Should they roam?

Our chickens (laying hens) are basically free range. If you aren’t familiar with the way chickens can be raised and live, that means that at night they go (by choice) into a coop, and we close the entrances to the coop to protect them. They hop up on their roosts, fluff up their feathers, and go to sleep.

Each morning, we take them a feeder of grain, which we put somewhere out on the lawn, or under the deck if it’s raining, and let the chickens out. They roam our land all day. They visit the compost pile, wander around the beehives, walk up and down the driveway, take dust baths, and eat bugs and greenery as they wander. They are happy as they explore, and you can hear them talking to each other as they travel.

Most of the time, they will head back to the coop when it is time to lay an egg. Chickens like to lay eggs in a safe, warm, protected spot, so we have nesting boxes in the coop. They climb in, sit a while, lay an egg, then leave the coop and make a huge amount of noise drawing attention away from that precious egg.

Sometimes, they get into ruts where they instead lay eggs other places, such as hiding them in the hay barn. Then we take a day or two and keep them in the coop so they get back into the habit of using the boxes. They complain incessantly when they have to be inside all the time, so we try to limit the number of times a year we do this.

Yesterday, a hawk got one of our hens. That is a sad event for us. We care for them deeply, and hate to have them taken that way. We could keep them in all the time, and they would be safe, but they would lose the joy of wandering and exploring.

Each time we lose one, which happens about once a year, we talk about keeping them in full-time. Each time, we come to the conclusion that freedom comes with risks that we are willing to take.

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