A Freelancer Free-Range Trains Chickens

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The last time I posted about our chicks they spent afternoons on our porch because the coop was not complete. They were also still chicks then…

backyard chickens

Porch time was messy.

I still refer to them as chicks, although they look much more like chickens now. Maybe chicklettes?

backyard chickens

The girls are getting big!

building chicken coop

Hammer, hammer, saw, saw…

My love used all his spare time in between many work trips to finish the coop. He did an amazing job. He made it exactly as how I designed it! Then I painted it. I wanted the coop to be as close to our house color as possible, but the last owners didn’t leave a paint can behind. So I picked ‘Barn Red’ – lo and behold it matches our house!

chicken coop paint

Barn Red

The coop was finished, but we had a problem. The challenge:

The coop was in the garage, 500 feet from where it needed to be under an old firewood storage shelter. My love built ‘coop skis’ and with the help of a friend he towed the coop safely to its spot.

chicken coop design

Coop relocation process.

chicken run

Ditch digging.

Then we needed to enclose the space with chicken wire and predator-proof it. I dug an 8″-10″ ditch around the perimeter. My love installed the chicken wire and I installed a ‘hardware mesh’ as a skirt around the perimeter and into the ditch. This is to prevent raccoon, fox, and other hungry critters from digging in for a chicken delight. We started the wire installation and ditch digging around noon and we didn’t finish until after 9PM. WITH NO BREAKS. We stapled the last bits of the skirt and introduced the chicks to their new home by flashlight.

backyard chicken project

Before: 10’X20′ firewood shelter.

backyard chicken farmer

After: Coopacabana!

 

They spent the first three weeks confined to the run: Scratching, lazing in dust baths, learning to perch. Then Ruby decided to dodge past my feet one evening as I came in to check on them. She started eating grass, scratching, finding bugs, hopping and I figured it was time to “cut the chicken cord” and let them free-range.

Between fox, hawks, other natural predators, and a neighbor’s dogs who are routinely loose and have killed several of our other neighbor’s chickens, we don’t plan on allowing them to free-range all the time. Instead, I’ve been free-range training them and only allowing them out of the run when myself or my love are nearby. I’ve never had to do this before so it was a learning process for me too! The quail and chickens I had when I was growing up were always confined to their run so we never had them loose.

free range chickens

Run, run, run, scratch, scratch, scratch!

I have free-range trained them for a week now and they are pros! If you’re curious how it’s done, here are the three basic steps. I’m pitching an article about the entire process, so hope to have more to share at greater length in the coming months:

  1. Food. Remove their food sources 2-3 hours before their free-range time. When you are ready to get them back inside, show them their food and have them follow the food back in.
  2. Time. Start training an hour or two before sunset. They are naturally inclined to return to the coop at dusk.
  3. Treats. A friend told me to use mealworms. A month ago they could care less about mealworms. Now they impatiently peck through the treat bag trying to get them! I sprinkle treats in areas that we want them to spend time, and reward them we they return to the coop.

This morning I was reassured why this ‘limited free-range’ lifestyle we’re creating for our chickens is for their best interests. I was turning the compost pile during their playtime and they were only 5-10′ away from me – then they ran back to the coop. I looked around and noticed this guy:

copperhead snake

Copperhead Snake

Fortunately, one of the other convenient items the last owners left behind is an obnoxiously long old rake. It was perfect for picking this guy up and dropping him off far in the woods. I imagine he might return. If so, he’ll go for a car ride further away next time.

snake

Close to the run!

 

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