Free-ranging progress.

We’ve been practicing free-ranging with some of the girls and they’re really doing a great job.  I stopped trying to catch them to bring them out of the pen and for the past several nights have been leaving the door open and leaving a trail of scratch on the ground for them to follow until they are out in the work area.  It took two nights of scratch bribery…I mean…ENCOURAGEMENT and Opal had it all figured out.  Last night she was standing at the door of the pen waiting and making impatient little noises to go out to search for bugs after the recent rain.

I opened the door and she and Mary, one of the Wyandottes, toodled right into the work area and I swung the gate closed behind them.  They jumped up on the straw bale in the work area and because it’s still neatly bound with twine, they decided that they needed to scratch it apart with their feet.  They didn’t have much luck and when the straw REALLY started flying, I kicked their fluffy little butts outside so that they could get down to business in the grass.  Once they realized that they had access to the grass, I didn’t have to do much more encouraging and they were tail up and beak down sucking up bugs and tasty things in the grass.

free range 5I’d like to bring the whole flock out, but some of them are such space-cadets.  Particularly Roseanna, who seems to run on some sort of chicken-rocket-fuel.  She rarely walks anywhere.  Everything is done full-tilt-out-of-control-top-speed.

I’m just too old to chase that around the yard.  She’s a killer chicken.  I’ll most certainly be found face-down in a pile of dog poop that Tom and Greg forgot to pick up after I chase her roughly 30 feet.  That’s no way to die…face down in Labrador Retriever poop!

So I make her stay inside.  She’s insane.  Really.  Tom thinks she’s schizophrenic.  I’m not a chicken psychiatrist, but I tend to agree.  The lights are on, someone’s home…but you really don’t want to meet them.  It’s that kind of situation.

Opal is usually my free-ranging buddy because she’s sweet and docile, sort of knows her name (when she wants to listen), and she follows me everywhere.  I started with her first and then added another pullet, different each time we go out, so that they can learn from her.  It seems to be working.

free range 1The rest of the Beaked Freaks who watch from the run, are totally upset with this whole idea.  First, because they ALL think they should get to go and second because Vinnie and Cluck think I’m stealing their women.  I tried to explain to them that I don’t play for the “other team” especially if that team is made up of chickens.  They don’t listen.  You know, hormones, have to protect the flock, blah-blah-blah.  The amount of whining and complaining they do while they stand at the end of the run is just ridiculous.  If chickens could write, I’m sure there’d be picketing.

Last night, I started them out near the run because they’d walked out on their own.  Opal was furiously eating things in the grass and scratching for things right next to the fence.  Cluck came over and put his head near hers (he was still in the run) and clucked to her very, very deep and low.  She responded with a few noises.  Cluck ruffled his feathers and smoothed them back down and calmly walked away.  He seemed to have gotten his answer that she was all right.

Vinnie was just standing around.  As usual.  He was definitely wound-up because…well, it was probably because they were getting green snacks and he wasn’t.

Greg came out to the free-range fest and we followed the girls around for a little while.  We decided that while we had the Wyandotte out, we’d band her leg and then we’d band the other Wyandottes, because they are essentially identical.  I put Opal away and Greg tried to catch Mary who was standing next to the run.  As he caught her, she made a scared chicken sound and…

Vinnie. Freaked. Out.

He was suddenly at the side of the run clucking and bawking in deep sonorous tones.  Greg picked Mary up and Vinnie kept clucking in that deep, frantic way.

We were impressed.  Very roostery…considering it was Vinnie.

We quickly put a spiral leg band on Mary and Greg put her in the pen.  While he was inside, the others came rampaging into the coop.  Cluck went to the feeder.  Greg (while humming the music from “JAWS”) followed Nina around slowly until she stopped to scratch in the shavings and then he reached down and scooped her up.  She clucked wildly.

And then…Vinnie lunged at Greg.

He didn’t hurt him…didn’t peck him…didn’t go at him feet first.  He just…lunged at him.  We were dumbfounded…and then a little impressed!  That’s what a brave rooster does!  But WAIT…he’s not supposed to do it at US.

We finished banding Nina and Greg set her down and then he went to get Vinnie.  We’re all for being a protective rooster until you lunge at “THE PEOPLE”.  Greg followed him around singing the “JAWS” theme again…dun-duh…dun-duh…dun-duh…and when he had Vinnie within reach, he snatched him up and tucked him under his arms and held his legs together.  Vinnie, knowing he was busted, changed his attitude a little.  Cluck, who was still eating, didn’t even look up.  Greg walked around with Vinnie under his arm and gave him the “You-Need-To-Be-A-Nice-Chicken” speech.   Vinnie let himself be carried around and Greg finally set him down and he walked away like nothing had happened.


I mean, I’m GLAD he’s finally acting like a rooster, but we’ll have none of that bad behavior stuff.  See, I live in this dream-world where roosters are nice…all the time…to everyone…or…

I put their beak on the back of their head.

Vinnie seemed fine this morning.  He was crowing in the coop when I got there to open the doors.  His newest thing is that when I let them out in the morning, Vinnie tries to mate everything and everyone he sees.  This morning, Cluck was inspecting a spot on the ground and Vinnie dashed up behind him, jumped on his back and grabbed the back of Cluck’s neck…

Suffice it to say, it didn’t turn out well for Vinnie.  I think I need to have “The Talk” with him again and explain that he’s supposed to go for the GIRLS.  Although, I think Cluck may have made that point this morning.


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5 thoughts on “Free-ranging progress.

  1. Vinnie may need the ‘stick to girls’ talk while I’m sorry to say my Randy needs the ‘you don’t mate with turkeys’ talk. It freaked out everyone, including but not limited to me, my husband and the poor hen turkey. You just never know about some roosters……

  2. When I let my girls out, they do this race… Wings flapping and running as fast as they can out and around the lemon tree, back to loop around the mango and then back out to the lemon tree (lemon is about 50′ from run door and mango is about 15′). It’s hilarious to watch. Then as one, beaks down, fluffy butts up and they turn into yard sharks. Sporadically over the next 90 minutes, the race is on again and they do the loop or play chicken with each other. I’ll have to try and get some videos. Last night at 6:45, the littles (15 weeks) were strolling back into the coop, getting last minute drinks and a few beakfuls of grower and finding their place on the upper roost bar. The biggies (18 weeks) stroll back to just outside the run… Usually a preening session ensues, maybe a last minute grazing and by 7pm they are also in the coop, up on their roosting bar. This is about twilight so we then come in and do any handling we need to do (look at Rosemary’s neck and Lily’s foot, check leg bands don’t need changed) and just general petting. By 7:15, it’s actually getting dark and we close the door and stroll back to the house.

    Last night the neighbor kids were playing volleyball with this bright yellow ball and every time they shot it over into our yard (no fence), the biggies would race over like they were going to attack it. The first time, it made the littlest girl pause in coming over to get the ball, and we chuckled, smiled, waved and assured her they’d leave if she came and got her ball. After that, I think the kids were fighting over who got to come get the ball because they found the chickens antics hilarious by now too. So far the girls are respecting property lines… They graze right up to the line of trees and flowers between us and then come back.

    If we miss a night of free-ranging, we get these baleful looks from the upper roosting bar when we go out at 7 to close up… How can a chicken make you feel guilty because you didn’t have 90 minutes to sit in a chair and watch their antics in the yard!! I love how they force you to slow down in life and take a seat where you laugh and smile for the duration.

  3. I apologize for this up front,but I think I have the worlds ugliest,meanest junkyard dog hen that ever landed on free range soil. Her brake is split almost all the way up to her sinuses,do they have sinuses? It’s been that way since she was a day old..believe me it doesn’t keep her from doing anything she sets her mind night she sets her self up as the guard. She will keep attacking you with that crazy split beak,and won’t back down till you exit..her feathers are always sitting every which way but straight and being a RIR that isn’t pretty. She’s over a year old now,never holds out on the egg laying and is kind of nice during the day. These little Dino s are funny, a different personality for every member of the flock

  4. LOL “beak on the back of their head”. Yeah, you ALL need to impress on Vinnie that you are the TOP of the pecking order. Best now before he really takes attacking seriously. I’ve heard that holding his head to the ground means you are boss. Being Vinnie, you might have to do it more than once, though.

  5. I’ve always found that bad behavior like that is changed with either carrying them around or a little water therapy. A squirt fun teaches respect fast 🙂 I’m currently doing this with my make guinea that won’t stop pecking chunks out of my leg!

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