So you dream of a Free-Range homestead. Chickens and maybe ducks out spotting the yard. What are the pros and cons of raising free range chickens? Is it all it’s cracked up to be? And is it right for YOU?
Free-Range gets tossed around a lot lately, so much so it seems to be a buzz word in the meat and egg industry. However, in the commercial industry this term has been adopted and might no longer mean what you would think. It could just means a bunch of birds smashed in a warehouse in big pens instead of in individual cages.
On the other hand to us homesteaders it means we let animals be generally free. Basic shelter and protection but generally free. Free to go scratch and peck at the ground, free to go find a sunny place and a dirt bath. you know basically free to do anything a chicken could want.
For me raising free range chickens always seems a bit more peaceful and natural. Talking about free range animals always conjures up images of the iconic “Old McDonald’s farm”. Chickens out pecking in the yards, ducks gathered around a pond, other livestock out in a pasture. That’s nature, right? Natural animal life.
Well surprising or not, that’s not how most “farm life” gets to live today. Let’s take the egg industry, free-range there means that’s lots of chickens get access to walk around in a warehouse-like situation on cement floors. One reason why I think most, I do say most, people could produce their own eggs which I made this case in the case for the backyard chicken. Or at very least buy eggs from a local CSA, if you have no way to raise your own chickens.
However the same goes for most meat production. We live in beef central and feedlots are the name of the game. A place that smells so horrible it’s surprising anything survives. Where cattle are fed grain diets to fatten them up before slaughter. Where small pens hold tons of animals each.
So most animals in the commercial industry get anything but a free range life. The effects of that are well established in the health of both the animal and the end product (ie meat, eggs, or milk).
So I have talked about the down side to our commercial industries, and my love of free range chicken, but is it right for everyone? Absolutely not. I don’t believe there are many situations where one can ever say ALWAYS or NEVER.
Other than the health aspects and images of a serene homestead lets talk about the pros and cons of raising free range chickens, and see if we can figure out what is the right situation for you.
pros and cons of raising free range chicken
- free range chickens that are free to roam will often be able to find more nutrients through a variety of bugs, scratching the soil and having lots more room to roam
- Chickens (like people) are better behaved and happier when they have a little freedom. This means less stress on the animal higher egg production.
- easier to maintain a mixed flock when they are allowed to free range
- natural animal social behavior will happen on things like mating and flock protection when they are allowed more freedom and space.
- chickens need less health management when they have more room and are less confined to one area
- they will leave poop everywhere including your porch, driveways basically wherever they can be (this is the truth of my life, can you tell?)
- places you dont want them like gardens & flower beds (especially places with young seedlings) have to be fenced off
- eggs may sometimes get laid outside the coop (not very often, usually with new egg layers)
- wildlife and predators will have more access to your free range chickens too.
Tips for raising free range chicken
So maybe you decide you really do want to free range your chicken, and the pros and cons are things you can tolerate. Here are a few tips I would give to those still considering it.
- Having lots of tree coverage is very helpful to protect your flock from arial predators.
- Keeping a good male rooster, who does well at watching out for the ladies is also very helpful to protect your flock from predators.
- Consider still having some sort of protected run/area for when you may be away from home more.
- Having a smaller area (like just a backyard) doesn’t mean you can’t still free range your flock.
- Consider cutting flight feathers if your free range-ish flock needs to stay inside a fence.
How to get the benefits without free range chickens
What if you like the idea of free-ranging, you like the benefits but it is simply not possible? Maybe you just have too many predators, no tree cover, etc? Well lucky for you there are still ways you can still get the benefits of free range chickens without letting them be completely free to roam where it’s just can’t happen.
- Use a chicken tractor for your chickens (made to be moveable so your chickens are never stuck in the same area too long).
- Use movable poultry netting to give your flock a lot of areas to roam, without giving them complete freedom.
- Give your chickens a very large permanent run so they are never confined with to much waste.
Always farm fresh eggs, never store bought.-T.J. Miller
So we completely free range our flock, has it always worked perfectly? No. Are there times I find free-range chickens annoying? Yes. Should everyone free range their flock? No.
There is never a situation that applies to everyone all the time. However, knowing some of the pros and cons of raising free range chickens helps you to know what situation might work best for you. And that is really what it is all about. You homesteading in a way that works for you, with where you live and what you need to work with. That my friends is really the heart of homesteading, learning how to create a self-reliant life on your terms ♡♡♡
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Beth is a mother of 5 living on a handful of acres in an old farmhouse in central Kansas. Beth has a background in the military and health and fitness however her passions come from her homestead life. Beth is an enthusiastic homeschooling mom, avid organic gardener, chicken & goat wrangler, who is obsessed with herbs and natural remedies and maintaining an all-around Do-It-Yourself lifestyle. Beth loves to share all she has learned about and sustainable living. While striving for a healthy, natural life, family-centered life.