When Chickens Won’t Come Home to Roost
If there is one thing I love about having chickens, it’s their predictability. They have a certain order to their quirky day that I have learned to appreciate and accommodate. Most of the time, they take care of themselves during the day. We let them out of the coop by sunrise and by sunset, they come marching home, on their own, to roost for the night.
As long as we follow their cues, we are rewarded with happy hens, lots of eggs, and cute antics to watch as they go about foraging around the property. Their schedule is there own design and they only have a few rules for us:
- Let them out of the coop no later than 8 am. When we are late, there is squabbling and feathers flying. Eggs can get cracked or broken from the malay, so we try to be on time.
- They want their morning feed out as soon as they file out from the coop. If we are distracted with coop cleaning or egg collecting before they have pellets in their feeder well, there is nothing worse than the indignant stare seven chickens can give you.
- Dry oats for a midday snack. Free ranging is hard work and by 1 pm, the girls like to congregate by the front porch to remind me oats would be appreciated to continue with their work.
- Water pits stops at several locations.They don’t seem to like hiking back and forth to the coop when they are thirsty, so I fill a couple of containers around the property on hot days.
- Veggie scraps, stale bread, and fruit skins are always a highlight to the flock.
- Always, I mean always, have the coop door open before they come home to roost at sundown.
Oooh, She’s a Little Runaway
It’s rule number six that I believe caused that predictability to go awry for a week. We keep the coop door closed during the day so that other unwelcome critters stay out. For some reason, we didn’t get back out there to open their door before nightfall. The flock was huddled up at the entrance, confused as to why they couldn’t go in.Once they were inside and beaks were counted, two of our Black Australorps were missing. We went out with flashlights and looked in the trees but couldn’t find them. They had gone up into the hillside foliage and roosted out of sight. They were gone for about six days. We could hear them, but they wouldn’t come down out of the woods to eat or roost at night in the coop. They had gone rogue. They had broke from the flock and were no longer imprinted on their home. They couldn’t survive for too long unsheltered. There were coyotes, weasels, raccoons, cougar and the huge, nightmarish water rats called nutria all lurking around out there with our hens.
Breaking the Cycle
By the seventh day, I decided that I would coax them with blueberries near the hillside. Blueberries are their absolute favorite treat, so I was hoping those two rogue hens would not resist. I put the other chickens into an outdoor holding pen for the afternoon so they would not interfere with the bait. Sure enough, one of the Australorps made her way down to the berries. While she was busy binging, I scooped her up and gave her a once over to be sure she wasn’t injured.. My husband said that she needed to be re-imprinted on the coop since she had gone “wild” for a week. We put her in the coop and kept her there for two days, giving her feed and water inside only. On day three, we let her go free range with the rest of the flock. She came back to roost with the rest of the flock that evening…mission accomplished.
The following week, the second missing Australorp showed up, doing her best to blend in with the rest of flock. She was a bit haggard looking and thinner, but seemed fine. I locked her in the coop for just one day and night, which seemed like enough imprinting since she came back to the flock on her own.
I am happy to report all the hens are back on their schedule and no more roosting in the woods for the last two months. As long as I don’t disrupt them from coming home to roost, we shouldn’t have any more dramatic runaways.