As our 2nd year with chickens comes to a close, I figured I’d share our assessment with you; what we found profitable, what we found to be wasteful, etc. In particular, this post will focus on the pros and cons of free-ranging. We’ll start with the positives first.
- Saves money on feed– this should go without saying, but if they are able to forage live food, my chickens tend to choose that over grain. Which saves us money on store-bought feed
- Higher quality eggs– there is nothing like free-range eggs. They have good, hard shells, they stand up in the pan, they have firm orangey yolks (and whites for that matter) and they have flavor! If you’ve never had free range eggs, you probably don’t think eggs have flavor of their own. But they do. You’ve just gotten used to “fake” eggs.
- “Organic” diet- live whole food in the form of untreated grass, plants, and bugs mean your chickens aren’t subsisting on anything genetically modified. We also pick up organic veggie scraps twice a week from a friend who runs a “vegan” cafe. The chickies really love Wednesdays and Sundays because of that.
- Tick control- this alone is reason to free range. In an area as large as our five acres, we could really use about a dozen more chickens for tick patrol, but even our 13 girls do a pretty fantastic job of keeping the tick population in check.
- Garden clean up- I let the hens come into the garden after I pull up spent plants. They scratch up the soil, eat random seeds, and clean up the terraces.
- Predation risk- if the birds aren’t contained, they lack protection from hawks, buzzards, dogs, etc. In our neighborhood, there is a pack of (owned and tagged) dogs that makes it’s way around to each house in the cul-de-sac. We are fortunate that they’re all very sweet and haven’t bothered our hens. But, it’s always good to have a plan B just in case your flock is succeptible to predatory animals. We only let our girls free range during daylight hours, and then they sleep on roosts in our coop. In inclimate weather, they’re also kept in the run, mostly for their own safety.
- Random egg-laying locations– our Ameraucana is the worst about making nests in random locations. She’s the most like a pet of any of our chickens and the only one who will willingly come to me for pets and to be held. She’s my Lone Survivor, so we have a special bond. That said, Cyd, our border collie is pretty good about showing me the nests and caches of eggs if I ask her to before she eats them all. That dog loves free range eggs as much as I do.
- No containment– again, until or unless we build a tractor for them, the birds are totally uncontained
So, they go where they want, including sometime being in the garden when I don’t want them to be. Recently, they discovered one of our neighbors throws wild birdseed on their porch for the squirrels…my chickens took that as an invitation to visit and we’ve had a hard time keeping them from looking for seed there. I don’t mind, so long as the neighbors don’t mind. And I don’t think they get enough of it to alter their diet as much as it’s a treat for them. But, for that reason, I’m not going to seek special “organic” designation, at least until I get my property perimeter fencing.
- Landscaping “damage”- they scratch and kick the landscape plants so I tend to wait to free range them until I know I don’t mind their scratching, or that the plants are established. In any case, they leave me their poop to fertilize the beds, so one man’s crisis is another man’s perk.
Overall, it’s nice to have the option to free range, especially when the weather is nice and there’s plenty of variety for them to eat.
What are your thoughts on free-ranging chickens? Let me know in the comments!😃