Free Ranging Solution

May 26, 2011


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.

About 30 minutes to 1 hour before the girls go to roost, think about letting them out to free range.  At this time, most wild animals are transitioning from day to night.  It seems to be a relatively “safe” time for the flock.  I allow free ranging with supervision. Leaving the run and coop door open, the girls will naturally return to the safety of their coop before it gets dark. Once you see they have all returned, lock them in for the night.  If you find that one is still missing.  With a flashlight, look up in the trees.  You should find your girl perched upon a branch.  She will be easy to catch as chickens cannot see in the dark.  Scoop her up off the branch and return her to her family. This works perfectly for my small flock of seven hens. I can easily keep tabs on each and everyone of them.

Chickens love to free range.  They seem happier and the also seem to lay better tasting eggs as a result of their scavenging.  Free ranging your flock is possible.  It just means you need to take some precautions to ensure their safety.

Photo Credit: P.Crosson


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21 thoughts on “Free Ranging Solution”

  1. We've been using dim lighting to get the keets to calm down a bit and get used to being handled. The chicks are mo problem and are as sweet as pie, but the guineas… what little hoodlums!!

  2. I can totally relate to your story. I too don't let my girls free range unless I'm out with them. But I take a yogurt container with me that has a big handful of black oiled sunflower seeds in it and when it's time to go back I call the girls and shake the seeds in the cup. They come running with out issue. Might try teasing them with a treat to get them to come back on command.

  3. Great Qing. Thank you for asking! 5 babies were born, 4 fledged the nest. and one died. They took off about a week ago and when I looked in the nest today, I found a surprise. Four new eggs!!!! I still do not know who laid them…

  4. thanks for the tip about letting them free range just before bedtime. I, too, don't let them free range unless I am going to be in the yard to supervise. Ginger, my golden retriever is also on hawk patrol, she loves the chickens! We had a real scare one day last summer. we were all out in the yard and this very nervy hawk came swooping right in! Boy those girls ran to the coop fast! We live in the woods and also have fox, hawks, fisher cats, and I saw a bobcat just recently go right by the coop! We've been lucky so far. I hope I never have to lose one of my girls to a predator!

  5. We supervise free range an hour or so before dark as well. We also let them out sometimes during the day supervised and have trained them to come when we shake a container of scratch along with a high pitched- "Here chick-chick-chick-chick"! 🙂 Usually gets them all in quickly! We do a quick headcount as we are locking them back up in the run. Great post! Cristinia

  6. Hi, we enjoy a flock of 40 chickens and 3 roosters here in Maryland. I am trying to decide on the flockblock and you all convinced me it is okay. I am impressed at those who have trained their chickens to come home, I will have to try that. In terms of predators have to worry mostly about foxes who have a large den in the next field. Also there are some bald eagles now as well as hawks, though none have successfully taken a chicken. I have found the foxes tend to come steal chickens at dawn and dusk when it is harder for the chicks to see. So I do let them out during the day but watch like a 'hawk' in the last 2 hours before twilight. Also, I am starting to paint pine tar on the pecked chicks, hoping it works.

  7. I also live in osterville and free range a couple of hours before dark. My proplem is with red foxes they come right in the yard with my husband and I standing guard. Very frighting they don't make a sound be careful.

    • Thanks Janice, yes the other day as I was coming home there was a fox in the street. As soon as he saw the car, he quickly ran away. He was beautiful but my heart could not stop racing until I checked on the girls. I even dreamed about him that night! Thank you for the words of caution. I appreciate it.

  8. Out here, the hours before and immediately following sunset (and sunrise) seem to be the most dangerous; the coyotes and bobcats are both active at this time. We free range midday when the coyotes and bobcats are napping and all we have to watch for are the raptors and the errant canine or cat. We've also learned only to let the girls free range when we're in the immediate vicinity. The wild animals here are not used to people yet (there's no town or campground within miles of us), so our presence is enough to keep them at bay (for now). I'm with anonymous – DUSK IS OUT.


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.