Free Range Chick(en)s

Now that the girls are settled into their new home, I decided it was time to let them explore the backyard, always expanding their world slowly.  There’s been a fair amount of interest in the world outside of their run, Sophia even making a dash for it when the kids changed their water at one point and then just standing there looking unsure of what to do once she escaped.  She attempted a second escape when my husband made changes to the inside perch, leaving the coop door ajar as he worked so I figured they were ready.   I waited for a day when everyone was home to enjoy their first outing and it did not disappoint.

Everyone exited the run in short order, but shifting wind patterns and fearsome chickadees chased them back into the safety of the run on the first foray to the backyard.  It was funny to watch them race back into the coop for the most minor concerns or to observe as they found themselves separated from the pack, flying across the lawn to rejoin the group, squawking at the rudeness of having been so negligently left behind.

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The Buff Orpington testing the waters of the great outdoors.

 

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Finding treasures right outside their door!  The other girls considering their options as they watch one after another exit the coop to free range.

They seem to find plenty of culinary delights as they forage from grass, to clover, to dandelion leaves.  They’ve even attempted voyages into the restricted zones of my pollinator bed and vegetable garden, usually led by our brave hearts Lulu or Sophia.  When I shew them away, it’s clear from their reactions that they are not only inconvenienced by my interventions, but also find them to be rude and distasteful.

Yesterday, a  large beetle was found and a chase all over the backyard ensued, appendages ripped from the insect as each hen attempted to snatch it from the keeper like a school yard game.  They also tasted peaches for the first time and it was a big hit.  My daughter made a big bowl of yogurt and diced peaches that she didn’t finish, so we fed the leftovers to the girls and they raced into corners of the run with their pieces of peaches to savor them in peace, away from potential thieving hens.  I love the lack of food waste the hens now offer with their willingness to eat whatever comes their way.

Beehives are also of interest and no wonder given their close proximity to the coop.  Summer bees only live 4-6 weeks so there are a fair amount of dead bees in front of the hives at any given time.  The hens have wandered over to investigate the offerings, but have also noticed that the guard bees have little tolerance for marauders and once a bee flies at them, they vacate quickly, clucking along the way in protest.  I’d say that’s a good call.

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Searching for ants, worms and other bugs in the backyard.  Moments later, they discovered the bee hives.

This week also brought scratch into their world.  Scratch can be purchased or easily made by mixing different grains.  I mixed cracked corn and millet for a fun treat that they literally scratch around in the run to enjoy.  When they received their first ration, there was a definite pull between free ranging and scratch consumption.  They would leave the run a bit, explore and then suddenly remember the scratch in the run and race back in to eat some, then see the door propped open and race back out lest they miss their opportunity outside.  Now that they know that they like it, I use it to lure them back into the run when it’s time to return home.

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Cracked corn and millet making up scratch mixture

 

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Listening carefully as I explain the rules of engagement before free ranging.

I have thoroughly enjoyed sitting on the grass while they free range, losing track of time as I soak in the lovely early summer weather watching my hens explore.  My husband has even joined in on the action.  We like sitting on the grass, giving them an opportunity to come visit us, which they do frequently, making sure we’re still there, and allowing us to feed them a clover bloom or dandelion leaf.

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They stayed close by at first, listening to the world around them, finding security close to us, but then bravely explored the outer reaches of the yard.  We have a fence for our dog so that provides some boundaries for now.

 

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Lulu, the Columbian Wyandotte, searching for goodies in the grass beside me.

 

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Sophia, the barred Plymouth Rock, checking in with me to see if I have anything of interest.

 

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Making their way back to me after exploring.

They love to sit on the perches in the run.  We have a ladder from our former playground set and some branches that my husband tied together for them.  The bottom two rungs of the ladder tend to have someone there all of the time as they survey the woods from that vantage point.  We added to the branches of the roost in the corner and that’s of interest  too.  There’s enough room for everyone and the coop placement has afforded them a comfortable, shady area on hot days where they can appreciate summer breezes.

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This lower rung is always full with hens looking out into the woods.  The second rung also gets used.  Pictures are hard to come by because they always hop down when I open the Dutch door, expecting treats.

 

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They like this roost area too with its natural elements.

Finishing touches to the coop are still being incorporated.  The weather vane went up this week and I love it!  The inside roost needed to be shortened because of its close proximity to the feeder in the coop.  We ended up not just shortening it, but also moving it to an opposite wall.  It’s working just find as the girls easily adjust to changes.

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Weather vane now attached to copula.

The weather has been delightful for the start of summer, warm with low humidity, for now.  Blueberries, raspberries and blackberries are ripening.  I’ve needed to net the blueberries to keep the birds from eating them, particularly the cat birds nesting in our front yard, constantly seeking a way to get the blueberries just as they develop that lovely deep blue color, robbing us of the pleasure.

By this time last year, I harvested over 15 pounds of strawberries from our patch.  They are a favorite at our house and after eating our fill, we freeze them for smoothies.  This year however, we will not have much of a strawberry crop.  A bunny found a way into the garden a few weeks ago, eating the blooms off of the plants, chewing pepper plants down and noshing on the salad bar.  I knew something was getting in, suspecting a bunny but never seeing it.  When I found a litter of baby bunnies tucked into a nest by the arugula, I knew for sure who the culprit had been.  We found the opening in the fencing and repaired it.

Tomatoes and peppers are soaking up the sun and heat to reach for higher heights and begin blossoming.  Green beans are growing fast and potato blooms are signaling good things going on below the surface.  Beets are getting close to harvest and Brussel sprouts have begun to show the buds of growth that I find so interesting.

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Last of the sugar snap peas before heat and humidity settle in for the summer.

 

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Brussel sprouts forming on stalks.

 

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Potatoes blooming

I harvested garlic and it is now drying.  I also pulled up the remaining lettuce plants that were sowed early in the spring, leaving just the new plants I sowed last month.  Sugar snap peas will have limited days and we’re eating the peas as quickly as we can.  This includes the hens who love the little peas inside the pods, racing after them when I spill them into the run.

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Garlic harvested from fall planting, making room for more warm season crops.

 

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Provence Lavender in garden.

 

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Bloom from Hungarian Blue bread seed poppy.  I find the pods to be equally beautiful once the blooms fade, using the pods for decoration and the seeds for baking purposes.

 

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Happy sage

Herbs are doing great too.  My sage is back in force, taking up so much space that I need to make a decision on what to do with it going forward as it’s become a space hog, clearly liking its sunny location.  Lavender is blooming all around the house, attracting lots of pollinators.

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Bloom from one of my three magnolia trees.

 

 

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Bee balm (Monarda)

 

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Wildflower patch amid wild grasses in appreciation of pollinators- bees, both honey bees and native bees, butterflies, bats and birds

 

Speaking of pollinators, Happy National Pollinator Week! 

2 thoughts on “Free Range Chick(en)s

  1. Love the picture of the girls cocking their heads, listening. That sage is a monster! You could pot it up and bring it to your gardening or bee meetings, I’m sure you’d find takers. And the poppy bloom is beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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