Pros and Cons of Free-Ranging Chickens

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.

Pros

  • 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.
The orange yolked eggs are from our birds. The pale yellow ones are store bought 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.

Cons

  • 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!😃

3 thoughts on “Pros and Cons of Free-Ranging Chickens

  1. Our version of free ranging is a bit different in order to remove all those cons and still keep the pros. We “free-range” in our barnyard with all the livestock. The chickens still get to scratch around and find bugs, seeds, plants, etc in the barnyard. We also throw the compost in a pile in there and they scratch around in that. Plus the hay and manure from the livestock. So they still eat less store-bought chicken feed and instead natural “organic” feed from around the yard, the eggs are healthier and taste better, and they keep the ticks out of the barnyard and thus off the livestock and LGD. The predator problem is taken care of by the fact they are staying close to the LGD, and because the coop is attached to the barnyard we rarely have strange egg laying locations. Plus, since they are fenced, they don’t get into places we don’t want them and damage landscaping and gardens.
    It is not full free-ranging, and thus not quite as good, but it has worked really well for us for many years now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh man, sorry, there are just pictures scattered all through the blog years. I saw some in Nov 2016 and March 2015 from when we were putting up fences that somewhat show the barnyard. And if you click the sheep or goat category you can see parts of the barnyard in all the pictures of them. I never have done a specific post that shows the exterior livestock housing situations. I can try to describe it to you.
      We have our barn, and out the front of the barn are sliding doors to two separate stalls, and then the chicken coop and an exterior enclosed pen for the chickens is built attached to the side of the barn with it’s doors coming out the front as well. The barnyard is a fence that goes from one front corner of the barn down around and back to the back corner on the other side and encompasses about 1/4-1/2 acre. So all the animals can come out of their indoor housing into the same barnyard that they share (the livestock out of the stalls and the chickens out of the exterior pen of their coop). We also have a divider fence that gives us a smaller barnyard section inside the larger one for when we need to separate livestock, like the ram from the ewes.
      In the barnyard I have two big compost piles that we dump onto from the kitchen, the garden, and whenever we clean out stalls/coops/barnyard. About once a month we rake the piles back up into piles because the chickens scratch through it and spread it out, but that helps it compost faster because they are “turning” the pile for us. Then when we need the compost for the garden we gather the stuff that is well composted with our wheelbarrow and take it to the garden.
      The set-up is actually a bit more complicated than that, but that is the easiest way to explain it. Don’t know if that helps at all.
      🙂
      Maybe I will try to do a post soon about it that includes pictures.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s