Chicken Question for Fred :-)
Now this is something that I haven't really seen anyone ask LOL
My young chicks (2 weeks old now) can almost fly (well, they can fly). If they were not in their big dog crate, I'm sure they would be flying all over the place LOL
I plan on keeping them (a dozen laying hens) in a 6x10 coop and a 10x16 run. But I hear alot about "free-ranging" chickens. We have alot of woods around our house -- what keeps the chickens from just flying off and not coming back? Also, I'm concerned with "free-ranging" because we have outside dogs in our fenced in backyard.... and I'm sure there are racoons and other predators in the woods. So anytime my chickens "free-range" it will have to be in a chicken tractor.
But, I was just wondering... what keeps them from flying off?
Why Chickens come home to roost... even if ranging
Thanks for this question... I do enjoy talking about chicken behavior!
I won't lecture about the origins of the chicken, save to mention that the wild chicken, Gallus gallus, was and is, gallinaceous... one attribute of this class of bird, is that they homestead.
This is why the wild version of our domestic chickens, around 10,000 years ago, was semi-easily captured by hunters. The birds could probably be observed returning to their nesting and roosting location.
So, we simply exploit the very same instincts which are inherent to our own domestic varieties.
Day old chicks become quickly familiar with their keepers and, if you allow them, will even perch on your arms, shoulder and top of your head. Don't forget that they will one day be large and the time will come when you'll want to read the paper without BIG RED on your lap!
So, you form their routine and when they are around six weeks, you'll have them in their enclosure/coop/run. Wherever you "start" them, they will return. It's funny, so often I have visitors who exclaim "wow, how do you get them all in at night?" As I'm writing this, there are birds scattered near (just outside the kitchen window) and far (around 100 yards away)... throughout the day, they may return in their little gangs and visit the feeders or drinkers, only to return to their patrols.
As the sun begins to set, or, if they detect a coming rain storm, they all return to their own coops. I have several buildings and the same birds return to their respective originating structures. I have found the odd hen, who's crossed over to another coop in favor of some handsome rooster ("> but they all return like clockwork.
NOTE: this applies to those birds reared by you, as in started baby chicks. Problems may occur, when you buy in adult stock, or birds sold as point-of-lay hens. They do not know you yet, and are not familiar with their new surroundings and may have "attitudes". These chickens may indeed "fly the coop" never to return.
Unfamiliar semi-adult birds should be cooped up for a minimum of one week, preferably two, prior to allowing them free range.
Here in NW PA, we have all the large predators and I have had surprisingly few incidents with free ranging birds being taken. Close your coops by night fall and don't open them until the sun rises and you eliminate 90% of wild predation. Assuming your coop structure is sound enough to prevent entry.
Of the things you mentioned, I would worry most about the domestic dogs. Dogs will at times, kill smaller animals and birds for sport... it's all bad. The breed of dog makes a difference. Bird dogs will of course, be after the birds... not their fault eh? I have a 82 lb boxer, historically used as war, guard and utility (talking about the breed traits)... he was raised with the chickens and given the duty of protecting them during the day. Introducing your chickens to your dog, while holding the bird and allowing your dog to sniff them, identifies this bird as yours. It helps that the domestic dogs are trained? My dog was attacked by a rooster once, several years ago... he looked back over his shoulder at me, as if to say... please, just thisone?
Never allow a dog to engage in combat with any chicken, never feed a dog chicken that is recognizable as one of those walking your property... you are just asking for trouble.
Additional protection comes here, in the form of African Guineas... I have a flock of 30 (that's too many!)... Guineas are your first alert system and through noise harassment alone, have chased off fox, squirrels and even deer. One poor red squirrel they heckled and flew after for half an hour far into the woods... I almost felt bad for it.
Ok, I think that about covers why chickens will return to your roost? I think I wrote a book here.. sorry (';')
Best of luck to you,
Fred, thank you so much for the information! Yes, you have answered my questions ... plus some that I hadn't even thought about until I read your post
I am so excited about my little flock of a dozen chicks who will (hopefully) all grow up to be laying hens. I've been wanting chickens since I saw Patti's chicken tractor vidoes at the beginning of last year (she gave me the "chicken" bug LOL).
We almost have our chicken coop ready and it's getting really warm in our area. We are having daytime highs in the 75+ range and lows at night in the mid-50's. My chicks were 3 weeks old yesterday. I just can't believe how much they have grown and feathered out! With our temperatures, when do you think they might be ready for the coop? I currently turn the light off in their dog crate/brooder during the day and then turn it back on at night. They seems to prefer the light being off during the day and do not act like they are cold at all. I have their brooder in my sun room which currently has about the same temps as outside.
Also, another question.... when I move them to their coop outside, I plan on keeping them locked up in the coup for a period of time before we let them outside in the run (which may not quite be finished and we could still be in the construction mode). How long do you suggest keeping them in their coop so that they can become accustomed to it? My coop is 6'x10' and will have 8 nesting boxes and a roost area with 4 large dowels that is 4' wide x 4' long. I just want to make sure that they have plenty of room -- that is why I am having 8 nests and a large "roosting" area.
Thank you Fred for sharing your experience and knowledge!!
Close up those nest boxes! and when to let chicks out...
My answer regarding when chicks may be let out to deal with day and night temperature changes, will almost always be 6 weeks, or when they are completely free of the juvenile down and have feathers.
As for when to allow them to go into the run and out of the coop? Anytime the weather is nice out and they have access to food, water and shade, let them go... they will be much better at foraging if they have early outdoor experiences. Since you mentioned that they will have a controlled run, they should be fine. Just be prepared to go in, pick them up, and hand carry them to the coop. Young birds often just go to a corner outside and haven't figured out how to go back where they came from. Smarter chicks in the flock tend to figure it out all on their own. Hear loud chirping? Check them out, normally, this is a chick apart from the others, or suffering some discomfort.
Keeping feed inside the coop is a good idea, but have water both inside and outside.
You mentioned having nest boxes all constructed and ready for them? Block off the nest boxes and don't allow the chicks inside them. This is why commercial nest boxes have fold up perches in front of them, so they may be closed off when birds are not in lay.
If chicks are allowed to explore nest boxes when they are not in lay, then they may develop the bad habit of sleeping inside them and eliminating inside them also. It's a difficult habit to break once it starts and you don't want hens laying eggs in chicken poop. When your hens begin to lay, as in, you find an egg on the coop floor (hopefully in pine shavings) or out in the run, then it's time to open the nest boxes to them.
I hope you enjoy your birds and have wonderful success with them!