Our experiment of free ranging our chickens last week was a semi-success! The chickens stayed fairly close and went right back into the pen. We did have to herd them in, following them with a rod. I think they see the rod and remember the crook Mr. Ireland used to transfer them to the big pen, which they disliked very much. Whatever the reason, they see a stick or pole and immediately run into the coop!
The reason I call it a "semi-success" is because I let them out again the next day and they wandered off! Here's what happened....
It was a lovely fall day. The sun was out, the grass was crisp and frost free. I was so pleased with how well the chicken's previous day out had gone that I decided to let them out again. They gladly galloped out of the pen. Convinced they would stay in rather close proximity to their coop, I went back indoors. I continued my day, making lunch for the kids, tackling home school projects....
Three hours later, I realized I had forgotten the chickens! I flew out the front door, ran around to the back yard and they were gone! I checked in the coop "Maybe they're all roosting," I said to myself, "it is very warm out today." The coop was empty. I started to panic and began frantically running around the house, looking for any trace of chickens - a cluck, a feather, a pile of feathers... I worried that they had been eaten or carried off, but I reminded myself that there were 12 chickens, and it wasn't likely that all 12 had met their demise. Then I wondered "Would a neighbor steal my chickens?" I doubted it, and continued to search. Our chickens are very noisy. Where could they be?
I ran down the driveway and made my way to my closest neighbor's house. She has 2 dogs and if those dogs were out, my chickens were in major trouble! I shouted up the driveway, announcing myself, hoping not to encounter the pit bull or the German shepherd at the front door, and notified my my neighbor that all of my chickens were out. She assured me the dogs had been in for quite a while and she hadn't seen or heard any chickens. At this point, I became very concerned with what Mr. Ireland would say when he came home. Oh, he would be so upset! He had spent so much time preparing the coop and fence and now I had come along and set the silly birds free!
I came back to the back yard, hoping to see them poking around the other out buildings. They were not. As I approached the coop and pen, I realized that I had not checked behind the coop. Walking just past the back of the coop, I caught a glimpse of feathers through the bushes. Could they be wandering in the woods? I followed the little trail through the adjacent acre and there, halfway down the path, were all of our chickens! They were flocked together, snacking on berries and lichens, a delicious feast I am sure. I found the crook and after 15 minutes of chasing then through bushes, managed to get them back into their pen.
I am so glad that we didn't lose a chicken to an eagle or dog! I will not be letting them out again. They can have a bigger pen next summer. I'll fence in the whole dang yard and they can eat grass until they pop! That's about as free range as it will get.