Barb : I rescued 5 chickens about a year ago and sadly, I am down to 2. All three of the chickens that I lost were due to the fact that my chickens free-range during the day. One was taken by a hawk one was taken by a fox and one was taken by a farm Patron whose dog escaped his car and chased down and killed one of my girls. I am really struggling with how to proceed as far as the type of Lifestyle I offer my chickens. I loved the fact that they free ranged our property and I felt like they were happy picking around the garden and the flower beds and eating the bugs and worms. Any time my husband was out tilling the soil in preparation for our planting they would join him there and eat the worms and bugs that he turned up but with all of these deaths I am afraid to let them out again. On the other hand I don’t think that I could feel good about keeping animals caged up for the rest of their lives even though The Henhouse and the run that we had built for them is very roomy. I understand that this is the circle of life, it’s just very difficult because I become very attached to my chickens. I would like to hear your response and perhaps what others have to say about this dilemma. Thank you, Barb
My Reply : I’m sorry to hear of your losses it is horrible to lose them like that. There are definitely more risks to free ranging but even those keeping their chickens in a henhouse and run can experience losses to predators because very little is ever 100% safe. The risks of free ranging can be minimised by fencing the perimeter and providing lots of cover (trees, bushes, bales of straw etc.) which makes it harder for hawks to swoop in and also gives your flock hiding places and flying up to places to get out of the way of ground predators (I’m guessing you probably do have some sort of cover as you only lost one at a time). With two hens a rooster could be more of a hindrance than a help (hens can get sore backs from being mated too much) but for larger flocks a rooster can provide some protection (he would do his best anyway, but it is not always a fair fight) and a livestock guardian dog may also be an option.
I also love to watch mine pecking around the garden but realised the other day that they don’t actually use very much of the space they have – most of it is only used by them to walk to one of their other favourite areas. Recently I did have to keep mine in their pen due to the bird flu restrictions, and even though it wasn’t set up for them how I would have liked (their pen is only really for a bit of extra safety before they go to bed/get up) they seemed quite happy – I think it was me who was the most upset. A lot of the things chickens like to do when free ranging can be done from a roomy henhouse and run so I am sure that yours would adapt to it quite happily if you felt that the risks of free ranging had become too high. With mine I know they (I?) would be happiest if they had a pen where they had somewhere to perch (most of their perching is done in their coop entrance or on a bench they have inside their pen so that is already sorted), somewhere to dustbathe, an area that catches the sun (I have one that sunbathes at every opportunity) and a bush to stand/sit under (I don’t know why but it seems about half of their day is spent just standing / sitting under a bush by the pond!)