First, I need to describe our chicken coop set up. We have several empty coops but our biggest coop is in the orchard and the orchard is about 1-1/2 to 2 acres with a high fence around it. That high fence helps a bit with the safety of the chickens, as well as keeping the deer from eating all the fruit trees.
That coop is kinda like a duplex. Each side has a separate fenced in run . . probably about 15′ x 30′. On the left side of the coop is where the Dominique chickens, along with one Australorp, one bantam and 4 babies live. On the right side of the coop is where the 14 Buckeyes live.
The chicks on the left side are allowed to free range within the confines of the orchard . . have been for quite a while. The Buckeyes are now big enough that they need to be out free ranging.
There are several reasons I prefer for my chickens to free range.
- They’re very entertaining (or maybe I’m just easily entertained). They chase bugs all day . . back and forth . . always looking for something. They are so fun to watch.
- It doesn’t seem fair to leave them penned up all the time. Inside the run, there’s nothing growing (they kill everything) and they just seem so bored in there.
- When they’re free ranging, they’re mostly living off bugs and whatever they find. When they’re penned up, I have to fill up their food container about once a day. When they’re free ranging, it needs to be filled about once every 10 days.
So, I knew I was going to have to come up with a plan to let the Buckeyes out too. My first thought was to let the Dominique chick group out one day and the Buckeyes out the next day. Then I decided . . I’m just going to let them all out and see what happens. That was Saturday morning.
Vince said “I don’t think that’s a good idea!” What he was really saying was this: Tonight when you can’t get them back in the right pens, don’t call me to help because I told you not to do this!
The chickens were such close neighbors for the past three months so it wasn’t like I was putting two groups of complete strangers together. That can be hard .. they aren’t real friendly at first. There were a few problems with the two mama chickens getting a bit overprotective. The Buckeyes just wanted to get a closer look at the babies but they soon learned that Mama Hen was not much into sharing her babies.
Everything went surprising well til . . time to put them up! The wrong chickens ended up in the wrong coop; they kept going into the wrong pen and trying to figure out how to get into the right coop from the wrong pen (impossible). It was about to get dark and I had to go back to the house and get Vince. He was waiting . . he knew that was coming. He said “I knew this was going to happen!” I knew this was going to happen! I knew you were going to say “I knew this would happen!” No, I didn’t say it . . I just thought it!
He came and we finally got all the chickens inside the coop but so many were in the wrong side. My plan was that I would go in and get them and hand them to Vince and he could take them to their respective spot. NO! He was not doing that. He said . . just leave them where they are and we’ll figure it out tomorrow.
Well, Mr. Dominique rooster has decided he likes the wrong side better so he’s been in there on purpose every night now. That first night, one of the babies got separated from mom and ended up on the wrong side. That was all Saturday night. Sunday night, all the Buckeyes except 2 got into the right coop. Last night, all the Buckeyes were in the right coop, and 3 of the Dominiques, including the rooster, was in there with them – makes for a pretty sparsely populated coop on the left side.
Because they were having trouble figuring out how to get back into the pen and then into the coop, Vince opened up the end and they can come out that way and go back and forth between the pens there.
He also took the divider out (there was a divider right between the doors) so now, they can go up the ramp and decide which coop they want to go into.
The Buckeyes are still having a hard time figuring out how to get back into the fence. I think they like to stay out so late that it’s close to dark when they go back in and then they can’t really see well enough to find the gates.
Each night gets a little easier and I’m hoping by the end of this week, putting them up will be a job that can be done by one (me).