Other than a good dust bath, there is no other place that a chicken would rather be than free-ranging about their environment. Chickens love to scratch in the dirt. They love to discover bugs, worms and tasty grubs as they explore their surroundings. However, most folks never free-range due to the risk of predators. Those that allow their chickens to roam freely on their property accept and understand the risk of losing members of their flock from time to time. This was not an option for me nor was it a risk that I felt comfortable with. One of the best solutions that I came up with three years ago was supervised free ranging. Supervised free-ranging allows your flock to be out and about in the yard as your presence keeps predators away.
Yesterday, it was week one of fall clean-up around here. I mowed the lawn, raked up the leaves and saved the best for last, cleaning out the chicken coop! The girls always look forward to this because they love to free-range as I clean their house and run. I let them out. Tilly is always first. Cautiously she pokes her head out from the run door. Once the coast is deemed clear, she and the rest of the girls come out to explore. The first stop is the wood chips. They love to make a mess, digging and scratching. It looks to me like they are revving their motorcycles, especially the little Silkies! Over time, they meander down into the grass and the woods announcing every tiny bug, grub and other tasty morsels that meet their beaks.
Finally when the free ranging is done, all it takes is a shake of the Chicken Crack bag and me to yell out, “Giiirrrrrrrllllllsssss.” They come running, giddy with excitement. Their crops are full but they always find room for more. I toss some Chicken Crack into the run and like popcorn, the girls one by one can’t wait to go back into the run! Today, Dolly was the last one, stuck on the other side of the run, frantic to get in with her sisters. I scooped her up, took off her hen saddle for a washing and plopped her in with her feathered family. All is well in their world. Well almost, poor Oyster Cracker is currently tailless due to molting.
Tilly and Oyster Cracker were enjoying digging and scratching in the same hole. When one would pick their head up, the other would put their head down. Chicken Teamwork.
We are away this week visiting Mickey! Feel free to leave comments and captions for this week’s photos. I can’t wait to read them all when I come back. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this week of photos.
Today, the smell of Spring was in the air. The sunshine was out and I could not resist letting the girls out on a lazy Sunday. Happy as can be, they sprinted into action. I like to take a seat on the ground and enjoy watching their adventures. Today, Tilly stayed close to me instead wandering off with the flock.
I sat there and watched as the wind danced in her tail feathers. She found the perfect spot and began to scratch in the soil. I could smell the freshly thawed soil as it wafted through the air. Ever so quickly she went to work, pulling one, then two, then three worms. I put the camera down and went to closer to her.
There I sat observing her, scratching in the dirt and quickly pecking out the worms. She was fast. I never did spot most of the worms she pulled from the ground. She did not mind that I petted her as she worked. Her black feathers absorbed the rays of the sun and she felt so silky and warm. As she was enjoying pulling worms, I was enjoying spending time with Tilly and listening to her narrate her every move. We enjoyed one another’s company.
Pulling a worm
After a bit, I could see Tilly’s bulging crop and the other girls had had their fill. The after meal sleepies were on their way. Gently I coaxed the girls back into the run for dessert, dried meal worms. Somehow, like us, they tend to find room in their “tummies” despite feeling full to the gills.
Some of life’s best memories are made eating with the family. Simple meals, even with chickens such as a few found worms and grubs, somehow allow us to reconnect with one another. Somehow, what is being served at the table is never quite as important as what occurs. The journey of trying new things, exploring favorite places and getting lost in time and conversation with those we love is incredibly valuable. Simple joys in life are often the most satisfying. Families, whether chicken or human, all feel the need to connect and share. Breaking bread while sharing love, sadness, laughter and triumph is what brings us all together and reminds us of how important it is to foster these moments and memories in our hearts.
I started gardening on the East Coast nine years ago. I had become incredibly passionate about gardening when living in California. Southern California was such a magical place, practically everything that I put in the ground grew. Plants thrived in Zone 10 under the Southern California sun. However, moving to the East Coast, I was forced to start all over again. My knowledge was based on Zone 10 plantings. Suddenly, I was faced by the new challenges of living in a place that truly has seasons, Zone 7A. It became even more apparent that once I added chickens to the garden, gardening with chickens was going to require me to step up my learning game too!
Fall clean-up began in our yard this morning after much procrastination. By mid-November, the excitement of Autumn’s leaves has worn off. I have cleaned the yard of leaves for the past five weeks. This week was hopefully the final week and a thorough job was on today’s to-do-list.
All of the perennial beds were cleaned out. Flowers were deadheaded. Lily and hosta leaves, dead from the frost, were pulled to reveal open spaces in the beds. The lawn was cleaned and reseeded. The hydrangeas were cut back. The vegetable and herb garden were cleaned out and the soil was tilled. I spent five hours today getting the yard tucked in for it’s Winter slumber.
Usually the chickens love to frolic and free range in the leaves. However, I rained on their parade. I felt badly, but a hawk flew overhead and that was enough for me to put a damper on today’s escapade. Last weekend, a chicken friend in town had his girls free ranging in his yard while he was outside with them. A hawk swooped down. He could hear his chickens squawking loudly. He ran and when he reached the girls, the hawk had flown away, leaving behind all of his chickens. Unfortunately, he discovered his sweetest Buff Orpington had her wing punctured by the hawk’s talon. Thank goodness, he still had his girl! However, she required a trip to the vet to repair her wing.
After I had cleaned out the area near the coop, I spent some time with the girls. One by one, I was able to say hello to them. I held Feathers, then Dolly. Dottie Speckles is usually too busy to be bothered with being held but she is always interested in what I am doing with the other chickens when I hold them. She looks at me and the chickens in my arms that like to be held with a quizzical look, trying to understand what is happening. Dottie Speckles is used to me petting her on her back as she darts quickly by to the next latest and greatest thing that catches her eye. Today was different. As I was sweet talking her she came over and I picked her up.
She was a bit nervous but settled down after she was in my arms for a while. My husband and kids came over to say hello. I was surprised. She is our biggest chicken and by far the heaviest! I had no idea that she was so solid! I held her for about 10 minutes and then returned her to her family. I put her down and with a shake of her feathers she ran back to Tilly to let her know about her latest adventure in my arms. I was so happy to have accomplished so much in the yard today, but the day’s highlight was getting to hold Dottie Speckles. That was something I had been trying to accomplish for the past couple of months.
Cooper’s Hawks, like this one, used to be called “chicken hawks” in the days of the early settlers.
Are you nervous to let your flock free range for a number of reasons? I too find that I need to supervise the girls whenever they are out. Here on Cape Cod, we have many predators including fisher cats, coyotes, raccoons, fox, hawks and weasels. I find it entirely sad when my chickens come to the run door and ask to go outside. They come and snuggle with me and sometimes the little Silkies pop out between my legs! However, I usually cannot let them out unless I have about an hour to give to them while I babysit, standing by on predator watch. The other issue that I have is that not all of the chickens are as easy to catch. In the past, I have spent over 3 hours trying to catch a rouge chicken. As the days get longer, it is nice that the flock has so much daylight. In fact, it seems to be getting dark around 8 pm lately. At that time, the girls go into the coop and roost for the night.
It always feels nice to get outside and enjoy the breezes of Spring and the sun’s warm rays. During the Winter I feel cooped up inside. I stare out the window at my sleeping gardens. The only thing alive are the bird feeders with chickadees, cardinals, finches and sparrows. I sit and dream about Spring and the arrival of the good things that it brings. Today was a beautiful sunny Spring day. I seized the opportunity. I was able to escape the confines of my home and so were the chickens.
I let the chickens out to free-range first thing. The best part, is that they were able to be outside for hours as I got to work. I took large ceramic planters from the garage and replanted them for the Spring with evergreens and pansies. I cleaned out the garage. I planted lettuce in some containers and in the garden. I raked the stones in the driveway after they had been shoveled into all of the wrong places over the Winter. I even did some minor repairs to the chicken run.
Finally, after about 3 hours of free-ranging, the girls were actually tired. They needed a nice nap in the sun. I went inside and fetched some celery, lettuce and strawberries. It did not take much effort to convince the girls to return home. As I tossed the goodies into the run, all of the girls and Chocolate filed in one by one.
As I tidied up my tools and put away any stray gardening items, the girls settled into the dust bowls of the run. They closed their eyes and snoozed in the sun. Before I came into the house, I went over to visit them. They were content and tired. Happy and dreamy, they did not move from their spots. Our freedom in the yard was exhausting, even for me.