Free range chickens

Cherisse’s mother and her husband are visiting from Colorado. They have taken on the project of electrifying the chicken house; providing more light in the winter will hopefully increase egg yield during the shorter, colder days. While they work, the chickens race about, pecking and scratching. The chickens seem to have good preservation instincts: they don’t stray too far from the shelter of numerous bushes, and when they want to cross an open area they have a run/fly combination that is hilarious to watch.

At first I was afraid they wouldn’t remember where their water was, but they go in and out of their house throughout the day, returning a final time at dusk, when they start to jockey for prime roost position. They aren’t always so clever though. We have been bringing them kitchen scraps late in the day (we are trying to condition them to follow us, in case we need to get them in at a certain time). Tonight I carried over a bowl with melon and tomato pieces and a pot with yesterday’s corn cobs. Most of the chickens hustled after me, but two didn’t go in their door…instead they tried desperately to get through the fence, focused only on the food I had tossed in. I tried to herd them in, but even that took some doing.

Chicken on rockChickens pecking
I can’t believe how much fun it is to look out the window and see them scooting about. Forget Angry Birds–watching free range chickens is much more fun. Rebecca gives them a wide berth; she watches them, but they are just too big for her to mess with. The dogs are interested in the droppings, but except for an occasional chase, they usually walk past them.

Letting them out was a success all around. Endless fun for all. Featherfoot, however, is still losing feathers! We think she might be pulling out her own feathers now…we just aren’t sure. If there is blood, we will need to segregate her immediately. Chickens are omnivores; like sharks they zero right in when there is blood. We will continue to watch until forced to take action.

Featherfoot

McMurray Hatchery added a free “exotic” chick to our order. We believe we got a Cochin, although I haven’t been able to match it more specifically. She has grown quite large (she looks about twice the size of the others), and has the most resplendent feathers, almost peacock-like in coloring, all the way down to her ridiculously feathered feet. Despite her size, she has seemed slower to develop than the others, and her feathered feet seem to throw her off. When the chickens first had access to their outdoor enclosure, “Featherfoot” as we call her was too afraid to walk down the ramp. She gave pitiful, agitated clucks from inside, while everyone else was enjoying pecking in the grass. She was also slow to master jumping on one of the perches; even now it is still a great effort for her, although she can do it.

Chickens
We are quite fond of her and all of oddities. To our horror, we noticed yesterday that a large patch of her chest feathers had been plucked out…and we saw the culprit in action: one of the Rhode Island Reds. The books call this “cannibalism” and it is evidently not uncommon. It can be diet related, so that can be tinkered with, and it can be caused by boredom. We didn’t want to take the measure of removing the instigator (what would we do with her?). So we thought perhaps if we provided enough distraction there wouldn’t be time for cannibalism.

Free-ranging chickens have always been my vision, but the worry of hawks and other predators has deterred us, and we kept saying, “maybe when they are bigger.” Well, this morning we let them out, risking all of them to hopefully save the one. What a fantastic time they are having! All of that tantalizing grass and growth they could see just beyond their pen walls are now theirs for the pecking, and they are bustling everywhere. We were worried about getting them back in the coop, but at one check we found them on their perches inside, taking a siesta. They have been in and out of their house all day. The dogs are so used to them now they have barely noticed the chickens are actually free.

Free ranging chickensChickens 2

We won’t leave the chickens out if we—and the dogs—aren’t around to keep an eye on them. But now that the chickens have tasted freedom, and the abundance of bugs and greenery available to them, they aren’t going be happy cooped up.