We are new to the chicken raising thing, and boy has it been a learning experience.
Our girls are doing well. All 9 survived the winter and seem happy to bask in the new found sunlight. We are doing some thinking about how well the tractor coop works. The idea is sound, the chickens always have new ground, so they can hunt, dig and peck to their hearts content. There was something I just wasn't happy with, though.
One day, I accidentally left the coop top open when I went to get more feed and such. When I came back three chickens had hopped out and were foraging around in the nearby leaves. Rather than being frustrated that they got out, I sat on the steps and watched them. This was natural, chickens being chickens. The behavior was different than any I had seen in the coop though. Then I decided to try and put them back in the coop. Two went rather easily, but one, who I have nicknamed Queenie because she is obviously at the top of the pecking order, took off.
She ran circles around the coop with me stalking after her. She clucked and ruffled her wings as she ran. I grew tired and stopped to catch my breath. I almost burst out laughing when she looked behind her and stopped and waited for me. Then it hit me, she wasn't running from me out of fear, or even because she was avoiding being put back in the coop. This was a game, and she was enjoying every minute of our chase.
Chickens like to run and play, and our girls were not really afforded that opportunity in the small area we were giving them to graze on. Over the winter the tractor served us well, but I decided that day that I needed to afford them more space on a regular basis.
A few days ago, I fashioned a ramp (we intend to put a more permanent door in soon) to allow the chickens an easy in and out of the coop. Once a day, after the eggs are laid, I go and open it up. Slowly the girls hop out and begin to explore. At first, they stuck really close to me. But on the second day, they got a little braver and ran around in two groups. By the weekend, we let them out and they traveled halfway across the yard to the other side of the shop just to see what we were doing.
I have no doubt that they are happier. I was a little shocked that egg production went up almost immediately. They are a bit nosier when first put back in the coop, but not for very long. I love sitting and watching them running around, though. They really are chickens being chickens, and I love being witness to nature at its finest.