Those of you who have followed my blog awhile will remember that my last flock of laying chickens - 10 hens and a big rooster - were killed by coyotes in May 2009. Today I have a flock of 10, 9 girls and a rooster (I say girls because only a few are laying, meaning the rest are pullets, not hens yet), and as much as I thrilled at watching my first flock free range around our pastures (and the neighbors'!), I didn't think I would ever try it again.
Well, I lied. :) I've propped open the coop door inside the barn a few times and let the flock scratch around in the barn, and once or twice I've opened the barn door to let the chooks outside. However, the only ones who would ever go were the three Blue Laced Red Wyandottes, the little rebels. Today, though, with our February weather mild and only a couple of hours left before I knew the flock would want to roost for the night, I tried again. To my surprise, they all barrelled out of the barn after only about 5 minutes, and spent a solid hour and a half scratching around the paddock! They were clearly enjoying themselves, running here and there, scratching in cow patties (what's this stuff?!), eating grass and weeds, picking at new things, and trying to catch bugs (we've had some sort of hatch...gnats?).
The only downside was Annabel, who as a calf enjoyed following the chickens around. Now, bigger, more hormonal, and maybe a little bored, she took to running after and at them, kicking up her heels, bucking around, and generally freaking my newly-ranging chickens out! At one point she ran the flock into a corner and somehow, POOF, one of my chickens ended up on the other side of the fence! It was really weird...and I had to climb over the fence into the neighbor's property to persuade her back to the flock.
I think I may try this again, this type of supervised, late-afternoons/evenings-only free ranging. I know it's enriching for the birds, it's fun for me (and Annabel, unfortunately), and it makes the eggs that much more divine!
A flurry of free-ranging activity.
Annabel, picture of innocence.
Oh, no! Here she comes! Ruuunnnn!!!
Oh, my. How did I get over here?