Tag Archives: free range chickens

Finding Chicken Eggs

When chickens are confined within a yard, finding chicken eggs is easy. They are normally all in the provided nests.

As soon as chickens are allowed to range, finding chicken eggs becomes challenging. For some of my hens the provided nest boxes are no longer the nests of choice.

Speckled Sussex hen in nest box
This hen is using the nest box today. Yesterday she was up on the hay bale. She likes to keep me hunting for her eggs.

At first I tried keeping the hens in the chicken yard until late in the afternoon. I assumed most of the hens would lay early in the day.

My hens did not lay early in the day. They preferred the afternoon.

Even those that would lay early, but wanted to lay somewhere other than the nest boxes, waited until after I opened the gate. There would be a mad dash for the favored nesting spot of each hen.

One barred rock hen hung around in the hen house waiting for me to open the door to go in with the feed bucket. She streaked out and dashed to the open barn door. In the middle of milking she would begin cackling and fly down from the hay bale where she had her nest.

That is one way to liven up milking time.

The hens won. I let them out after I finish morning milking. In the afternoon I start finding chicken eggs.

Some hens do still lay in the regular nest boxes so I check there first. The next stop is on that high hay bale. Luckily there is a ladder stored next to the hay.

Lately that spot is abandoned by most of the hens that did lay there. They’ve moved into the hay trough in the goat barn.

finding chicken eggs in the hay trough
Nest boxes, phooey. Hay trough, good. Even when the hay level gets low, the hay trough is better than using a well padded nest box. At least that is what several hens think.

One hen has found a gap between hay bales on the floor. Some hens don’t bother with nests at all.

One morning I let the hens out. A speckled Sussex came out of the gate, squatted near my feet, popped out an egg and took off. Another egg was left near the goat water bucket.

The chicken yard is an expanse of dirt and gravel. The eggs are so much better if the hens have access to grass and other greens. The challenge is finding chicken eggs laid by hens running loose invariably leaves some out for the raccoons.

Raising chickens is a popular rural and, now, suburban pastime. Hazel didn’t start out a country girl. Find out why she became one in “Broken Promises.”

Escalating Chicken War

Getting ready for spring seems more work than the spring rush. Maybe the escalating chicken war is the problem.

Cold weather is not my idea of work outside weather. This has slowed down putting up chicken wire on the fences.

In the meantime garden preparation for spring planting is clamoring to be done. Peas and greens will go in the beginning of March. Potatoes go in the middle of the month.

Cream Cat comes over
For some reason Cream Cat assumed I needed help working on the fence and his bid for petting was the help I needed. He got his petting, then sent on his way so I could finish working on this section of fence.

I divided my time and got some of each done. I had lots of help and observers. Cream came by demanding he be petted. The chickens came by to check out what I was doing before taking off into the pasture. A deer watched from the other end of the north pasture. An armadillo came by and complained about having its pathways wired closed.

The next day rain threatened. I concentrated on the garden preparation as wet compost is not easy to lug to the garden.

The back garden gate post was rotting off. I shored it up with metal posts. It collapsed as I worked on putting the compost in which entailed weeding. The chickens were delighted. I put in a new post.

In the meantime I noticed my escalating chicken war. The new wire is across the road section. The chicken goes through the barn lot to the small pasture through the fence and on to the front yard.

hen reason for escalating chicken war
This Speckled Sussex hen is the ringleader. She refuses to stay in the chicken yard. She leads other hens to the front yard. Now she is taking them out into the pastures. She considers me the enemy to her freedom. I see her as fox dinner.

Other chickens joined the culprit. Still others were off across the north pasture. An escalating chicken war was getting frustrating.

News arrived the grey fox is back. He is moving his mate into his old haunt for the spring and summer.

Now I wouldn’t fault the fox for grabbing the chicken parading around the front yard near where he plans to live. The chicken shouldn’t be there.

However I really don’t want to lose any laying hens. I like bringing lots of eggs in every day.

The escalating chicken war is now pitted against time. And I am losing.

Great Chicken War

I’m losing the Great Chicken War. The enemy is sneaky, persistent, totally obsessed. Let me explain.

Speckled Sussex hens are hustlers. My seven go off in search of greens, bugs, anything they think is edible. Mulch and compost piles are magnets.

hen determined to escape
The chicken yard gate opens. The Speckled Sussex hen races for the gate to get out on the road. Why not close the gate?She goes through next to the hinges. That space is there whether the gate is open or closed. If that is blocked, she goes through the fence.

This is not a big problem since the hens lay lots of eggs. And all the extra bits the hens find make the eggs much better than commercial food alone. It also helps with feed costs.

My hens are well fed. They get a mix of oats, sunflower seeds, scratch feed and egg crumbles free choice. Oyster shell and fresh water are available.

hen cause of great chicken war
This speckled Sussex hen may love to forage along an Ozark gravel road, but she is in danger. Over the winter vehicles are the main danger. In the spring and over the summer grey foxes forage along the road. They love chicken dinner.

Grass makes egg yolks deep yellow to orange. Bugs make the egg whites thick.

Over the years my hens have been allowed to roam for a few hours each day, I’ve learned to protect places the hens are not welcome. My garden is fenced off with 2″ x 4″ welded wire four feet high. The road is fenced off, but with woven wire.

Woven wire is not chicken proof. And one Speckled Sussex hen loves to go out along the road. Others join her at times, but one is adamant she must go out on the road.

hen takes evasive action in the great chicken war
I yell or come out on the road. The Speckled Sussex hen immediately turns and runs off down the road. She won’t turn back until I get in front of her. It’s one way to get some extra fast walking in.

When I let the hens out, I watch for her. She heads straight for the road. I head her off and run her down with the other hens now heading for the goat yard, the blackberry patch mulch or the compost pile.

A few minutes later the hen is back heading for the road again. The Great Chicken War is beginning for another day.

I go out and chase the hen back up the road and in. She watches until I get busy and heads back out. I give chase. She runs back and waits.

hen checking if the coast is clear
Once the Speckled Sussex hen is chased back in, she races off. When pursuit stops, she turns and drifts back toward the gate looking around carefully to see if she is observed. If she thinks I am busy elsewhere, she goes back out and down the road.

If I am too persistent, the hen goes down the fence to the goat pasture, through that fence, then through the fence onto the road. She has discovered the roadside down that far is much better than the roadside near the gate.

One thing good is this hen knows to stay on the side of the road when vehicles come by.

The grey foxes are back. I must get serious about winning the Great Chicken War. I am putting chicken wire over the field fence.

Chicken Tractor Trials

Free range chickens have their problems. One is having chickens show up in the front yard, even coming onto the porch. This is an annoyance. I thought about building a chicken tractor.

A more serious problem is the threat of predators. My flock had no predators bother them for several years. Then a family of gray foxes moved onto the hill opposite the barn.

There were gray foxes on the house side of the road 25 years ago. I saw one now and then, even saw one climb a tree once. Gray foxes do climb trees. Red foxes don’t.

chicken tractor

The chicken tractor is about four feet wide by ten feet long with an open bottom. This is the second day and the hens were happier with a rooster in the tractor with them. The nest box was too exposed so an old towel was laid over to make a wall over and behind. The hens are nervous being out in the grass danger area (known to be close to the fox run). they don’t understand how they can be outside and not able to race off to wherever. This tractor is definitely not fox proof so I put chickens out only when I will be going by frequently. Besides, the shade keeps moving and the sun is hot.

Fifteen or more years ago the foxes moved away. No new ones moved in until a month or so ago.

Foxes love chicken dinner. My hens started to disappear.

The only solution is to keep the flock confined. The chickens hate it. The hot weather makes it worse.

A chicken tractor became more appealing. The flock still numbers 22. Moveable chicken pens normally hold less than a dozen.

hen in chicken tractor

This hen wants out! She paces back and forth along the wire poking at it. She did finally settle down a bit.

I looked up chicken tractors. All chicken tractors have some kind of sturdy frame covered with wire. Otherwise they come in many shapes and sizes. They are built of different materials. Which idea might work for me? Is a chicken tractor the answer?

A friend has loaned me her version. It isn’t fancy. It was their first attempt and has several things they would do differently in the future. Still, it was a chance for me to try a chicken tractor out and see if it will work for my flock.

My hens range from one year to five years old. They are a motley crew of various breeds. There are three roosters whose main activity is to argue with one another. As the tractor only holds six or seven chickens, I would have to pick some out for that day.

chickens eating in chicken tractor

It occurred to me the chickens go in and out of their house to eat at the feeder. I put a dish of feed out in the chicken tractor. They ate the first one so I put in a second one. This seemed to make the hens settle down.

I snagged seven hens and shoved them into the chicken tractor. They got upset at being caught. They were not impressed by being in a cage. Having access to fresh grass didn’t cheer most of them up.

Next time I snagged six hens and a rooster. They seemed a bit happier. Water fount and nest box made the tractor better in their opinion. They still pace the wire wanting out.

I am learning. I hope the chickens will learn too. It’s hard for them to be confined after being free range.