Like a lot of people first starting out, I had some pretty ‘wild’ assumptions as to what it actually took to raise a flock of chickens. While wonderfully romantic in nature, these notions were ridiculously naive – something the learning curve taught me at cost.
One of the assumptions that I had made, was how well the birds could survive in my backyard. After all, the sign at the store said, ‘well suited for free range’. To me, that meant they could wander and do whatever they wanted. Point of fact, once their feather came on, they even looked like part of the wild life.
Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Regardless of their looks, domesticated chickens are not equipped to survive in the wild. Even if they are capable of foraging enough nourishment to sustain themselves, they have very little in the way of self-defense. Domesticated chickens are also very poor fliers and simply do not have an adequate means of escape should a predator take notice of them.
For the record , it’s not really the chicken’s fault that they can not survive without us. Extensive effort on the part of breeders, has given us the attributes that we wanted, such as larger size and high volume egg production. But these desirable attributes come at a cost.
Larger size means more food to be consumed, as well as, diminished flight capability.
Higher egg production requires substantial nutrition, particularly in regards to calcium for the shells. It is very unlikely that a domesticated chicken would be able to forage the amount of calcium necessary to lay eggs as often as they do.
Should a quality feed not be provided for a domesticated chicken, health issues are certain to arise.
### Important Note ###
It should be noted that ‘Life’ has a wonderful habit of finding ways to survive. And while the odds are significantly against a domesticated chicken managing to so without human intervention, it is not completely beyond the realm of possibility.
However, any potential flock owner should understand, that a chicken’s survival without human care is very unlikely.
Can Chickens Survive On Their Own?
Domesticated chickens are a very noteworthy type of animal. The structure of a flock is as dynamic as it is uniquely necessary. Pecking order is routinely reaffirmed and their soft ‘clucking’ tends to be fairly continuous as they act to confirm that they are not alone.
In short, chickens have an innate need to be a part of a flock and should they find themselves on their own, stress will greatly reduce the longevity of their life.
And this is something I have witnessed first hand.
This past summer, we had a batch of 6 Buckeye chickens that just didn’t work out. These birds were so skittish, that they would spend their entire day hiding under a tree, less than a few feet away from the coop. And if you know anything about chickens, these are the type of animal that love to be busy scratching and pecking at the ground.
So after a summer of the birds not moving, but constantly hiding under a tree, we made the decision to raise another flock.
At 8 weeks of age, we prepared to move the new flock into the coop. This meant harvesting the existing tenants. However, I noted that one of the Buckeye hens displayed the occasional signs of social behavior with regards to me. This bird I spared, moving her into the chicken tractor, with the hopes that she could learn to be a proper happy chicken.
With the chicken tractor beside the coop/run, our Buckeye hen had a perfect place to view the new flock. In other words, the 8 week old chicks were always visible. Yet despite the fact that the other birds were always within sight and that she could easily hear them, my poor Buckeye started pulling her feathers. Alone in the tractor, she felt isolated and simply could not take the stress of being apart from a flock.
After three days of this, I couldn’t take it any more and moved her into the coop after dark (normally I would wait a week).
Being outnumbered 14 to 1, you might think that she would have been a little freaked out. But the reality was exactly the opposite.
As I observed the newly formed flock over the course of a few hours that next morning, it became quickly obvious that the younger birds were quite enamored with the ‘Big One’ and my Buckeye hen was more than happy to surround herself with her new feathered kin.
Personally, it was quite satisfying to see the Buckeye overcome her desire to hide under the tree, as she had done all summer. Instead, she chose to scratch and peck her days away, surrounded by a new and more sociable family.
And while this story has a happy ending, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that should my Buckeye hen have remained alone, she would have eventually perished – unable to satisfy that innate need to be with a flock.
Can Chickens Be Found In The Wild?
The original bird to have started it all, is wildly thought to be the Red Junglefowl. And I am happy to say, that this chicken can still be found living in the wild.
Do a quick online search for images on the Red Junglefowl and it will be easy to see the similarities. However, if you want to see one in their native habitat, then you’re going to have to go to Asia.
It is only in this warmer climate that a steady supply of bugs, berries and seeds can be found for the birds to feed on.
Should you find a ‘surprise’ in your backyard, scratching and pecking happily at the lawn, then chances are your visitor belongs to someone (and should find their way home before dark).