training our free range chickens

Back in February, we took the plunge and got some cold hearty chics.  Since we are only sixty miles from the Canadian border, we needed some resilient layers.  I have to say that our five Australorps and five Red-Stars have been so much more fun than we’d originally anticipated!  They lived in our heated garage workshop until they were old enough (and the weather was warm enough!) to move into a portable hoop coop inspired by Sugar Mountain Farm in Vermont.  The ladies, now laying eggs somewhere between pullet and adult sized eggs,  are very sociable and will even approach us and “ask” to be petted!  We let roam completely free-range on our eight acres here in Montana.  At night, we coax them back in the coop with kitchen scraps and scratch.  This system worked well until a few weeks ago.

We honestly thought one of our flock had been dinner for the fox seen roaming around recently.  As usual, all of the other girls had reported back to the hoop coop one evening.  After searching relentlessly, we finally gave up.  Sadly, we thought, that’s life in the country.  Well, the next morning, guess who was walking in circles around the coop? She was back!  Miss Independent herself.  The following evening, the same scenario occurred, except this time we were missing two of the ladies.  We decided to have dinner and then look again.  During dinner, however, our neighbor called to say that she had just seen a large fox on a hill next to our property.  All five of us scrambled out of the house and called desperately for our feathered friends.  We finally found Miss Independent.  She was in the ditch next to our road hiding in thick grasses over three feet tall.  And she was on a nest.  We could see one egg and gently pried a very grumpy gal off of what was a pile of eighteen eggs!  Now knowing what to search for, Ben quickly found the other one, Tiny, on a similar nest.  And she was just as moody.  The silly bird was on a nest of thirty one eggs.  I kid you not.  Training these ladies to lay in the coop has obviously been a challenge.  Since they are pullets, we just assumed that not all were laying yet.  Plus its been really hot here and I’ve read that chickens don’t always lay under such conditions.

Now we keep the girls in the coop until late morning.  And we don’t collect eggs until after lunch.  Obviously, they like to lay amongst other eggs.  We’ve also planted a few Easter eggs in the coop to show them where to lay.  So far, its working.  Except they do like to lay in the hay box near the bunny yard.  But, as far as we know, they are no longer laying in the grasses!  Oh, and those forty nine eggs we found?  All were still good except for three.  We did the “float” test.

forty nine eggs!

free range indeed … the ladies have taken over the kids’ playhouse, too


a fabulous chicken tractor …. the hoop coop inspired by Sugar Mountain Farm



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