Letting chickens out loose to roam free for the first time is incredibly nerve-racking. Will they come back? Do I have to fetch them before dark?
How far will free range chickens roam? As long as chickens know where their shelter, food, and water is, they don’t tend to roam far. Even with acres of space to roam in, they’ll often forage within 100-350 yards of their coop.
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Can Chickens Find Their Way Home?
Yes, chickens are great at finding their way home. Their natural instincts are to stay where they feel safe and know they have food and water.
My chickens have up to two acres of open space to roam in, but they rarely get out of my sight. I’ve never had an issue with them running off, and they are more than happy to come home at night.
This is all according to letting them discover their own boundaries and find their own way around.
If you were to dump a chicken a long way from home I don’t think they’d find their way back. Just in case that’s what you were wondering.
How Do You Keep Free Range Chickens out of Your Neighbor's Yard?
This is a more complicated issue. If you have neighbors and your fencing isn’t very high, there is a good chance that your chickens will jump into their yard.
Depending on how well you get on with your neighbor, this may be a problem. Especially if they have a dog or there are some other hazards in their yard.
Then there’s the issue of finding chicken poop in the grass...
Anyway, there is little you can do to train your chickens not to go into their yard. You can clip their wings if they’re just able to barely escape, that’ll help ground them.
The best solution is to put up a fence high enough to deter them though.
If you don’t want a tall fence, try tilting your fence towards your yard or putting something on the top to block them making a clean jump and escaping.
How to Train Chickens to Stay in Your Yard?
The same answers apply as the question above about keeping chickens out of a neighbors yard.
There isn’t a lot you can do to train chickens to stay in certain areas.
Clipping their wings reduces their ability to scale fences and hop from object to object and work their way out of enclosed spaces.
The good news is that chickens tend to stay fairly close to their coops. So, positioning their coop in a place that puts your property boundaries as far away as possible is about all you can do.
There is always the option of making it difficult, or even impossible to get out of your yard by erecting tall fences.
Letting Chickens Free Range for the First Time?
If you’re debating whether or not to let your chickens out for the first time, here are some tips to ensure they’ll come home safe and sound every night:
Make Sure They've Been Locked up for a Week
I’ve seen varying opinions on how long chickens should be kept in their coop before being let out to roam.
Personally, if I’m bringing new chickens home, I will keep them locked up in their coop for 5-7 days before letting them free range.
This is more than long enough to make sure they know where they sleep at night, where their food and water supply is, and where they can safely call home.
This is usually enough to keep most chickens within a range of 100-300 yards all day. They’ll also just naturally come home to roost at dusk too.
Check for Predators
You have to be as sure as you can be that there are no risks of predators getting your chickens.
I’ve covered some of the common predators that are a threat to chickens. Do your research and make sure no known predators also roam the areas where your chickens do.
Stick to a Routine
If you stick to a routine, your chickens will get used to what they should be doing and where at certain times.
This includes what time you unlock their coop and let them out, when you feed them, and when you lock them back up for the night.
I’m sure you’ll be most nervous about finding them and getting them in at night. But don’t be.
I’ve spoken with loads of backyard flock owners, and it’s rarely a problem getting them in at night. If one or two have decided to test the boundaries and roam further afield, just shake some food and they’ll come running back!
In Summary - How Far Will Free Range Chickens Roam?
If you’re letting your chickens roam free for the first time, don’t worry. Chickens tend to stay fairly close to their home, usually no more than 300 or so yards away.
They know where they’ve got it good and will come back at night if they do stray. The worst-case scenario is that you have to shake up some food to bring them back.
It’s much better for chickens to be free-range. As long as they aren’t going to get into a neighbor's yard, escape onto the main road, or be attacked by predators, you should always allow them to roam as freely as you can.
Free-range chickens are happier, which means they’ll be healthier. They will scratch around and find insects to munch on, and they’re great for the soil.
The pros far outweigh the cons. I recommend considering letting your chickens roam free-range if it’s safe, don’t worry about them roaming too far or not coming back.