How to get free range chickens to forage

Day range chickensIn a previous post, I
hypothesized that you can tell the quality of the forage by how much
time a chicken spends lounging around vs. actively foraging
.  It turns out that
scientists have spent considerable time collecting data on the
activities of chickens in commercial day
settings, and have discovered that broilers often prefer to
sit around inside.  Even at peak foraging times and temperatures,
only 13% to 25% of broilers will set foot outside the door.  (I
guess I need to give our ladies a break — even when they’re not
actively working, they do tend to hang around outside.)

Here are some highlights
of the studies:

  • Chickens forage time of dayMorning
    and/or evening seemed to be peak foraging times
    at Truman State University
    found that the most chickens were
    actively foraging from 7 am to 10:59 am while this
    UK study
    (the data of which is shown here) found the most chickens
    outside right after the popholes opened in the morning and right before
    they closed at night.
  • Chickens will range further from
    their house if trees are present
    planted young trees in bare chicken pastures and studied the
    flocks’ behavior for the next three years.  In year one, there was
    no difference between the pastures with and without trees (presumably
    because the trees were so small), but two years later, more chickens
    were found in the tree-filled pastures than in those that had been left

The take-home message is
— make sure your chickens have access to pasture early in the morning
and late in the evening and plant some trees!

Putting a chicken waterer at the far end of the
pasture is another useful way to get your chickens outside.

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