There are many reasons that I chose to start free ranging my chickens. I have run into some challenges along the way, but overall my experience with free range chickens is a good one. Here are a few tips in getting started!
I ALWAYS start my chicks in a safe (indoor – house, barn, garage etc.) brooder where they are offered a balanced 18% chick starter, clean water, fresh shavings, artificial heat and a safe haven from all the critters that would love to eat them. They remain in the brooder for about 6 weeks or until they are fully feathered. Weather permitting, I then move them outside to a coop where they can adjust to the elements but are still safe as they grow to full size. At this point they are able to see my other birds but cannot interact with them. This practice also allows me to keep hens from eating chick feed and chicks from eating layer feed! At 16 weeks I will switch them over to a layer diet and monitor them until I feel they are sizable enough to defend themselves against my other hens and smart enough to get away from predators.
Typically these young birds will continue to go back to the coop to roost and I will close them up every night. During this time my older hens will “shun” the new flock and in my experience for a period of time I will have two totally separate flocks. Over time, the younger birds will integrate more with my existing flock and after a while will begin to roost in the barn with the others. At that time I will close off the coop and clean it up for the next season of growing chicks. Once they are integrated with the flock all of my birds free range 24-7 and roost in my barn where I have stalls for my goats when I need to lock them up and where my livestock guardian dogs can roam underneath them to keep predators away at night. My livestock dogs are KEY to the reduced loss from night dwelling predators. If this is not a reasonable option for you I may consider still locking them in a coop at night.
Now that you know a little bit about my set up, lets discuss what I LOVE and what I DO NOT LOVE about free ranging my birds.
I have attempted to raise chickens in coops, totally free ranged and free ranged during the day while locking them up in a coop at night. I have had success with overall production in every scenario but have to manage them differently in each situation. It is my belief that there are pros and cons to each choice and you have to make decisions based on what is best for you, best for your birds and which management style is most realistic for your farm or hobby yard.
Keeping Mosquitoes and Other Biting Insects at Bay
Chickens make a delicious dinner but not only people enjoy dining on them. Raccoons, opossums, and other furry or feathery predators kill and eat them with enthusiasm.
Most predators work the night shift when sleeping chickens are nearly comatose and easy to snatch. Wise owners secure doors, windows, and pop holes at dusk. If predators can’t access chickens they can’t kill them.
Unfortunately, a closed door won’t exclude blood loving mosquitoes, gnats, and other insects.
They can’t easily bite through thick feathers but fleshy combs and wattles are blood rich and targeted. A few insect bites won’t kill a chicken but constant biting drains blood, introduces possible diseases, and pesters birds trying to sleep.
Hungry mosquitoes don’t limit their hunt to chickens. They also relish human blood and swarms of the pests cruising around the coop make life miserable for both hens and people. Reducing their numbers makes life more comfortable for both the birds and their owners.
Fogging the coop area with insecticides will kill bugs but there are better ways of reducing their abundance without using toxic chemicals. A three-pronged approach will put a big dent in insect numbers.
REDUCING SKEETER REPRODUCTION
Female mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water. Within 48 hours they hatch into larvae that mature into adults in another week to ten days. Newly emerged female mosquitoes are biters that require a protein rich blood meal to produce eggs for the next generation. Males are content feeding on nectar.
Mosquitoes can’t reproduce without standing water. Chicken keepers often carelessly leave water filled containers in the yard and chicken run. Fount type waterers and buckets can breed mosquitoes. So, will water filled toys, trash, old tires, and anything else that holds moisture. Even an old can will produce hundreds of biting skeeters.
The solution is simple. Drain everything that holds water. Buckets and fonts chickens need to drink from should be emptied at least every couple of days and refilled with clean fresh water. Waterers that allow chickens to drink from tiny spouts probably won’t breed mosquitoes and may be the best choice in buggy areas. Gutters are notorious for holding puddles of rain water that produce mosquitoes. Make sure they drain completely after each rain. Rain barrels that store gutter water are handy but should have tight fitting lids with netting covered holes to exclude laying mosquitoes.
Insects don’t respect property lines. Encouraging neighbors to keep their containers drained will help reduce numbers throughout the area.
ENCOURAGING MOSQUITO PREDATORS
Bats, many birds, toads, fish, and frogs all love dining on insects. Welcoming them to the yard will reduce mosquito numbers. Goldfish love eating larvae and a few stocked in tanks that can’t be drained will rid them of larvae. Creating damp dark places in the garden welcomes toads to move in. They are effective mosquito eaters. Bats, swallows, swifts, and many other birds devour skeeters. Although they prefer roosting in hollow trees often they’ll occupy special houses easily made at home or bought from garden supply stores.
EXCLUDING SKEETERS FROM THE COOP
Raccoons easily rip standard mosquito screening but can’t force their way through stout wire. With mosquitoes, it’s just the reverse. They cruise right through the heavy-duty wire that keeps out the racoons but can’t penetrate insect screening. The solution is simple-install double wire barriers over each coop window. Place raccoon proof heavy wire on the outside of windows and mosquito screening inside. This lets cool summer breezes enter the coop while keeping both insects and mammals at bay. Mosquito netting is made of nylon or aluminum and can be purchased in rolls from hardware stores. It is easy to cut it with heavy duty scissors and staple it to the inside of windows.
It’s nearly impossible to completely eliminate mosquitoes, gnats, and other biting insects from a chicken coop or run, but diligently eliminating standing water, encouraging insect predators, and double screening coop windows will make life more pleasant for both hens and their owners.
The warmer than average winter temps we enjoyed the past few years are taking revenge on our backyards.
High tick populations are the result. Besides being pesky, the risk of Lyme disease contraction is reason for concern.
One study recently conducted in Connecticut showed that nearly 40 percent of ticks tested this year have Lyme disease bacteria, according to an article recently published in The Day. In addition, ticks are simply out for blood- and are host neutral. Meaning, your chickens may get ticks, and be exposed to Lyme bacteria, too.
But birds eat bugs, right? When Lyme disease was realized as serious concern for humans in 1992, Vassar College in New York conducted a study to review the case for Guinea Fowl and reducing Lyme disease risk.
After all, the loud, shrieking bird consumes a diet that’s 90% insects!
They assessed the impact guinea fowl would have on tick densities in backyards over the course of a year.
It was determined that guinea fowl do reduce the amount of adult ticks found in backyards, but, unfortunately, didn’t reduce the amount of nymphal (young) ticks- the main connection to Lyme disease.
If you raise chickens, they’ll eat the ticks, too – just not as much as their rock-star cousin, the Guinea.
So what’s a chicken lady to do?
Well, because chickens are a host to ticks, too, we recommend a multi-angle approach to take care of ticks to protect your flock and your family, here are some quick tips to get you started:
Have you been noodling with the idea of starting your own backyard chicken flock lately? Not sure what your next step is? Well, have we got a treat for you!
Meet our latest Nutrena® character: Molly Cooper. She’s our go-to gal for all things backyard poultry, and represents the poultry hobbyist who’s been raising chickens for a few years. Here at Nutrena, we’ll be using Molly to bring you the information you need to know before starting your own backyard flock.
Through our four-part video series, Molly Cooper will provide her top tips on picking the right feed for your flock, she’ll share what to buy when housing your flock, and she’ll even give her ideas on what breeds would work best for you.
Keep an eye on Scoop from the Coop and the Nutrena Chicken and Poultry Feed Facebook page for tips and tricks. For now, watch the first video to get to know Molly!
For complete contest rules, click here.