What are the pros and cons of free-range chickens? Before I brought my first flock of chickens to the farm, I knew how I was going to raise them. So I settled for free-ranging due to the abundance of space in my backyard. My dream was to see my birds free to explore, hunt for food and roam the yard. This idea paid off in one way or the other despite some changes arising in the process. Let’s look at the pros and cons of free-ranging chickens so you may know what to expect in the future.
What are the pros and cons of free-range chickens? There are many advantages and disadvantages of free-ranging chickens. The advantages range from saving money on chicken feed to controlling pests and keeping your chickens active among others. Disadvantages of free-ranging chickens include predators, egg hunting, messing around and eating harmful stuff and many more.
To get started with free-ranging, I put my chicks in an indoor setup where they feel safe. Then I provide them with a balanced diet consisting of 18 percent chick starter, fresh shavings, water, and artificial heat. After six weeks (when they are fully feathered), I move them outside the coop. This step helps them to adjust to the outside environment while growing to full size.
Also, taking them outside the coop allows them to see and get used to other older birds. But I don’t let them interact until they are fully mature. This practice enables me to prevent hens from feeding on chick feed and my chicks from feasting on layer feed.
When they are 16 weeks old I switch from chick starter diet to layer’s mash. All this while I keep an eye on them everywhere they go and monitor what they do. I take up this task until I’m pretty sure that they are old enough to defend themselves against intruders. At this age, most chickens are smart enough to hide away from predators upon sensing danger.
As time passes, these younger flock integrate with the existing birds while learning how to survive outside the coop. Once integrated with the rest of my chickens, I leave them to be on their own.
Sometimes I consider locking them up in the coop during the night or when weather conditions are extreme. Below are the reasons why I prefer free-ranging as well as the challenges that come with this option.
Pros and Cons of Free-Range Chickens that You Should Know
Pros of Free Range Chickens
Free Range Chickens Eat Less Food
More often than not, free-range birds eat less food that you provide them, especially in the morning. This practice helps them to gain energy they need to roam your yard in the course of the day.
- While moving around, your chickens will spend most of their time eating different types of insects, grass, bugs and small critters. In the evening they will come back to their coop to take a few bites before heading to rest.
- However, you may supplement their diet with a few commercial feeds that will enhance their productivity. Most of these commercial chickens feeds are formulated perfectly to meet all your chickens’ dietary needs. Nevertheless, you will save a lot of money by letting your birds free-range all day long.
Free Range Chickens Control Insects
- Free-range chickens are quite helpful when it comes to controlling insects in your backyard. They will eat almost any type of bug they come across while roaming.
- No wonder you always spot your flock of curious birds around you whenever you are in the yard. Most likely these beautiful creatures hope that you will dig up some worms and larvae for them to feast on.
- Sometimes you may see them walking around the pasture and scratching the ground to find their favorite crawly critters such insects. This is interesting because it will save you time and money that you would spend controlling insects on your farm.
- Keep in mind that some of these little creatures are pests and can wreak havoc to your garden if left unchecked. This brings us to another advantage of letting your birds free range in your backyard; controlling other pests.
Free Range Chickens Control Other Pests
If you spent some time with your free-range birds, you will notice that they love “hunting”. You will see them carefully waiting for their next easy meal while scratching the ground around them or foraging.
- In most cases, you may notice your chickens chasing down rats and small snakes to eat them. This comes as no surprise to their ability to control other dangerous pests on your farm.
- Your free-range chickens care capable of keeping the rat population 100 percent at bay. This daring move by your birds can make your backyard safe and the farm free of dangerous pests.
Free Range Chickens Don’t Need More Grit
- Your chickens will be roaming the yard and picking up small rocks, pebbles and sand. So they’ll not need grit afterward.
- This means that you will not have to get deeper into your pockets to purchase grit for them. At least, you will save some money for other important projects on your farm. Grit plays a significant role in breaking down some ingredients that your birds might have taken during the day.
Free Range Chickens Produce More Nutritious Eggs
- Since their diet in the field consists of naturally foraged foodstuff, their eggs are more likely to be nutritious. This is because different food items are made up of different nutrients that are transferred to the eggs.
- Although there’s a heated debate on this subject matter, there’s enough evidence to support this allegation.
- There’s no way you can convince me otherwise when it comes to free-range layers that feed on different foodstuffs. Chickens that eat natural foods won’t lay eggs of the same nutritional value as those raised on grain and corn. This remains a fact among poultry owners who practice free-ranging.
Cons of Free Range Chickens
Free Range Chickens are an Easy Target for Predators
When you let your birds roam freely, you are exposing them to all kinds of predators. For instance, they can become an easy meal for opossum, raccoons, fox, weasels, bears and coyotes and others.
- Predators such as raccoons are the most notorious culprits when it comes to attacking chickens at night. If you don’t take drastic measures at the right time, you can lose nearly half of your flock to raccoons.
- day time your free-range chickens can become vulnerable to predators such as eagles, hawks and foxes. Domestic pests can also find your chickens an easy target if they get the chance to attack them. For that reason, you should find ways of discouraging predators from killing your chickens when free-ranging.
Free Range Chickens Make it Difficult to Collect Eggs
- Even though these birds are known to produce nutritious eggs, they make it difficult to collect these precious commodities. This is due to the fact that most of them choose to lay eggs in hidden places around the yard.
- Hunting for eggs in your backyard can be a frustrating affair if you don’t know where to start. To overcome this problem, you should keep multiple and highly desirable laying locations around the yard. This method will save you time because your hens will lay at designated places where you can easily find their eggs.
Free Range Chickens Can Eat Unwanted Plants
- Your free-range chickens can eat unwanted plants from your garden or your neighbor’s farm. This can create conflicts in your neighborhood unless you find ways of preventing this from happening.
- If not, your free-range chickens will eat flowers from your garden, crops from your farm or even feed on dangerous herbs. You can prevent this problem by chicken proofing your garden or getting rid of all harmful herbs from the yard.
Free Range Chickens can Mess Your Backyard
- Chickens love scratching the ground in search of bugs or when dust bathing. This is normal among chickens but can damage your landscape, yard or garden when they scratch the ground frequently. Therefore, make sure that that your landscape is well protected before letting loose your birds to roam.
How do you contain/restrain your free-range chickens? The most effective way of containing your free-range birds is by fencing their roaming area. The fence will keep them in and keep predators out. Secondly, the fence will prevent them from damaging your garden or crops on your farm.
How much space does each chicken require in the coop when free-ranging? Since most free-range chickens spend their time roaming the yard, they will only need less space in the coop. In this case, each bird will require at least 1-2 feet of space in the coop during the night.
Free-range birds come with advantages and disadvantages to the chicken owner. By comparing the pros and cons of free-range birds, you can easily decide whether this option is good for you or not. Since pros are more than cons, we can unanimously agree that free-range is a better way of raising chickens.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Chicken Board!!