Recently I wrote about my introduction to raising chicks with a broody hen. At eight days old, my ten Icelandic chicks had all managed to fly out the top of my makeshift broody pen and now had the run of the coop. The next question in my mind was when it would be okay to let them outside with the hen. I knew they would stay with her, and she would do her best to protect them from harm, but it still made me apprehensive. What if one should wander off into the weeds and get lost?
Permaculture flocksters extol the benefits of letting the chicks out on range from day one, but I believe most have some kind of safe enclosure for them. Those who have had hens free-ranging with young chicks usually seem to experience some losses. Still, by the time the chicks were two days short of three weeks, both the hen and I were fed up with confinement, so I turned them loose, to their great jubilation.
Here they are heading out on one of their first few days of freedom:
Apparently there’s something interesting in the bushes over here:
The electric fence is no problem for the chicks, but fortunately they don’t do any damage to the garden. I’ve only seen them in there one more time, so I suspect the hen has learned to avoid it.
Heading back to the coop, they all pause, standing at attention to assess an unseen threat:
Later I notice that the hen will display this behavior in response to a wren’s alarm call. Or, perhaps, the hen and the wren are both responding to something they can sense that I can’t.
Earlier today this hen (an Icelandic, like the chicks) was very concerned about something down in the stream bed, hidden by a thicket of weeds. Stretching her neck and peering in that direction, she kept sounding an alarm call, while the chicks and even the half-grown chickens stood at attention under the coop. I peered in the window of the coop and my other broody hen was doing the same inside!
I’m amazed at these birds’ ability to communicate and to sense and avoid danger. Fortunately I’ve been blessed by an absence of snakes and, apparently, weasels. Perhaps that’s because of my constantly roaming cats, some of which spend the night outside. The raccoon is still a threat, but has avoided coming around in the daytime ever I fired several shots at her a few weeks ago. And the hen and chicks are ready to turn in well before dusk, so I can shut them in early. After more than a week of their being out, I’m impressed at how well things are going!