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Re-thinking free range

 
Aaron Esch
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My favorite way of keeping chickens is free range, now I know there are problems with it but I think the benefits out weigh the problems. So I have been thinking and gathering ideas, and I think I have a solution that will help negate some of the problems.

I am going to be doing some experiments on this, but here is the idea.

A wildlife feeder filled with chicken grain (I use wild bird seed to feed my chickens)

1. Set the automatic wildlife feeder to go off at regular intervals, close enough together so the chickens don't want to wander too far, but yet far enough apart to not spread too much grain. The digital one I purchased has settings for length of time it operates all the way down to 1 second.

2. Place the feeder in the middle of an area that I want to be worked up by the chickens, set it and go take a nap.

3. Go back later on after sufficient time has passed and see if the work is done, if so I move the feeder to a new spot. Don't worry by this time the chickens will know where the food comes from. I know this because they follow us wherever we go especially when we have the grain bucket!

My theory is that the chickens will free range and tend to hang out near the feeder to get the candy first and so they will stay away from my front porch, which is where they hang out now so that they are the first to know when we are about to do chores. Those chickens are crafty critters!

So any thoughts on this? Think it will work? Anybody try this and had success, or failure?



 
Julia Winter
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Your success may depend on your predator pressure.
 
Aaron Esch
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Julia Winter wrote:Your success may depend on your predator pressure.



Yes, we have had problems with predators in the past, however we have solved that problem for the most part with our two dogs Princess and Dusty who are on patrol. We do occasionally lose a chicken to hawks and eagles, maybe one to two per year now that the dogs are on the job. Before we were losing several to the overhead predators.


 
Jay Green
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I can see where the chickens won't want to free range if they are getting their feed piece meal in this manner...they will be hanging by the feeder awaiting to get their bellies full~not one bird will range away from the timed slinging out of feed because as soon as they do, feed will be released, they will all run for it and those who are ranging out to free range will immediately run back to get some of what is being dispensed. Wild birds will be eating from the bounty as well. Many grains will be lost in the grass and not recovered~wasted, in other words~and by feeding them on the ground where they will be congregating to await for the feed, they are more likely to be recycling their parasites as they feed because they will be pooping where they eat.

Why not just feed them once a day in their coop and let them free range out from that area and lightly fence off the front porch(deer netting and push in stakes)? Lot less work, lot more feed efficiency, lot less equipment and a lot more sustainable if you should have to be traveling, gone for the day, indisposed and unable to move the feed dispenser.

Sounds like complicating something that isn't complicated at all.
 
John Polk
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In regards to this also feeding the wild birds, you should be cautious here.
Encouraging wild birds into your yard is beneficial in many ways, but not if they begin mingling with your chickens.
Many mites, lice, parasites and diseases are introduced to chicken flocks via the wild birds.
Predators also follow them into the area. A 5 pound chicken looks better to them than a 2 ounce wren.

Probably the most common approach to supplementing their feed with grains is to feed them shortly before dusk.
This helps to set the habit of returning to the safety of their coop every day before dark.
It helps protect them. Since most eggs are laid at night, they will lay where you will more easily find them.

Free food all day will drastically reduce their foraging.
Make them find their own food, and you will have healthier birds at a great savings in money and labor.
Just make certain that there is water available to them all day.

Wild bird feed is probably not providing all of the nutrition they need for health (and egg production).

 
Jay Green
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Agree with a lot of that except for eggs being laid at night. Never seen an egg laid at night...ever. Also, never had any problems with free ranged birds contracting any diseases or parasites from wild birds.
 
Julia Winter
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Eggs laid at night? Hmmm, I know I've found hens in the act of laying, and it has always been in the day. In my experience, the hens lay in the morning, leading to my summertime strategy of letting them out to free range (this is 10-12 hens in a half acre fenced in yard, btw) in the afternoon. If they are free all day, I'm more likely to find eggs hidden under the broccoli bush (I found 11 eggs in a nest under a giant broccoli plant one year, when I had a half bantam hen that was a strong flier) and the hens are more likely to stray from the lawn and semi-wild food forest area and start messing up my mulch circles around the maple trees. If I let them out later in the day, they don't stray as far from the run, and the eggs get laid in their chicken room in our hangar.
 
chrissy bauman
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they poop on everything and hide eggs! cars, porches, rabbit cages, etc.
just throwing that out there.
 
Jay Green
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That comes with the territory. Chicken poop never hurt anything...but if you don't want it on porches, cars and other structures, ranging within a large perimeter fence is an option. Placing the coop further from the house is also another no brainer...most chickens won't range past an acre or two away from the coop.

Most of my eggs are laid in the coop and the pop door is open 24/7...no scheduled times of letting out the birds. If you are finding nests outside, time to retrain to the coop nests.

Free ranging is a way of life and not for those who don't want to make some adjustments to their methods or yard/pastures. It takes an initial investment of time or equipment to set it up for good use and then it pretty much is an easy care situation.
 
John Polk
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Perhaps I shouldn't have said "at night" without qualifying it.


By 'night', I mean "from the time they go in at dusk, until they go out in the morning".
From my experience, that is the bulk of the laying day.



 
jon wilson
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I have no problems with predators at night, I use a red heat lamp and I guess the nail holes in the bldg. deter their efforts. Little red eyes. Only thing is they liked to burned the barn down from being knocked down. So it must be secured. I had to give them warm honey and water for a week or so from the smoke inhalation. Had a few burned, the weaker ones were killed by the others. The mice and rats, well lets just say the roosters are on their game and the hens eat them whole. I also have 25 small bantams that I free range too! They are my smarter chickens. Very flighty though. And they love grits and black sunflower seeds, grapes, and bananas. They killed my collards this year so keep them far away from those. I hang collards by strings in the winter and plant winter rye in their pastures. Also, the mites, lice, and termites I use a powder in their nest, around the floors, where they dust bathe. I use ashes from burnt wood and trash and diatomaceous earth.
 
Joe Gag
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I don't have to much of a issue with my chickens coming up on my porch and I hope it stays that way.

I leave feed in my coop all day, they don't go back to often to eat in the summer time but in the winter they tend to go back to teh coop often to eat.

Why do you feed wild bird seed? Isn't it more money? and if you were going to give them food wouldn't you want to feed them something that is healthy and made for them?
 
Aaron Esch
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John Polk wrote:In regards to this also feeding the wild birds, you should be cautious here.
Encouraging wild birds into your yard is beneficial in many ways, but not if they begin mingling with your chickens.
Many mites, lice, parasites and diseases are introduced to chicken flocks via the wild birds.
Predators also follow them into the area. A 5 pound chicken looks better to them than a 2 ounce wren.

Probably the most common approach to supplementing their feed with grains is to feed them shortly before dusk.
This helps to set the habit of returning to the safety of their coop every day before dark.
It helps protect them. Since most eggs are laid at night, they will lay where you will more easily find them.

Free food all day will drastically reduce their foraging.
Make them find their own food, and you will have healthier birds at a great savings in money and labor.
Just make certain that there is water available to them all day.

Wild bird feed is probably not providing all of the nutrition they need for health (and egg production).



I'll be moving the feeder on the same type of schedule that you would on a paddock shift, would I still have an issue with the wild birds?

My chickens are already free range and are getting most of the good stuff by foraging so the wild bird seed is just for supplement. Of course we also feed the chickens our kitchen scraps. Basically I want to have all the benefits with free range and still be able to encourage the chickens to work up the ground for me where I want them to, without using the paddock shift system.

I don't plan on making it free food all day, the wildlife feeder has programmable settings so I can adjust the amount of food and when it is distributed. I plan to feed just enough to keep them close by but not enough to make them dependent on it.

Predators are a very small concern, not to say we don't have any, in fact the opposite is true we have just about every predator you can imagine on our property, but my two free range dogs are pretty scary to those predators and they stay away.
 
Julia Winter
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Glad to hear you have dogs and they're doing a good job. Effectiveness of dogs varies, I found out to my detriment.
 
Julia Weeks-Bentley
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I remember being very nervous when I decided to buy this small farm and get into homesteading. But I went ahead and got chicks and just let them free range anywhere they wanted to on these 5 acres. They prefer the woods and the creek but always makes me nervous even though I have dogs running around with them too. But you know, I don't feed them anything when they are out free ranging except for scraps and anything from the garden. I get so many eggs and my chickens are all pretty good size. I do supplement in the colder months when they free range less but that is really only about 3 months out of the year. I have a huge pole barn for them and a pile of compost going year round in the middle. So they scratch around (and I rake up daily lol) get bugs, and the pile keeps the barn warm in the winter. All in all it has been a positive experience.
 
Isabelle Gendron
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Good day everyone,

Here I left my hens free range all summer up until now, but I notice that even if they scratch outside, spent time in the wood (a lot), when I put grains at night in their feeders they eat like hell....Looks like they don't eat enough...maybe they are still in transitions? But like Paul said, I am working on having poultries that will eat only fourrages...the cost of the grains is quite expensive here. Since we have a lot of land for them, I'm sure they will have everything they need to be healthy. working on that.

Isabelle
 
Julia Weeks-Bentley
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Isabella, if they "look" like they don't get enough then supplement their feed. Mine look huge and healthy. If for a minute I thought they were not looking good, I'd supplement. Keep in mind I give them scraps daily and I have a compost pile that gives them bugs and all sorts of tasty treats. I also think having the creek gives them a lot of extras. How much land are they free ranging on?
If they appear hungry, I'd give them feed.


Isabelle Gendron wrote:Good day everyone,

Here I left my hens free range all summer up until now, but I notice that even if they scratch outside, spent time in the wood (a lot), when I put grains at night in their feeders they eat like hell....Looks like they don't eat enough...maybe they are still in transitions? But like Paul said, I am working on having poultries that will eat only fourrages...the cost of the grains is quite expensive here. Since we have a lot of land for them, I'm sure they will have everything they need to be healthy. working on that.

Isabelle
 
Isabelle Gendron
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Julia, we have a 35 hectars (4 millions square foot) of land...half of it in wood. Pastures had not been used for the last 15 years. ACtually the chickens can free ranges on a big area but I would say that they cover approx. around 2000 square foot maybe more sometimes. But they use a lot the wood beside the barn. They have access to a little stream (don't no if I can call this a stream...a little little frlow of water), but I give them fresh water everyday. I'm in the deep litter method wich I like a lot..I put kitchen scrap in the coop almost everyday and there is a poop compost beside the barn that they scratch all the time. On the field next to the barn there is a lot of reseeding grains ( I think it is something like, wheat, grass) a lot of wild flowers...shrubbs etc...They ¨look¨ very healthy...nice colours (legs and crest and feathers)...no problems at all....hens are laying even a new one today. it is just this thing when I put the feeding at night...they are waiting for this. But since almost all the breed are ow use to this kind of food, and I started with that, I guess the transition is not that simple...

I have 17 chicken in that coop almost only Chantecler....In the small coop, I have Silkies...they forage a lot and don't jump at the grains when I give it to them. The big difference with them it's in the coop. I use the deep litter also but they seems to scratch less....I'm still looking at that.

But still confident that I will be able to have them eat forages only...still the winter season to figure out though,,,,here it can go down to -35 in the coldest days so forget the forages...need to find a way to harvest and keep the grains in the barn...the old way I gues )))

Isabelle
 
Julia Weeks-Bentley
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Wow, you definitely have the land then LOL....mine like the woods too and during the hottest days will stay by the creek and I am assuming because it is cool and they bugs and stuff. -35? Good lord girl, you're my hero!




Isabelle Gendron wrote:Julia, we have a 35 hectars (4 millions square foot) of land...half of it in wood. Pastures had not been used for the last 15 years. ACtually the chickens can free ranges on a big area but I would say that they cover approx. around 2000 square foot maybe more sometimes. But they use a lot the wood beside the barn. They have access to a little stream (don't no if I can call this a stream...a little little frlow of water), but I give them fresh water everyday. I'm in the deep litter method wich I like a lot..I put kitchen scrap in the coop almost everyday and there is a poop compost beside the barn that they scratch all the time. On the field next to the barn there is a lot of reseeding grains ( I think it is something like, wheat, grass) a lot of wild flowers...shrubbs etc...They ¨look¨ very healthy...nice colours (legs and crest and feathers)...no problems at all....hens are laying even a new one today. it is just this thing when I put the feeding at night...they are waiting for this. But since almost all the breed are ow use to this kind of food, and I started with that, I guess the transition is not that simple...

I have 17 chicken in that coop almost only Chantecler....In the small coop, I have Silkies...they forage a lot and don't jump at the grains when I give it to them. The big difference with them it's in the coop. I use the deep litter also but they seems to scratch less....I'm still looking at that.

But still confident that I will be able to have them eat forages only...still the winter season to figure out though,,,,here it can go down to -35 in the coldest days so forget the forages...need to find a way to harvest and keep the grains in the barn...the old way I gues )))

Isabelle
 
Isabelle Gendron
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HAHAHA!!! No please...I'm not a hero at all...just born here A lot of snow (normally) and a couple of weeks in January where it is veryyy cold especialy with the wind. You have to cop with this. But I have Chantecler that have been bred for this kind of temperature. No crest, comb or wattles...can stay in a coop with no heat since at the time, they were bred for agricultural farms where the coop weren't heated, they needed eggs during winter and good meet...I also have Ameraucanas that can survive in the winter coop...but my silkies have an heat lamp.

Isabelle
 
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