This weekend we actually had a warm day (which for us is upper 40s, low 50s) and it wasn’t raining or extremely muddy. So we figured it was a perfect time to let the chickens out into their run area for the first time ever.
Except, um, their run area isn’t finished being built yet. It still kinda looks like this (well, minus the snow):
The unfinished chicken run that will hold our heritage laying hens.Our ultimate goal is to let the chickens free range but, at 7 weeks, I’m still not sure if they are ready to handle the big, dangerous world yet without the safety of chicken wire. Not only do we have all sorts of wild animals around but we also have six barn cats that might think they look tastier than mice. Although it could also have to do with the fact that they are my little chickie babies and I’m not sure I’m ready for them to be big chickens yet. Why are all my babies growing up so fast? The response from my five year old is that his body is making him grow and he can’t stop it. Darn body.
But back to chickies. We have this fancy electric portable netting that Josh got me for Valentine’s Day. Our plan is to use it for our meat chickens out in the pasture. Each day we’ll set up the netting (it makes a really big square area) in a fresh, clean location. It’s sort of a combination of free ranging because they have so much space to wander around and pasture based poultry but without the confinement of chicken tractors. It sounds good in theory…
So we set up the netting around the edges of the unfinished run but didn’t electrify it. Then we opened the little coop door and let the chickens come out for the first time. At first they were tentative.
The chickens look outside the chicken door of their coop into their run area
Then a few got a little brave.
The chickens slowly make their way outside their coop for their first time outside
Until finally about 12 of our 28 chickens worked up the nerve to come all the way outside.
A few chickens slowly make their way outside into their run for the first time
One thing we noticed is that the larger, heavier breeds like the Delawares and Buff Orpingtons were definitely too big to fit through the holes in the portable electric fence netting. But the Redcaps and Black Australorps, well, they were still small enough to squeeze through.
Now, you might wonder how we found this out. Oh, let me tell you…
If first started out with this little Redcap. She is by far the bravest and most adventurous chicken we have. She’s the one that is always jumping onto my boots and following me around. She’s the first to try any new treat we bring them. Well, this little chicken (who I have yet to name but really should) kept eying the netting and looking like she was just waiting to make a run for it.
The Redcap chick is deciding if she fits through the holes in the portable electric netting before escaping
And then she did! She just walked right out through the hole. Thankfully Josh was on the other side and “encouraged” her to get back in. Which she did just as calmly as you please, popping right back through the netting to get inside. She did this a few more times but really wasn’t going too far so we just let her be.
But then… then, this guy came strolling up.
One of the cats that came with our barn when we purchased our homestead.
Now, Big Boy is 15 years old, moves slow, breathes heavily and wasn’t at all interested in the chickens. He glanced at them inside the netting, then moved on to my daughter hoping for some attention. What surprised me was that the chickens, rather than running back into the coop, all clustered together and walked TOWARDS the cat. I would have thought retreating would be a better option but perhaps they were thinking a group attack would chase him away.
Well, as Big Boy moved to my daughter, he must have moved a little too fast and the chickens scattered! Thank goodness there were only about 12 of them outside the coop at that time but it still was chaos! The six smaller Redcaps and Black Australorps plowed right through the netting holes and took off into the fields. While Josh and the kids ran after them, I as able to round up the fatter girls who couldn’t escape and shoo them back into the coop.
For the next 30 minutes, we worked to get the six chicks back to the coop. I can only image what we looked like to anyone driving down the road: 2 adults and 3 children squatted down walking with their arms outstretched in a semi circle as the sun goes down. Um, yes new neighbors, we’re sane and friendly. Um, no we don’t belong to some strange religion that requires odd rituals at dusk. And no, we won’t take your children or goats while you sleep.
After climbing through brambles, thorns and tall brush, after repeatedly diving for a chicken only to come up empty, after way too many times saying “here chickie-chickie, I promise I won’t hurt you” through gritted teeth, we finally rounded up all six chickens and returned them to the coop.
Now, you might ask why were didn’t just leave them and let them find their way home. Chickens usually come back to their home each evening to roost so in theory they should have moseyed into the coop as the sun set. Well, there are two reasons we decided the stalk and trap approach would be better:
1) This was their first time outside. I was afraid that they didn’t pay attention to their surroundings as they plowed through the netting to know their way home.
2) They are my little chickie babies. And my little chickie babies aren’t ready for the big bad world all by themselves yet.
Needless to say, finishing the run has now been given a higher priority on the to-do list. And we’re re-evaluating our meat-chickens-using-the-portable-electric-netting plan, at least until they are pretty plump.