The flock has spent the winter "foraging" in the barn which hasn't done much to add to their nutrition, but has been good for moral. Chickens need entertainment and employment to keep them out of trouble. Left in confinement, even in a largish chicken pen, they are prone to cannibalism. Usually the flock will choose the least dominant hen and pull the feathers out of her tail and peck her back until it bleeds. Once they start this, it's a hard habit to break. Last winter with the hens house-bound in the old chicken house from the ice and snow, I had to remove a hen for this reason. She later was able to return when the flock started free-ranging again. This winter with access to the barn I haven't' had any social problems in the flock (excepting the extra rooster).
Yesterday, Scott cut a hole in the barn to let the chickens access the cattle corral. This was always the plan, but Scott outdid himself with this design. The steel door slides up between two vertical channels with a tug on a string that connects through two pulleys to be operable from the barn without going in the pen. The rest of the structure is a wind- and dog-baffle. Chickens entering the barn can navigate the narrow hallway between the door and their pen, but dogs and coyotes cannot. We tested a similar design on the old chicken house and it worked against Koda, the egg-eating dog. Opossums, raccoons, and cats can still get in this way, but these are less of a problem around here with Holly, the dog, on patrol. I'll still need to close the flock in at night for their protection and to keep them laying eggs where I can find them.