The responsibility of freedom
We believe free-ranging is a fundamental chicken right. However, it doesn’t come freely – it comes with a need for protection and safety. From a young age we introduced them to the concept on a scale that was applicable to them and in environments where they were still protected from predators. Even while they were really young, they used to get outings to the lawn, always together and under close supervision in case the currawong or a hungry bird of prey was anywhere close by.
When they became big enough not to escape through the sides of the “tractor”, they spent their days learning to forage in the vegetable garden. (Some of them will return there later, when there is enough work for them.) Unfortunately we never took any photographs of their outings there. What was interesting is that after the third day or so, they started finding their way back to the brooder at the end of the day, semi by themselves, semi guided.
When they polished everything edible in the tractored bed, we were concerned that they might start eating the Convolvulus arvensis (Field bindweed) which has exploded all over the vegetable garden. So the next stop was that they spent their days in the big run of the renovated coop – a large 10m x 4m space covered with industrial bird net to provide protection from predators, and with a loquat and persimmon tree to provide shade. They had a ball in there! They started roost-resting in the trees, and in between feeds of watermelon and plums, they demolished the spinach and Lucerne that was growing there. They almost eradicated the thick mass of strong parsley that was growing in there too.
Free upgrade to the mansion
So the time had come for them to leave the brooder – literally with one night to spare before the first duckling had to come out of the incubator. The next step was settling them in the mansion coop for their nights, where the majority of them – all the Scot Greys – will be sleeping permanently. It literally took them one late afternoon and one early morning, despite being fed their growers mix, to totally decimate the spinach and fescue grass I had planted as a welcome gift in there. Fortunately I put little protectors around the wormwood and the tagasaste, which are also growing in the run part of the coop.
The mansion – sleeping quarters
For their daytime foraging, they were now sent to the plum enclosure, a large 6m x 6m netted area, with a lot of shade under four large fruit trees and with plenty of fallen fruit and dead leaves and mulch to hone their foraging skills in. They’re having a feast in there!
Very interesting, after the second day, they started finding their way to the mansion semi by themselves, semi-guided. On a good day, that is… on a bad day, it is pandemonium as they scatter into the bushes… fun and games!
The final step in their schooling process was limited free-ranging around their mansion coop. OK, I say limited, as it is fenced in with a 24m long temporary portable chicken fence hooked up to the existing coop and fencing, but Google Earth reckons it’s 260m². That’s not too shabby for a school yard for 15 little chickens I reckon. Anyway, they are having a ball in there, scratching, foraging, and in the middle of the day just hanging out under the trees and bushes.