Before you decide to allow your birds to free range, check a couple of things.
Are you a candidate to have free ranging birds?
1. Does your city allow for poultry to free range? Many cities that permit keeping poultry in urban and suburban areas require the birds be housed in permanent coop structures. Birds are not permitted out of their housing units.
2. Do you have predators that visit your free range area? You won't necessarily know this if you haven't been allowing your birds to free range previously, so the first couple of weeks you will want to keep a close eye on your birds when they are outside of their coop. During the day, predators can include hawks, raccoons, foxes, coyotes, etc. but can also include things like the friendly, familar faces you are used to seeing around your home such as your own dogs and cats as well as those of your neighbors.
The Coop is a Safety Zone
If the above criteria are met, you have affirmed your candidacy to raise free-range birds. In every case, free-range birds should be provided with secured housing for nighttime roosting to protect them from the creatures of the night. When allowing your birds to free range, be sure to keep the door of their coop secured open so the birds can return to it in the event danger appears. The coop is the birds' home, where they know they have a water source and supplemental food, and for most it is a comfort zone in times of stress. This is where they will typically return to at night and also run to in the event of danger.
Before allowing your birds to free range, you must make sure they are imprinted to their coop. Be sure to know how long it takes to imprint your breed of birds. Chickens are typically 14 days, but guinea fowl take a minimum of 6 weeks. Keep them secured inside their coop for the minimum numbers of imprint days before allowing them to free range. If you allow your birds to free range prior to imprinting, there is a good chance you may not see your birds again. Once you have met the required minimum imprint time, it is advisable to clip the birds flight feathers to prevent them from roosting in trees and becoming a potential late night dinner for a nighttime predator like an owl.
Cutting Flight Feathers
Depending upon the breed of poultry, some are better fliers than others. if you watch your birds go up to their roost in their coop, it's becomes obvious who are the better flies. Ducks and guineas are generally much better at flying than chickens, but some chickens are quite adept. As a standard course of measure, it is advisable to clip all birds' flight feathers.
- Only flight feathers need to be clipped.
- Clip only one wing to unbalance the bird. If both sides are clipped, the bird will become balanced again and will be able to fly higher than you might imagine.
- Be sure the roosts inside their coop are not too high for them to get to with clipped wings.
- Don't clip the feathers too short or the bird will bleed which can significantly injure the bird, or depending upon the feather and complications, even lead to death of the bird. It is recommended to have to some blood spot powder available, just in case.
- Feathers grow at different rates during different seasons. Molting results in birds losing and replacing a signficant percentage of their feathers which may influence the amount of time they can be allowed to pass between clippings.