5 Reasons to Let Your Chickens Free Range AND Solutions to Common Problems!
Updated: Jun 1
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Free ranging your chickens allows them to be the happiest and healthiest they can be! Chickens are natural foragers who love to roam around during the day and roost in a safe place at night. Chickens love digging and scratching in the dirt and grass, eating a variety of plants and insects (and maybe an occasional frog or toad), and taking dust baths. Chickens are naturally designed to free range!
Caged chickens do not get this opportunity, and therefore live a shorter and lower-quality life, producing lower-quality eggs and meat. The next best thing is a large run or fenced area. However, even a large space, with 4-10 square feet per chicken is not ideal as the chickens will forage everything they can in the space in less than a day. This can be remedied by adding compost, leaves, mulch, and other natural materials for the chickens to dig through, BUT it’s high maintenance and still not as good free ranging!
Why are free-ranging chickens so much better?
1. Free-range chickens are happier.
Because chickens are naturally designed to roam as they please, they are of course much happier free ranging. They are free to eat, scratch, and take as many dust baths as their hearts desire. Because free-range chickens are not in a confined space, they are also MUCH less likely to bully each other, peck, and fight, which can be a huge problem in small runs. Even the nicest chickens can turn vicious when left in a small space for too long.
2. Free-range chickens are healthier.
Chickens are omnivores and therefore need variety in their diet. While they can survive off a diet of corn/soy feed, they THRIVE when allowed to eat fresh vegetation, bugs, and whatever else their hearts desire! They also produce MUCH healthier eggs and meat. There is a definite difference in the nutrient density, taste, and overall quality of both eggs and meat of a free-range chicken compared to a caged chicken. Free-range eggs are rich and strong, and free-range meat has an excellent flavor that can’t be artificially copied. Free-range chickens also get more movement and sunlight, which makes them healthier!
3. Free-range chickens are cleaner.
Because free-range chickens have all the space they could want, their coop stays cleaner longer. If you have a run or fenced area, this will also stay much cleaner (we have a run, we just leave the gate open for the chickens to come and go). If you have chickens living in a smaller fenced area, this area will inevitably begin to stink. Even 20-40 feet away from the coop (depending on how large your flock is), you’ll be able to smell the stench of chicken. Free-range chickens are themselves cleaner, and their space stays cleaner.
4. Free-range chickens fertilize the area they free-range in.
Older gardeners will refer to chicken poo as garden gold, and they are right! Chicken poo is an excellent fertilizer! Regenerative farmers take advantage of this, and will move a coop from field to field to bring life back to the soil! The chickens follow their coop, do their thing (eat and poop) for a few months, and the ground comes back to life! After a few months, the farmer simply moves the coop to a new field so the process can start all over. If you’re a small homesteader like myself, I simply enjoy a lush yard, and will use the old coop bedding as fertilizer in my garden! See my post here for 5 Ways to Amend Poor Soil in the Garden.
5. Saves Money.
Because free-range chickens forage and snack all day long, they inevitably eat less chicken feed, which saves you money! Free-range chickens can actually survive without any supplemental feed as they eat constantly during the day, but most people have found that they lay significantly better with supplemental feed. But, that’s what it is: supplemental! Chickens allowed to free-range can and do get most of their calories and nutrients from foraging. They do not require supplements in their food, because when they are left to their own devices, they will find and eat the foods that their bodies need!
Of course, there are some potential problems with allowing chickens to free range. Otherwise, everyone would do it! Here are some common problems WITH solutions!
Won’t they run away?
No! If you have provided a safe and comfortable coop, chickens will instinctually return in the evenings to roost. Even during the day, chickens will not stray too far from their coop. Chickens like to stay near their coop in case of danger during the day. If there’s a predator, they can easily run back to the coop.
But what about predators?
Free-range chickens are inevitably much more vulnerable to predators than conventionally raised chickens in runs or fenced areas. However, most predators are nocturnal, and not active during the day, so this is not a huge problem to worry about.
Unfortunately, there is not one easy solution to keeping predators away. The easiest solution is to get a good guard dog. Dogs are truly hit or miss when it comes to temperament around chickens, however, I know that there are LOTS of good dogs who make excellent guard dogs! We have one! We have a 7-year-old pit bull mix that we picked up at our local shelter, and he is gold! We have seen him keep a coyote at bay while our chickens were free ranging out in the yard. He also regularly keeps opossums and raccoons away from our chickens and the coop.
The other thing you can do to prevent predators is simply pest management. You can set traps in the evenings after your chickens are up for the night, and then “dispose” of the pest in the morning. We have the most problems with raccoons and opossums. Both will kill chickens. Here’s the link to the trap we use. We usually bait it with cat food, a cracked chicken egg, or some kind of leftover meat.
What about my garden?
Chickens can be destructive. Even a small group of chickens in a vegetable or flower garden can completely destroy your plants! Do not be discouraged though! There are plenty of solutions to keeping chickens from destroying your garden! Read my post here for how!
Want to learn more about homesteading, ancestral eating, or health? Visit my blog to learn more! I write about a variety of topics, all centered around living more in tune with nature.