George Michael's "Faith" came to mind as I delightedly visited my chickens for the fourth time this afternoon...they're free ranging in the paddock! Yesterday was sunny out after a very frosty morning, and since I was home holding down the fort while Paul hunted (opening weekend of deer season, yeehaw!), I got a wild hair and decided to let the chickens roam.
I've had these chickens for over four months and have been afraid to let them out, certain they'd meet an untimely death or get lost or picked off by hawks or turkey vultures. But yesterday morning, after finishing my new book, "Keeping a Family Cow" by Joann Grohman, and pondering what it means to me to be able to grow or raise our own food, I took a leap of faith and decided it was high time the chickens go free for a while.
Good intentions aside, I had to actually haul the four chickens I could catch one by one out into the fresh air. They didn't want to go! But boy howdy, once their little chicken feet hit the cool ground, they were off, scratching and pecking excitedly. It helped that the first two outside were my little black pullets, who I am certain think I am the rooster and follow me everywhere. They were easy to catch. Little Red Hen (a Rhode Island Red hen) and the Red Star hen, they took some chasing and tail-feather-grabbing, but they went out, too. The rest I couldn't catch. :)
They never went far, these four brave girls, preferring to stay in the shade and near the barn, but they spent several hours outside. I later found they had put themselves "away," although the two little black pullets ended up switching coops with my two Black Australorps, Dolores and Eleanor. I don't know why, but everyone seemed ok with the arrangement.
This morning dawned another gorgeous day, so I let them out again. Yesterday's four immediately burst forth out of the coop. The others came reluctantly, and spent about thirty minutes exploring the barn before venturing outside. And when I say "others," I don't mean everyone; the Red Star hen I thought might be a boy (growing spurs) preferred to talk loudly from within the coop ALL DAY, and the two Easter Eggers in hospital coop refused to come out. Oh, well, their loss.
As I type, eight of my eleven chickens are beebopping around the paddock, weaving among the cows' feet, and hopefully catching a lot of flies. (The flies are terrible today.) I trust when it nears evening they'll put themselves away, and after a quick head count, I'll shut them in their coops and say goodnight. This will only be a weekend gig for now, I'm afraid...I have faith they'll be safe when I'm home and in broad daylight, but my commute keeps me from home from pre-dawn till almost dusk, and I don't feel comfortable offering them up to whatever mean four legged critter might be lurking.
But I feel good that next time someone asks if my chickens free range, I can proudly say, "Sometimes!"
Delores (or Eleanor, they look the same), exploring the barn. She's moulting.