Letting your chickens out to free roam for the first time can be a daunting experience. This is especially true if they are young birds, or you have a lot of open space. Its only natural to worry that they will not return. But is it likely that they will wander off and run away? I spent some time researching to find out.
So, will chickens run away? Chickens do not generally run away or leave an area where they are fed and cared for. However, they do need to learn to recognize their coop or run as their home base. Training through treats, keeping your flock inside for several days/week to begin with and fencing can all help to do so.
Nobody will deny that free roaming is great for chickens.
It allows them to forage for food; peck at the grass and eat a wide range of different and insects and bugs. Besides, it also helps them to stretch their wings and get sufficient sunlight .
But, it does come with some precautions. Keeping your birds safe is ultimately your responsiblity.
Thankfully, chickens are intelligent birds and soon learn to recognize where their most important needs, food, water and shelter can be met.
For most chickens, this will come in the form of a coop, but it may also be a run depending on the setup.
Either way, keepers can rest assured that with some planning up front, their chickens should remain relatively close.
Let us now take a closer look if chickens can wander off, why they may be found further away than usual and some practical tips and suggestions to keep them from going too far.
Will Chickens Wander Off?
Chickens will not generally wander off, instead sticking in relative close proximity to ‘home’.
Home in this context, meaning the coop or the run.
They are also likely to keep this in visible range, meaning that you should be able to find them relatively easily when you do decide to let them out.
That being said, not all chickens will stay as close.
Chickens do have their own personalities and some are more adventurous than others.
In fact, the older your chickens and the more comfortable they are with their surroundings, the more likely they are to go out further than the coop and investigate more.
But, irregardless of how far they wander, they will look to return ‘home’, especially for their food, water and particularly towards the end of the day when the sun starts to set.
How Far Will A Chicken Go From Its Coop?
The average chickens will not go much further than 250-300 feet away from their chicken coop, although some more confident birds may be willing to go slightly further.
It is an individual trait, just like how social some chickens are more social than others – some prefer to be in the company of humans, whereas others do not.
Nevertheless, the further your chickens wander, the more at risk they ultimately become.
They will be more exposed and more likely to come into contact with a predator.
This is because predators are often opportunistic eaters; looking for food that is more easily accessible and with minimal risk.
Several animals, and even birds of prey, are unlikely to have the audacity and confidence to wander up closely to your house for their food.
A chicken that is much further out on the other hand, is a prime opporunity.
So, its important to keep an eye on how far your chickens wander out. Its also important to make suitable arrangements to keep them safer at further distances.
Whether this be by fencing, motion activated sprinklers, lighting, other visual deterrents etc.
Why Do Chickens Run Away?
Chickens do not run away in the literal meaning of the term. Its not intentional.
They can however, be cast astray and lose their orientation in three different ways:
If chickens are new to a location or a property, it will take them some time to get used to their new surroundings and become familiar where everything is.
Young chicks and entire new flocks are most likely to get lost in this way, or those let out to free roam before they have had a chance to recognize the coop as home, and of food, safety and shelter.
Spooked Or In Hiding
Another possibility for a chicken that has appeared to run away, is that they have simply been spooked by a predator, or even gone into hiding to keep themselves safe.
This is most commonly seen with birds of prey, and it is not rare to see chickens concealing themselves under a bush, in shade or concealed in some way.
When it feels safe again, they will typically come out and return home.
In the more unfortunate event of a predator attack however, chickens can end up in familiar territory.
Chickens will naturally flee when they are attacked by a predator, and will do all they can to fly away. Wherever safety is, they will attempt to go.
This is why it does not come recommended that you clip the wings of chickens that free range.
But, it can also result in them ending up much further from home.
They will usually attempt to come home when they are ready, but if they are injured or taken much further away, it may or may not be possible.
Scared Of You
There is always the possibility that your chickens are not quite comfortable with you, and may not be too keen to get too close. Just yet.
Generally, chickens are tame and are actually quite friendly birds. However, they do need time to trust you, and associate you as the provider of food, shelter and safety.
At the same time, different breeds of chickens, and individual personalities, can impact how friendly they are.
Some chickens are more flighty than others and startle more easily.
For the most part, treats, kindness, patience and effort is important to ensure your chickens can learn to trust you and not see you as a threat.
How Do I Stop My Chickens From Wandering?
Thankfully, there are several things we can do as chicken keepers to stop our flocks from wandering off too far, or keeping them more confined to the boundaries of our properties.
The following are considered some of the best approaches.
Teach Your Chickens That The Coop Is Home
Before you let your chickens out to free roam, it comes strongly advised to keep your chickens inside their coop for several days.
Otherwise known as coop training, this helps them to recognize and become familiar that the coop is a place of rest, roost and nest. Its a safe spot that they can return to.
It may take a little time for new chickens to learn this, but you should notice your chickens returning naturally come the evening, when you do ultimately decide to let them freer roam.
To make this more successful, you will want to provide sufficient perches; with enough room to feel comfortable.
18 inches of space per chicken is advised, as is raising the perch 2-4 feet off the ground and around 20 inches from the wall
Make The Coop More Enticing
Another great approach is to make your coop a place your chickens want to be.
Give them something to do when they are at home, such as hanging a cabbage from the coop ceiling that they can peck at.
Remember, chickens are naturally inquisitive and keen to forage.
They are mainly directed by their appetite and ensuring they get everything they need in the diet.
So, if you have help them to scratch, forage and eat in, or close to the coop, this will stop them from wandering out further in search of it.
This is why keepers who keep their coop in an area with little vegetation, tend to find their chickens further afield.
Another great option is to feed and water your chickens inside the coop, if you have the room to do so.
Otherwise you can add the feeders and waterers just outside.
Make Your Property Feel More Safe
Chickens will flee predators to feel better protected.
So, if you can make your property feel more safe, your chickens will not actively have to wander in order to look for it.
This could be as simple as providing shade, areas for your chickens to conceal themselves or not removing bushes etc.
These are all commonly used by chickens seeking protection if a predator were to come nearby.
Train Your Chickens With Treats and Rewards
You can also look to treat and reward your birds for entering the coop.
This way you are teaching your chickens that the coop is a good place, and they will associate it with positive experiences.
Better yet is to actually train your chickens to respond when you call. Its actually quite simple.
It requires repetition, and consistency but in time your birds should respond. Especially when they connect the term with something tasty.
To do so, you need to make the same noise, word or phrase each time you offer a treat or feed them a small piece of food. It could be something like whistling.
In time, they’ll recognize this sound and come and pay you a visit each time you make it.
If you provide only the same treat, such as a piece of fruit like an apple, and only offer it when you make the noise; it will be more effective!
Another important and effective strategy is to ensure that the perimeter of your property is fenced. Or, you can install multiple fences to keep your chickens from accessing certain areas.
Fencing provides a visible boundary to your birds – but just make sure it is over 6 feet to prevent them from trying to hop over it!
Besides, you’ll also want to keep any predators out.
Galvanized hardware cloth, chicken wire, electric fencing and chain link fencing are all potential options.
Enough Nesting Boxes
You also want to ensure that you are providing enough nesting boxes.
Some birds at the bottom of the pecking order may get chased away from the communal nesting box.
In such circumstances, they often look for somewhere to lay their eggs more privately. And will likely to return to the same spot for peace and quiet.
It usually takes effort, on behalf of the keeper, to get them to feel comfortable enough to enter the coop.
Usually, they need some additional care, space and treats to feel more comfortable before comfortably returning to the flock.
Check For Illness
Last but not least, it may very well be worth looking into the health status of your flock, or of particular birds.
Investigate for signs of parasites or other illness, as this can cause them to alienate themselves and stay away from the rest of your flock.
An avian vet may be able to support here.
Chickens love to forage and to roam, but they also want to meet their basic needs; food, water and shelter.
As such, once they learn to associate the coop with the provision of these things, they are unlikely to run away.
In fact, they’ll go above and beyond to return home if they are cast further afield. They’ll even return back to the coop on the own accord come the evening.
But if you are about to let your birds free roam for the first time, you may want to consider training your birds, making the coop more enticing, and ensuring it contains everything that your entire flock needs.
I am a practiced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site I created to share everything I’ve learned about pet ownership over the years and my extensive research along the way.