I remember when I first started with chickens. I had four laying hens and they toodled around in the yard in our chicken tractor. They were able to get bugs and greens and stay safe all at the same time! As our flock grew, I quickly realized that we needed a different setup.
We live on an acreage in a river valley that’s home to multiple predators. We also raise hunting dogs, so free-ranging chickens all the time isn't conducive to our situation. Because of this, we currently have a large coop and a large run. The chickens made quick work of the grass in the run the first summer, so now it’s basically black dirt in their run. Obviously, chickens are curious birds and love to scratch and look for other treats found lurking in the grass. So, on nice days we open up the doors and allow the chickens to free-range and get all the good snacks they want! Here are some tips for protecting your free-range flock.
1. Supervised Free Range Time: This is probably the best way to ensure you don’t lose a chicken to a predator attack. You can either be out there in the yard with your birds enjoying a nice glass of iced tea or maybe just out doing some yard work. You will have eyes and ears on your flock so that you can ward off any attacks. This also allows you to make sure the chickens stay in a general area without one wandering off. There are days when I let the chickens stay out when I’m not outside, but I make sure I have a window open so I can hear if any trouble arises.
2. Make Sure There's Cover for Your Flock: Whether it’s some bushes, an old building or some other covering you make, making sure your chickens have a place to go to get some shade, a drink of water or even to hide from a predator is so important!
3. Keep Your Plants and Garden Fenced in: If you have flowers or plants you're fond of and don’t want them dug up or eaten, make sure you have these fenced off from your flock! Chickens love to scratch and dig and can wreak havoc in a garden bed.
4. Keep a Flock Dog: This doesn’t work for our family because our dogs are trained to hunt birds. But, I know many families with herding dogs or flock protector dogs.
5. Add a Rooster: While I have a no rooster rule, I currently have 2. Haha! Keeping a rooster is a great option for flock protection. There have been many roosters who have protected their flock with their life. They will do just about anything to make sure their ladies are safe. This can work against you, however, if they believe you’re a predator. If I have a rooster who turns aggressive towards me or my family, they’re out.
6. Use Yard Pinwheels or Hang Flashy Tape: These will generally keep birds of prey away simply because they don’t like the movement and flashing. However, this will only work if you have a smaller free-ranging area.
Free-ranging your flock will cut down on your feed bill as well. You just need to weigh the pros and cons of your unique situation. I love looking out in the yard with my chickens sprinkled about. It’s beautiful, but I choose to do this only when I’m home and can keep an eye on them. I have friends and family who free-range their flocks every day. They’ve had multiple predator attacks and have lost many birds. The one thing about predators is that once they find your flock and get a taste for them, it’s awfully hard to prevent them or their family members from returning to do more damage unless you can get rid of them.
Free-ranging is a beautiful thing, but if it’s not something you decide to do with your flock, that's okay too! You get to decide what’s best for you and your girls and it’s all perfectly fine!
Until next time,
–The Wing Lady