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A lot of people love the idea of free ranging their chickens and I’m definitely one of them. Like with anything in life and homesteading, there are some pros and cons to free ranging chickens.
Pros and Cons of Free Ranging Chicken
Chickens- those “gateway animals”. So, you get a few chicks and then they get big. What do you do with them now? “To free range or not to free range?” That is the big question.
We’ve been raising free range chickens for 7 years now. In that time, we’ve learned quite a few things along the way. While I prefer the free range method because raising pastured poultry is important to us, I know it is not for everyone.
Don’t feel bad if you decide not to free range your chickens, it just might not be a good option for you. If you have a small property, live in a neighborhood, have a lot of predators, or any other reason it’s ok to raise them confined. Just be sure that they have enough space for them to stretch their legs.
Another great option for free ranging chickens is a mobile coop or chicken tractor. This gives you the ability to move them as needed and keep them safe all at the same time. The benefits of free range and the security of confinement. Best of both worlds!
Pros of free ranging chickens
Broader diet- Free range chickens are able to forage for bugs, grass, and herbs. Their diet will consist of much more diversity than when raised in confinement. This makes them happy and healthy birds!
Less feed costs- Because the chickens are foraging, this will supplement some of their feed. You will still need to give them chicken feed but the amount will be greatly reduced by free ranging. Saving money and cutting costs is always a good thing in life!
Fun to watch- One of my favorite things to do is sit on my front porch and watch my chickens roam around. They’re very entertaining creatures. If you’ve never watched chickens fight over a worm or two roosters show each other who is the boss, you’re missing out on a lot of fun!
Richer eggs- When you crack an egg from a free range chicken and compare it to a store bought or confined chicken egg, there’s a noticeable difference in the yolk color. The free range eggs are a much deeper yellow (and sometimes even orange) and are full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
Healthier meat- When chickens free range, they tend to have a healthier and more natural diet. They are also more active and exposed to more sunlight than their confined counter parts. This all results in healthier meat for the consumer. (source)
More exercise- Like I said, free range chickens are more active. We all know that exercise is better for all creatures big and small, human or otherwise. You may also find yourself getting exercise in the case of trying to catch your free range chickens. Those jokers are fast!
Coop and run stay cleaner- When your chickens spend the majority of their time out and about, they aren’t in the run and coop to dirty it up as much. You still need to clean them on a regular basis to keep your chickens healthy.
Compost- Remember all of the chicken poop and bedding you cleaned from the coop? Throw that stuff into a heap and you’ve got a compost pile in the making. Chicken waste needs to break down for a year to reduce the excess nitrogen (this can burn your plants) but once that stuff is aged, it’s an amazing additive to your garden soil.
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to free ranging chickens but there are some downsides as well. Let’s hit on those points now.
Cons of free ranging chickens
Predators- Free range chickens are more susceptible to predator attacks because they aren’t confined to a safe enclosure. If you live in an area that’s prone to a lot of predator attacks, you may need a more confined solution or perhaps a livestock guardian dog to keep your chickens safe.
Rogue chickens- Oh yes, chickens like to go rogue. Why do they cross the road? Because the grass in the neighbors yard must be greener or perhaps the bugs are juicier. At any rate, free range chickens will start to wander beyond their allowed area. I usually remedy this by keeping them locked up in the coop for a few days and then they behave for a while afterwards.
Poop everywhere- Oh the poop! They will poop on your porch, they will poop on your sidewalk, they will poop everywhere. If chicken poop all over the place bothers you, free ranging may not work for your situation.
Garden mayhem- Chickens will try to find a way into the garden. I mean why wouldn’t they? They see all of those bright tomatoes and beautiful pumpkins…. they’ve just gotta have a taste. We make extra efforts to fence the chickens out of the garden because they will destroy the harvest and devour it all for themselves.
Egg hunting- We try to train our chickens to nesting boxes by keeping them up for a couple of weeks until they are laying well in their designated nesting box. This works but sometimes, you’ll have some chicken decide they’ve found a much better place for eggs. Unfortunately, you often find the nest after the eggs are too old to consume. Retrain your naughty hens by locking them up for a bit again. Easter egg hunts all year round!
Intimidating non-homesteading guests- If you aren’t a chicken person it may be quite scary to be chased by little dinosaur like creatures. I promise they aren’t attack chickens, they’re just curious and maybe you brought them a snack?
Annoying delivery personnel- Your mailman, UPS guy, or FedEx delivery personnel may be annoyed when trying to deliver packages. Those pesky chickens are all around their truck, under their feet, and sitting right where they need to leave the package. You may also come home to chicken poop on your package. Yay!
Space required- Free ranging chickens will require a little extra space than confined chickens. If you don’t have a lot of room for them or perhaps a high fence around your yard, your neighbors may end up with chickens at their place. This can result in the chickens messing up their flower beds, gardens, and pooping on their property. Doesn’t really make for good neighbor relations.
If you have the space and capabilities to safely free range your chickens, go for it! Most chicken problems (wandering off, laying eggs random places, etc….) can me fixed by cooping them up for a few days to a week. I think you will find it fun to watch your chickens in action from your porch.
If you decide that free ranging isn’t the best or safest option for your birds, you may find ways to give them access to more grass and bugs. You can get creative with a mobile coop, grass clippings, herbs for them, meal worms, or even raising some sort of bug farm to feed them from. Keeping them happy, healthy, and comfortable is the overall goal no matter how you raise them.
I wish you the best of luck in your chicken raising ventures free range or otherwise!
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