Er, not really. 🙂 But my birds make great use of the forest around their coop, and often spend about two hours a day digging around in leaves, under brush, and inside fallen trees. Good job, forest chickens!
My birds range from around 2 pm until dusk, returning to their coop themselves where they wait to be ‘tucked in.’ Each night, I do a head count and lock everything up tightly. Although ranging exposes the birds to predatory threats to which they would not be exposed if they remained in the run, they have a quality of life that I could never provide if they were entirely contained. They exercise their bodies and natural instincts while rustling up food which supplements their diets. I am thankful for the shape of my property and the placement of their coop which allows them to roam in forest and field where they encounter no neighbors or roads. Since we began ranging daily, their purchased feed consumption has been reduced by about half: I used to need one 50 pound bag per month, and now a bag lasts a little over two months, to the point where I worry about the feed becoming old.
Their run is useful for mornings, times when we are not home, and the odd threat of a loose dog roaming the neighborhood. Unfortunately, the litter of fall leaves in the run has been all but decimated, leaving a muddy wasteland that is unpleasant for humans and fowl alike. I must remedy this soon, and am thinking about raking other areas of my property to make a mulch for them to scratch through. (If we had a truck, I would buy some of the hay and straw on Craigslist for them to scratch and nibble, but alas, no truck yet.) In the meantime, they enjoy treats including scratch, sprouts, and BOSS (black oil sunflower seeds) in the mornings before they are let out. (If no one has come by noon for their second round of treats, they crow until we do!)
I’ve also been using the deep litter method in my chicken coop, and I notice from the changing landscape of the floor that they must spend a fair amount of time scratching in it. It is actually possible that at this point, with six months of litter built up on the floor, that the litter itself is providing some supplementation of their diet. I highly recommend reading Harvey Ussery’s article about deep litter (as well as all of his other articles and his new book . His work is comprehensive, practical, and insightful, and I am a big fan. I’ll be reviewing his book here at some point. I was thrilled to get this for Christmas and have been reading it exclusively [a big deal for me 😀 ] ever since.)
In truth, I love winter. In recent years, it has nearly been my favorite season, second only to fall. I love the quiet and stillness of winter, the bareness of things stripped down to their skin. This year, with my chickens’ interests so close to my own, I am looking forward to the buffet spring offers.
But, for now, I am relishing even this mildest of winters.