Disadvantages of free range chickens

Free range chickens

ranging your chicken flock has a lot of advantages
(and just sounds idyllic),
but you’ll also run into several problems.  If you understand the
potential pitfalls up front, chances are you can work around them and
give your flock limited or complete access to free range.

  • Predators — Coops,
    pastures, and chicken tractors give your flock some protection from
    predators (not least because they keep the chickens under your watchful
    eye.)  The reality is that free range birds are a lot more prone
    to be eaten by hawks,
    foxes, raccoons, neighborhood dogs, and even your own pets (if you
    don’t train them well.)  You’ll have to decide whether losing an
    occasional chicken to predators is worth lower feed costs and healthy
  • Fence chickens out of gardenGarden damage — Don’t
    let anyone tell you that chickens and gardens mix, because they
    don’t.  Chickens are very good at eating your tomatoes, scratching
    up seedlings, and strewing mulch all over the garden paths.
    However, we have recently discovered a few ways to work around this
    problem and still let our chickens out from time to time.  One
    option is to fence off the garden — even a partial fence can do the
    trick.  We let our laying flock out on the back side of the
    pasture, and they just don’t feel like walking all the way around the
    pasture fence and barn to get the garden, so they’ve been foraging in
    the woods.  Another option is to let young chickens free range,
    then corral them once they reach two months old (at which point we’ve
    found they begin to scratch up the garden rather than just weeding out
    the chickweed.)  Finally, if you only grow vegetables in the
    summer, you can turn the flock into the garden area after the first
    killing frost and let them eat up weeds and insects, fertilizing the
    ground for next year.
  • Roosting in bushesComing home to roost
    more your chickens roam, the less likely they are to come home to the
    coop at night.  This is a problem for several reasons: more chance
    of getting eaten at night if they’re further from home; less chance of
    laying in the next box where you’ll find their eggs; and tougher to
    manage birds if you can’t pluck individuals off the roost at night to
    cull or separate.
    It’s important not to let your birds get into the habit of
    roosting in the trees (like our laying flock did last week when they
    got stuck in the bushes, not realizing they’d have to backtrack in the
    wrong direction to get home.)  Saving a bit of your chickens’
    ration to be fed at dusk is a great way to get them to come home.
  • Chicken poop — Your
    chickens will probably like to hang out where you are, which means
    there will be blobs of chicken poop on your front porch, your walkway,
    and everywhere else.  If this bothers you, you might choose to
    fence off select areas.
  • Unhappy neighbors — Our
    closest neighbor is half a mile away, and I’m 99% sure our chickens
    will never make it across the creek and through the woods to bother
    them.  However, closer neighbors might be less thrilled to have
    chickens scratching up their vegetable garden and pooping on their
    steps.  Good fences make good neighbors (and I’ve heard gifts of
    free range eggs help too.)

99 cent pasture ebookWe’re resting our pastures this winter by free ranging the flock as much as possible, but we’re also taking our own advice.  Once the nine week old broilers started scratching up my garlic, they got relegated to the orchard half of the yard, and we’ve been giving them a snack every evening before shutting them in the coop for a safe night’s sleep.  So far, we’re enjoying the best of both worlds — happy and healthy chickens and a free range method we can live with.

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