Teaching Free-Range Chickens To Come HOME

by Tammy Taylor

Last year we tried our hand at raising chickens for the very first time.  We bought day-old chicks and raised all that fuzzy cuteness into adult chickens/roosters.  We ended up with four hens and two beautiful roosters but someone STOLE both of our roosters!  Can you even believe that??!

Aaaanyway not wanting to overwinter the hens due to predator issues we sold them last fall after I had preserved many of the excess eggs by freezing  them.  I used those frozen eggs all winter and about the time my freezer started running low on my supply we decided it was time to raise chickens again this year!

See how we get our new chickens to free range during the day yet come back to the coop each night to be locked securely from predators. #TxHomesteader

Buying Our Young Pullets

Now this year we decided to skip the day-old chick thing for both simplicity as well as eliminating any roosters. (note bad experience above…)  We found a local chicken raiser who loves to hatch eggs with her incubator.  So we arranged to buy 4 young hens from her.

They had just begun laying & at first we only got about 1 egg each day from all four girls.  And some of the eggs had a very thin flexible shell.  But as they grew older and the days got longer and warmer they started laying a little more consistently and with regular shells.  (yes we fed them calcium, and I know that probably helped as well)

But we like to free-range our chickens. We’ve heard others who lament that their chickens didn’t go back to the coop and were killed overnight by predators.  But these girls are brand new to our homestead.  I wonder how you teach chickens where HOME is at the end of the day?

Training Our Free-Range Hens To Come Home

Here’s how we do it:  When the chickens are old enough to live in the coop of our 1880’s barn we tack chicken wire to the door and have heavy-gauge wire on the small opening on the side as well.  Each morning we go out & open both doors and allow them to get fresh air & see outside, but do not allow them out of the coop.  We feed and water them inside the coop and we also make sure to bring handfuls of fresh green grass to them several times each day.  We leave the chickens locked inside the coop for two full weeks to allow them to recognize this place as their home.

1st Time Free-Ranging

When that 2 weeks is up we take the wire off the doors and allow them to finally roam outside the coop.  That first time we like to wait until early evening so they don’t roam very far before it begins to get dark.  If all works according to plan, when it becomes dusk they come back to the coop for the night and we close them in safely.  Then the next morning we’ll open the coop and allow them to free range during the day & we close them inside the safety of the coop each night.

See how we get our new chickens to free range during the day yet come back to the coop each night to be locked securely from predators. #TxHomesteader

But with these hens we noticed they were sleeping on the floor of the coop instead of flapping up onto the roost.  Maybe it’s just the way they were raised, we reasoned.  That first trip outside the coop we noticed that although they did indeed come back to the coop at dusk just as we had hoped.   But they didn’t go inside the coop – instead opting to sleep on the ground UNDER the coop.

So we shooed them out from under the barn and I placed them inside the coop, ON the roost.  We replaced the wire on the doors and figured we’d let them try free ranging again when they learned to roost.  But I wonder WHY they don’t roost.  Hummm…

Then I remembered that the breeder that raised them had kept them in a yard with a covered shelter they shared with the goats.  She told me she kept their wings clipped so they would stay confined to that open-top yard.  Perhaps they didn’t have a roost available there, or maybe their clipped wings kept them from flapping up the rungs of a roost.  For whatever reason, they never learned to roost.

Teaching The Hens To Roost

So in order to train them to roost, for several nights when we went to the coop to close them in for the night I would pick them up off the coop floor where they were sleeping and place them on the roost.  After a few nights they began to hop up on the roost themselves, albeit only a couple of rungs up. So after about a week of successful roosting we decided it’s time to try free ranging them again.

See how we get our new chickens to free range during the day yet come back to the coop each night to be locked securely from predators. #TxHomesteader

Again we waited until early evening & opened up the doors for them.  They eagerly hopped out and began eating the fresh green grass and taking dirt baths, excitedly running here & there.  It was so much fun to watch them!  But will they come back to the coop and this time go INSIDE the coop??

See how we get our new chickens to free range during the day yet come back to the coop each night to be locked securely from predators. #TxHomesteader

When we went to close them in they were all four inside the coop and up off the floor.  SUCCESS!  Now these sweet girls will be allowed to get out each morning to free range their heart’s content!

~TxH~

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26 thoughts on “Teaching Free-Range Chickens To Come HOME

  1. Kirstee

    Great tips! My girls taught themselves to go home everyday, but they did need to be taught yo use the roost when we moved them into a larger coop where the roost was much higher. I’m off now to nosey around the rest of your blog after discovering you on the Simple Homestead bloghop. Waves from Australia

    Reply
  2. Jamie @ Medium Sized Family

    When we had chickens, they knew that I was their food source. So whenever I’d go near their coop, they would flock to me from all corners of the property! Even if it wasn’t feeding time. I’d give them just enough grain to keep them coming to the coop (they didn’t need a lot after free ranging all day). More often, I’d be taking them scraps from the kitchen, and that was such a treat that they happily came to the coop. It’s really neat to read about your method of training!

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      After our new pullets got established they saw me as their food source as well Jamie. But thankfully using this short ‘homing in’ training period kept them close enough to learn the ropes. ~TMH~

      Reply
  3. Linda Fleming

    My email is ZERO ONE and not “O” ONE Do you have any information about raising rabbits for a food source …. a “just in case” food source? I live in the mountains near Santa Fe NM, just above 7000 feet. There are predators! Am interested in chickens too but do not want them on my porch or yard areas so would like to do a coup with an area included outside for them to roam around a bit … maybe 6 or 8 hens ….

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      We have wild rabbits galore around here Linda so we’ve never raised them for ourselves. I understand it’s pretty basic, a rabbit hutch, water/food bowls and they reproduce like, well like RABBITS! Regarding the chickens, I too disliked them coming onto our porch, we have a portable chicken tractor we can use to confine them yet move them to fresh grass as often as desired. Currently I’ve got the chickens confined to my fenced garden area where they’re scratching around cleaning up seeds/bugs in that area. I’m hoping to actually divide my garden area in half and have the chickens occupy half that space during the garden months to keep bugs and encroaching grass down, allowing them to range into the garden area during off season. Time will tell how that pans out, but I’m excited about the possibilities. ~TMH~

      Reply
  4. Anne

    Why is it important that they roost instead of sitting on the ground as long as they are in an enclosed and protected area? I don’t have chickens as of yet but am planning on raising them next year. Thanks Anne

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I’m no chicken expert but from what I understand they are safer roosting higher up than on the ground Anne. In our case, before they learned to roost up high they were roosting on the ground – UNDER the coop and fully vulerable. We worked with them and taught them to climb on the roost IN the coop where we could safely lock them in at night and we were good to go after that. ~TMR~

      Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Yes Amy, we let them out of the coop in the morning, they free range during the day and have learned to come back to the roost in the evening where we close them in securely for the night. We’ve had some predator issues – perhaps a coyote. We put out a trail-cam to attempt to find out for sure. We’re considering changing our methods and building a run for them but allowing them out to free range for a shorter amount of time in the afternoons to reduce the predator issues. ~TMR~

      Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      They did great Bobbi. We let them out for the first time yesterday and RancherMan & I held our breath that they would do as they should. But as the sun went down they all went back to the coop & hopped up on their roost so that we could close them in for the night. WHEW! ~TMR~

      Reply
  5. Lisa

    What is your roost made from? It looks quite sturdy and a lot nicer than roosts I’ve seen previously. Thank you.

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      We used an old cattle panel we already had on the ranch, it’s worked perfectly! Here’s the link to the post I did about refurbishing the coop, it talks about the cattle panel and the nesting boxes. ~TMR~ http://txhomesteader.com/refurbishing-an-1880s-barn-coop/

      Reply
  6. Texan

    LOL yes we learned many of the things you guys did when we got our first chickens. We have about 45 now. I know what do two people want with 40 chickens. We call them the fish tank/ chicken tank. There is nothing more fun than sitting outside watching the chickens we have decided LOL. We too are city dwellers moved to North East Texas 10 yrs ago. Its sooooooo much better than living in suburbia. :O). Raising as much of our food as we can. Chickens, goats. etc… would love a good milk cow but that is proving harder to find than I thought! Nice to have stumbled onto your blog :O)

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      Well Texan, it appears we have lots in common. I’m finding it’s easy to provide for ourselves by taking one step at a time and deciding what works for our homestead. Some things work, some things don’t but most of it is easier than I would have imagined. And the life we live now is so much more fulfilling than before! ~TMR~

      Reply
  7. Alexis

    Who knew chickens were so trainable? I cannot wait until we have enough space to get some chickens of our own. Great post!

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      I know Alexis! The first year we raised chickens we were afraid when we finally opened the coop for them to free range they would just go off into the wild blue yonder & never return! LOL This year we used the same method to train our new hens and they did great (aside from the whole roosting thing…) ~TMR~

      Reply
    2. Debby

      Teaching your chicken’s to come home at night is like teaching your rooster to crow , they just do it naturally. You could set your clock by it.

      Reply
      1. Texas Homesteader Post author

        We’ve been fortunate – I’ve had others tell me they let their chickens out of the coop to free range and the chickens went straight to the trees to roost that very night – never again to return to the coop. We have so many predators they wouldn’t stand a chance being left out all night & I didn’t want to take that chance so we use this procedure each time we bring in new chickens. But you’re absolutely right Debby, after they get homed in it’s very natural for them to come back to roost every night. ~TMH~

        Reply
  8. Pingback: Weekend Wandering | What I Loved This Week| Living Well Spending Less

  9. Crystelle

    Yes, the two weeks seems to do the tick at our chicken coop as well….. It’s so fun to see the chickens roam around the yard….. Happy Easter to you and yours…. 🙂 “hugs” Crystelle Crystelle Boutique

    Reply
  10. Sandra @ Scrumptilicious 4 You!

    I never new you could train a chicken. Love your link! Thanks for partying with us on the Four Seasons Blog Hop! Sandra from Scrumptilicious 4 You!

    Reply
  11. daisy

    Oh my, I didn’t realize you had to train them! Sounds like a lot of work, but a lot of fun too! Thanks for sharing this on The Maple Hill Hop!

    Reply
    1. Texas Homesteader Post author

      LOL, it’s really not much work at all Daisy since we open the coop each morning & close them in at night anyway for safety from predators. ~TMR~

      Reply

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