New to raising chickens

by Gina
(Farmington, GA, USA)

Question

I just discovered your website and am very happy I did. We were given some chickens about 7 months ago. They are a bantam / game mix. We have two roosters and six hens.

They took to a huge holly bush that sits right next to our house and have slept it in it every night since their arrival until this week.

Several of our hens have "disappeared" over the last month or so and we've been hoping they are in the woods behind us roosting. One hen came home this week with five little chicks and we are very happy and excited!

However, even the two roosters and two hens that were still roosting at night in our bush are now out in the woods with the other hens and chicks.

They still come around during the day for water and spend time in the yard but we miss having them here at night and waking up with them in the morning (we can still hear the roosters crowing back in woods a few house down though).

Luckily, we have some pretty accepting neighbors, but we have three acres of land, some with pretty thick bushes and shrubbery and we would really like for chickens to stay a little closer to home rather than roaming the block.

They even stray out into the road sometimes and go over to the house across the street and we're afraid they are going to get run over.

What do you recommend? Can this type of bird be taught to say in or restricted to a certain area? I feel like it's going to be harder now that they are having their babies in the woods.

You're site is incredibly informative and interesting. Again, I'm glad to have found it.

Cluck, cluck!
Answer
Thanks and Welcome! Glad you found us, too!

I have found all chickens to be trainable, even game breeds and game crosses. When I get new chickens I keep them in their coop and yard for weeks before letting them free range.

Chickens are creatures of habit and love having a nice safe place to roost at night, and a steady supply of good food and water.

Since yours have had free range, and explored far and wide, it may be difficult to prevent that behavior completely.

It’s likely something threatened the chickens roosting in the holly bush and they know they will not be safe there.

Since you like having them close to the house and they like that holly bush, you might design and enclosed pen (including the top), with an attached coop and coax them in with food.

The hens will want a safe area to raise their chicks and probably prefer a coop, especially while chicks are on the ground and cannot roost. (The coop needs to be well built preventing anything larger than a mouse from getting in with your chickens at night.)

You may be able to call them all to the coop and yard by feeding near sunset and keeping them locked up for a little while to convince them this is their new safe home.

Once they seem happy there, letting them out to free range, starting in the late afternoon, will keep them closer to home more often.

As you see they have accepted this area for its safety, comfort and regular feeding and watering, you could let them out earlier and earlier in the day and they should love the routine.

I don’t think they like having to find new roosting places and definitely don’t like being vulnerable to predators.

My next door neighbors had three free hatched and free ranging game roosters that liked visiting our side of the fence. Their mother and sisters “disappeared” permanently.

Having no hens free ranging with them, they gradually became comfortable flirting with my girls and entering my chicken yard. One of the game roosters decided to make this his home, living with my two roosters and 18 hens, and roosting in the coop each night all winter.

I let my flock out to free range almost every day and lock them up safe every night. This one rooster preferred life here with us to total freedom, so I believe your flock may be able to happily adjust to a different and safer life, too.

Good coop and yard dimensions are to allow 4 sq. ft. indoor floor space per chicken, about 2’ roosting area per banty type, and about 10 sq. ft. outdoors per chicken.

If you plan to let them free range daily, you could probably go with a little less. On several windy cold days this winter, my chickens chose to spend all day in the coop. So having plenty of indoor floor space makes for more comfortable winter living.

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