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Chickens love to wander and roam – and for their best quality of life, keeping them free range is crucial! However, new chicken farmers may worry just how far they’ll go – and how to rein them in. How far will free range chickens roam, if you set them free?
Chickens normally won’t travel further than 300 yards from their home. That’s because they can get warm there, are fed there, and have pretty incredible internal compasses! However, the distance they will travel can sometimes vary from bird to bird.
The average chicken loves to wander, but probably won’t go too far. If you’re wondering how to keep free range chickens in your yard, and want to know how loose you can be on the ‘free’ side of things, keep reading!
Why Don’t Free Range Chickens Travel Far?
It’s all to do with predictability. If you have a well-established coop, your chickens will know they can expect food, water and shelter around the clock. It’s also where they lay their eggs! It’s therefore unlikely any chicken will want to stray far from home comforts.
Chickens are very intelligent – more so than many people give them credit for being. However, some will choose to go foraging for food elsewhere if they are hungry or even bored enough.
The general idea is that free range chickens probably won’t go much further than 300 yards of your coop. However, there are exceptions to the rule.
Some experienced chicken farmers advise that some breeds of chickens that forage in the wild will continue to do so, even if domesticated. That means you’re more likely to see common chickens, bred for food and eggs, to stay close to home boundaries.
Of course, there’s also the fact that chickens have individual personalities! Also – if your chickens are turning down your feed, they may choose to find tastier morsels further afield. Time to top up the grain, in that case!
Will My Free Range Chickens Run Away?
Probably not – chickens will want to stay close to the coop, as it’s warm, predictable, and safe from predators (providing you keep it that way).
However, you can do more to help ensure your chickens come home to roost when you need them to. For example, it pays to have a constant supply of high-quality chicken feed to hand.
When feeding backyard chickens, try introducing a call or a whistle – much like dogs, chickens can learn to associate noise with positive action! This may help you to keep your birds in one place should they be starting to stray.
Beyond this, chickens do have fantastic internal compasses. They learn very quickly and will know how to get back to the coop providing they don’t stray too far away. Therefore, it is never a good idea to set chickens free too far from the coop – you are not raising homing pigeons!
How to Safely Set Free Range Chickens Free
If you’re getting started with free range chickens and want to give them a safe run of their yard, there are a few handy hints you can keep in mind.
Firstly, you must absolutely be clear on local predators. Never let your chickens roam free until you’ve checked for foxes, raccoons and cats in the local area. Predators will vary from place to place depending on where you are, of course.
This gives you plenty of time, too, to get your birds acquainted with their coop, their home base. Provide them with plenty of bedding, high quality food, clean water, and clean out their living quarters daily. After only a week or so, you’ll find your chickens associate the coop with safety and predictability. You must hold up your end of the bargain if you’d like your chickens to keep coming back!
Do also establish a safe route for your chickens. As mentioned, 300 yards tends to be the outer maximum in which they will roam and head back. Therefore, start small, and expand, once you’re a little more confident.
Again, like dogs, chickens thrive on predictability and consistency. Therefore, providing you make sure your chickens know when feeding time is, and when you secure them in for the night, you can be sure your birds will respect your own routine.
Providing you are careful, kind and consistent, setting your free range chickens free doesn’t have to be a scary affair. Simply stick to your routine and progress gradually.
How to Keep Free Range Chickens In Your Yard
Despite the fact free range chickens largely come home to roost, they can be curious, investigative creatures – which means on occasion, something tasty or interesting can seize their attention away from your yard or coop.
However, there’s not that much you can do to rein in a chicken’s curiosity. In fact, it is unhealthy to assume you can control a free range chicken at all!
Try to establish your coop away from any boundaries you don’t want chickens to cross. They are less likely to go wandering the further out they are. This is worth remembering if you want to stop your birds getting to your neighbors!
Ultimately, fencing is a must. Invest in top-quality fence materials that you can either tilt or build high. These will help to prevent chickens from making a break for it and potentially going awry.
Beyond this, you can also choose to clip chickens’ wings. However, some chicken owners can find this a cruel practice, and it can go against the ideal of raising a free range chicken, period.
Is Keeping Free Range Chickens Easy?
Keeping free range chickens will, of course, take some work and getting used to. However, they are highly rewarding, entertaining and lovable birds – and that’s not just thanks to the egg supply!
If you’re just getting started with raising backyard chickens, be sure to read our full guide – and don’t worry, your birds are unlikely to roam too far away!