This week was spent teaching the chickens to be free-range birds. The long, wet winter has made the yard super muddy and they’re going through food like crazy. We’re talking two bags a week. That’s more than we were going through when we had all the meat chickens and all four turkeys. I’ve been wanting them to be free range, and now seemed like a good time. I was concerned about setting them loose. What if they didn’t come back? What if the laid eggs all over the place, and I couldn’t find them? Well, we would just have to see.
So, chickens are creatures of habit. They rarely got out through the gate, and weren’t really sure what to do when I opened it up for them. Every one of them stood at the open gate and looked up at me. Huh. I opened the gate wider and looked away so they would think they were sneaking out. That got a couple through the gate. The rest were still looking at me. The alpacas, on the other hand, came right to the gate and tried to get through all the birds to get out. OK, close the gate and give this some thought.
Not only are chickens creatures of habit, they will also do anything for food. I got a scoop of scratch and scattered it OUTSIDE the gate. That got some more out, but also attracted the alpacas again. For day one, I would just go with what I had. I still had to make sure they would all come back.
That evening, I used the scratch trick in reverse, and the chickens all went right back in. Cool. Now, about those eggs. None. Not one. Not even from the birds that stayed in the yard. Well, it’s just day one. We’ll see if this works itself out.
Day two: The birds saw me coming, ran to the gate, and the ones who came out the day before went right out. This time, I had a plan. I gave the alpacas their grain, first. They NEVER turn away from food. Then, I took the scratch out and left the gate wide open. I stayed close, just in case the alpacas decided to make a break for it. I spread the scratch farther away from the gate, so the birds would have to come out to get it. It worked! Some of the birds stayed in, but most of them came out. One of the ducks and Matilda the turkey even came out.
I also put a couple of their laying buckets in a quiet area and put a couple of eggs in them, hoping they would get the hint and lay eggs in there. Only one of them figured it out. We still have a huge stockpile of eggs, so I’m not to worried about it, yet.
Matilda immediately assigned herself yard boss, and is keeping everybody in line. When she felt it was time for everyone to go in, she came to the door to get me. You can see the rest of the flock waiting for me.
End of the week, and everybody seems to have figured it out. A few of the birds still prefer to stay in the yard, but most of them come right out. They cruise around all day and go in easily in the evenings. Many of them have adjusted their egg-laying schedule and I’m back to getting 10 per day, in the coop.
The extra benefit is the chickens are prepping the garden areas for us. The flower bed was completely cleaned out in just two days. Today, I spread their scratch through the pumpkin patch. Charlie will be so excited that he doesn’t have to till out all the weeds.