlled somehow.

-- Cindy (, February 03, 2002.

We free range our chickens as well. They go into the coop at night and we shut them up. They also lay their eggs in their as well, however, sometimes we find a nest in the barn.

The advantages that I have found is that we don't have to provide feed for them in the summer months. Acutally, we didn't start feeding them til the middle of December last year. We do provide them water though. I love to see them wander around the yard and I am hopeful that they are eating the ticks! They stick pretty close to home.

The disadvantages are of course poop everywhere and they destroyed my flower beds by the house. (We finally put a patio over the flower beds, the chickens won) They will get into your garden. You have to deal with predators once in awhile. Mostly others dogs.

They are pesky and distructive but if you like looking at them and having them walk around free range is fun!

-- chuck in md (, February 03, 2002.

My solution, with out going to chicken tractors, was easy and cheap. I built a 12 foot by 24 foot enclosure made of chicken wire, and pressure treated (someones old deck planking). Around this I ran a electric fence wire to keep the horse from butting the pen over. The chicken "coop" is located in the pasture- electric fence all around. The coop itself- where the chickens sleep and lay- is about 3 foot off the ground, with a small hole in front for them to go in at night. The floor is made of 1 by 1/2 wooden slats, on which straw is laid. The back of the coop has a large door, accessible by NOT going into the pen, for gathering eggs and cleaning the coop. To clean the coop- which is where 90 percent of the droppings acculumulate- I just grab the rake, remove the perches (two 4 foot long perches with swivels so they come out quik) rake the straw out and burn it right there in the pasture. The whole coop measures 4 by 5 and a half, one end for eggs, one end for perches. I keep 9 to 12 chickens. The only loss by predator was when that nasty little kid next door came over and stoned my Game rooster to death. We found the gravel, and saw him throw it, but his paretns said he didnt. One chicken does escape daily, and hangs out right next to the pen all day. The rest are too heavy to try the jump. (red sexlinks). The feed can and a big jug of water is kept right next to the pen- it takes less than 5 minutes daily to take care of the chickens (unless you stop to watch them, it might take hours then=) The chickens havent eaten the grass down, and its been over a year, though my neighbors chickens did. They do eat bugs and stuff that make the mistake up of going into the pen. I also give them big beetles and grubs I find while cutting trees for firewood. Egg production always jumps the next day- protein plus?

-- Kevin in NC (, February 03, 2002.

Lisa, We tried the free range thing but the poop was everywhere!!!! So what I did was converted and old out house into a coop.(I only have 4 chickens right now) Around this I built a covered pen that is about 10 ft square. Off to the side I have fenced in an area that is approxamatly 50 ft by 50 ft. I will divide this in half letting them graze on one side while the other rests. I still lack about 30 ft of fencing to seperate the two halfs. I have found that they are happy with this amount of pasture. This is sometimes referred to as the "Balfour Method". I also tried chicken tractors, but found them too heavy for me to move. Hope this helps, Susan

-- Susan n' emily in Tn. (, February 03, 2002.

There's never a stupid question so don't worry about that. Even though you've had a great response, since I love chickens so much, I"m going to respond too. We are moving soon to a large farm and based on our past free ranging experience, we are doing a few things different. First of all, fence them out of what ever you don't want them in like your garden, etc. They WILL poop everywhere. They used to roost on top of our wood pile. Ick. You can house train them to go in at night. (keep a light on) and then they will usually lay in there too. We did find a nest under our house once with about 50 eggs spilling out everywhere! I love to be able to free range, the eggs seem to be so much richer with all that protein they get. Good luck!

-- Pam in Oregon (, February 03, 2002.

With all our predators and how quickly they utterly destroy a garden and flowerbeds, it is far easier to keep them in a stout chicken house and bring the grasses and greens to them!!! A five gallon bucket of fresh picked greens and grasses in the mild months will do it for providing all the vegetable matter they want and need, in the winter months a few hands full of good alfalfa hay does the trick.

The chickens made more work running loose for me than the work it takes me to gather their daily greens, plus I can readily gather the eggs quickly and easily, and their clean taken out of shavings filled nest boxes, not mud covered and yuck laid willy-nilly free range. I sell the eggs, so lost chickens/eggs means lost money not paying for the chickens, the 24 I have more than pay for their feed and upkeep.

-- Annie Miller in SE OH (, February 03, 2002.

I guess i have just been lucky bec. my chickens run free all day long and don't bother me. Of course we have no neighbors t worry about, if they wandered off something would kill them long before they came to anyone's house. i feed them right before they got to bed in the chicken yard, and they always lay in the nest boxes in the henhouse. Once in awhile i will have a non conformer that will lay in the hay in the barn, those eggs i throw out bec there's just no telling how long they have been there. I also haven't lost very many birds, less than three in the last two years. I give the credit to my Collie, Gus. he watches over goats and poultry alike and we have never had him trained to do so. half the time i don't even lock the chicken yard up at night and they are all still there in the morning! so i guess it depends on where you live and what your willing to put up with. I don't like the poop everywhere, i seem to really notice it in the fall when the grass is all worn out and dead. in the summer i don't notice it as much. they used to roost on my kids wooden swingset until i started throwing a five gallon bucket of water on them, they stopped that quick. they made it pretty nasty to play on.

-- Susan (, February 03, 2002.

My chickens have a good-sized yard to scratch in, but I feel guilty about keeping them penned all the time! So I compromise by keeping them in til about a hour before sunset (during the spring), then they have free run of my yard. During the summer when all my flower seedlings are up high enough for the chickens not to be interested in them, I let them out after noon or so (after they've laid their eggs in the coop) I have no neighbors to worry about and the chickens always go to the coop to roost. I keep all chicken feed and water inside the coop to encourage them to return. Predators have not been a problem since we've always had a dog...til recently. So I have to seriously think about another dog soon! My vegetable garden is completely fenced with 4 ft. fencing. My ducks are the ones that give me problems when it comes to hiding their eggs :-)!!

-- Marcia (, February 03, 2002.

We're glad everyone has had the same free range experiences as us. We thought the birds would bother the neighbors but later found out they appreciated the eggs. We are also planning on building a run to contain them this year. Instead of wire fencing Im going to use deer netting to build an enclosure. It's very light and strong, easy to work with, and I can get a 7'x100' roll for around $15. Since I plan on moving them from time to time this should make life simpler.

-- JJ Grandits (, February 03, 2002.

Here is an ideal that I have been dreaming. To have two 30'X 60' range pens. Made with 5' fencing. A small chicken coop on one end inside the range pen. Keep the chicken wings clipped so the will not fly over.

This is what the purpose of having two pens is. One year you will have chickens in only one pen. The second pen you will make a big garden in it and use the coop for a tool shed. After garden season is over you will transfer the chickens from the first pen to the pen you just raised a garden in and let them range in it while you make a garden in the first pen. Every year you will be raising a garden in a good composted fertilized pen while your chickens are preparing the other pen for next year. Sounds good doesn't it. This is free ranged chickens.

-- r.h. in okla. (, February 03, 2002.

Whenever my neighbor's fox terriers get loose, they know where to find them...they will be trying to figure out a way into my chicken pen! This, along with the pitbull pack down the road, the 3 mutt/beagle pairs that wander freely from 3 different neighbors, and the occasional true wildlife type predator that comes through during the day prevent me from even considering free-range. It would be very expensive dog food! I have a friend who takes in any chickens sent her way and they all free-range. Now, she lives on a dirt road that bears her name and only has relatives living on it (and precious few of them) so I think she is much better set up for it. Still, she was nearly wiped out by a stray that came through last fall. She does pen up anything that she wants to breed true to type since she has such a mix. Good luck with whatever you decide.

-- Sheryl in ME (, February 03, 2002.

I had chickens for 8 years (none right now) and opened the door and let them out of the coop and pen almost everyday. Yes there is alot of poop, but after my Lab chased them back in the yard they mostly stayed there and in the woods. Amazingly in 8 years I never lost one to a predator. Only had one ocasion that a chicken laid her eggs outside too. With the coop door open, they would go in to get water, food or to lay an egg. Had a few times that they headed for the neighbor's yard, but I just herded them back. They are murder on gardens however. Cindy

-- Cindy (, February 04, 2002.

First, even if you coop them up at night, don't you loose a lot of chickens to preditors in the day? Especially with wondering dogs that occassionally are passing through.

***Have not lost a chicken to a preditor yet and I don't close the door. I also have two large dogs, one house dog and one watch dog. Watch dog killed three when she was a puppy. No problems now. Walks right thru them... they don't care for her however ;-) There are many types of wild preditors in the area but so far they have not been a problem.

How do you keep the chickens from going to close neighbor's yards? Or wondering into the garden (assuming you have enclose your garden??).

*** Neighbors yard (about 200 feet downhill from coop) is on the other side of the 4' woven wire fence. They cut the grass short (less food for hens). My side of the fence is more desirable? Never seen them over there and neighbors don't seem to care. Annual garden is on the back side of the house about 500' from the coop (in the front yard). They don't usually travel that far in the spring. I lock them in a pen during strawberry season. Don't have "flower beds" so no problem there.

With them wondering all over the place, how do you ever find the eggs? You have to go out and scan the whole property couple times of day???

***They lay in the coop.

Do they start perching or pecking at things like cars, children's outside toys, etc?

***Never had that problem with my heavy breeds. They perch in bushes when hawk flys by.

Do you put food and water outside for them during the day or let them fend mostly for themselves (we have a pond) and put the feed and water in the coop just at night?

**** Dry food, fresh water and lighted shelter are ALWAYS available in the coop YEAR ROUND. They lay in there. Children are not allowed to catch any hen that goes into the coop. That is "safety"

Good luck. And I say... They are NOT free range if they can NOT come and go. Man has been doing this for years... raise enough to feed the wild animals once in a while ;-)

-- ChrisN (, February 04, 2002.

r.h., a variation on your idea (the "Balfour" method) was mentioned. You can have more than two yards (even four or five if you want to rotate them seasonally and rest one each year). For more intensive circumstances, the yards don't need to be as big.

You only have one coop, with an attached yard which is fully fenced and roofed with whatever mesh or hardware cloth is predator-proof for your area. You lock the poultry in there each night. Later in the morning, you let the poultry out to whatever yard/run they are being allowed into at the moment. In the evening,lock them up securely again. If danger threatens during the day, they will generally retreat to the "safe-zone" mesh-roofed yard.

Towards the end of its period of use, the run they are using will be weed-free, thoroughly scratched over, and well-fertilised; and you'll be throwing in an armload of greens each day. As you said, turn them onto another yard, and garden the one they've just left.

Mostly, though, I'm used to a more extensive system. That is, fence in a BIG house yard - contains the children's play area, gardens, orchard, running room for any free-ranging dogs, and pen or chain area for any dogs that need to be restricted from access to free- ranging poultry. Six-foot fence. Hopefully also contains any children who have a tendency to excessive free-ranging - like my youngest brother when he was about 30 months. Outside this you have a poultry- yard and coop. When the birds are let out in the morning they are "free" to free-range over as many hundreds of acres as they wish - they actually tend to restrict it to something like two or five acres; and with freedom they'll be more likely to respect three-foot fences, and never come over the six-foot fence into the house yard.

-- Don Armstrong (from Australia) (, February 04, 2002.

i am a sucker for stupid questions, because i could make a career of asking them!

we have controlled free range chickens. for some reason all but once our chickens lay their eggs in their nesting boxes. i keep them locked in the run of our chicken tractor when i won't be home, but let them out when i'm home all day. the only time they left our place was the ONE time i was gone all day and left them out. they were wandering down the road when i got home. i thought the were lonely and looking for me....

seriously, though, we only have 5 acres, and they only roam about an acre of it or so.

my friend says hers eat seedlings, so i guess i will have to watch this in the spring, but last summer we had no problem and they stayed away from the garden. we kept their coop far away from the garden though.

they love wandering out in the grass! we love having them follow us around, chase and/or follow the cats, and watching them RUN when one finds a dead mouse. something about seeing a chicken tearing across the yard with a mouse hanging out of its mouth with all the other chickens following sends us into hysterics every time!

-- marcee (, February 04, 2002.

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