If you are considering getting chickens, you may also wonder whether they will run away if you let them loose in the garden. Generally, you do not have to worry about chickens running away as long as you take a few basic precautions.
Chickens do not run away on their own account. They do explore but prefer to stay close to home. Chickens also come home to roost in the evening. However, they may get lost or scared away.
But if chickens prefer to stay close to home, why do they sometimes disappear? And what can we go to make sure that doesn’t happen?
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Chickens Return on their Own
Chickens wake up at sunrise and they go back home to roost just before dark on their own account. All you need to do it close the door to keep them safe against predators.
There is no need to herd them inside the coop unless you need to lock them up early in the afternoon, or unless they haven’t yet gotten used to their new home and need some encouragement. Usually, new chickens will follow the flock and quickly learn the routine.
If one of your chickens seems to be missing during the day, often the best strategy is to simply wait. She will probably come back in the evening. And most likely she was never far away, just well hidden under some shrubs.
If they can’t get inside the coop (e.g. the entrance is blocked), they will most likely find a safe place nearby to sleep. Some will cover and hide on the ground, and others will look for a safe branch or fence to sit on.
When Chickens Do Run Away
Although chickens don’t intentionally run away, they may still get lost. Either due to their own desire for exploration or because they have been scared off.
A New Home
If a chicken has been moved to a new location, it will take her a few days to get attached to that new home, and then she may wander off.
New chickens should be locked inside the run for a few nights until they have gotten used to their new home. Usually, a week is more than enough. By that time they have learned that the coop means food and safety.
If you already have an existing flock, any new chicken will most likely hang around, and she will follow the others inside when it’s time for bed.
A Lost Chicken
Although there certainly are exceptions to the rule, chickens are generally not the brightest birds on the planet. While looking for food and interesting things to do, they may get lost behind even a short fence and take forever to figure out how to get around it.
Some chickens even get confused if they have to go around their own run to get to the entrance, also if they have lived there for years.
If a chicken can’t see her home, she may have a hard time finding her way back. That can happen if she jumps up on a low roof or a fence and down the other side. At which point, they can not always find their way back.
Generally, you don’t need to worry too much, though. Most of the time, a lost chicken will find her way home if given enough time. Usually, she can hear the other chickens, which points her in the right direction towards home. But even if she can’t hear them, chickens make up for their low intelligence by being very, very persistent.
Another reason why a chicken may disappear is that they have been scared off by a dog or a predator. That may confuse and spread them in all directions.
Being attacked does not by itself make a chicken run far away, though. They will usually come back and hide inside their coop. Traumatized chickens have been known to stay inside for days.
But if they are being attacked, they may have been chased off and lost their way back. Just as when they accidentally get lost on their own account. If they are used to hearing your voice, calling out may help them find their way back.
How to Keep Chickens from Wandering Off
Although chickens do prefer to stay close to home, they don’t exactly know what a property line is. If the coop is next to your neighbor’s property, they will enter his or her flower beds. And they often roam a few hundred feet from their home during the day.
Usually, chickens can be contained within your property by setting up a small fence. Provided they have sufficient space, they will not try to get over or around the fence. But they do like to rest up high, so make sure the fence it’s not suitable for roosting, or they will jump up and eventually jump back down on the other side. A deer fence or fencing mesh will work, and about three feet (90 cm) in height will usually suffice.
Although most chickens can easily jump a three feet fence, they are also very dedicated flock animals that prefer not to stray too far from each other. If one should find its way to the other side of your fence they will usually remain close to the fence and likely attempt to get back over/under/around.
If you need to keep them all on your property at all times, or the fence is intended to keep them out of your vegetable garden the fence should not be lower than 6 feet (180 cm).
Although we use 3 feet fencing mesh around our vegetable garden as it’s easier to move around. As long as the chickens have a lot of space and other exciting things to eat, they don’t try too hard to get inside the enclosure.
Baby chicks are harder to contain, as they can (and will) find their way through most fences. Luckily, they stay close to their mother, so all you need to do is make sure she can’t get through. However, when chicks get older, they start going their own ways. They will remain relatively close to their mother and the rest of the flock, but you may want to consider the size of the holes in your fence.
In short: Let Your Chickens Loose
Chickens are very homey animals. They may destroy your flowerbed, but they will not run away unless caused by specific circumstances. In which case, they usually still find their way home.
If you need to keep your chickens within a designated area, three feet (90 cm) fencing mesh will usually suffice, but use six feet (180 cm) mesh if containment at all times is imperative.
Then let them out to enjoy the freedom to roam within the confines of your property.