If you’re wondering about free-ranging chickens, let me tell you about our experience! We have a variety of birds on our little farm, and they all free-range. Here are some benefits and drawbacks you might want to consider before deciding to let your chickens free-range too.
Drawbacks of Free-Ranging Chickens
First, let’s talk about the drawbacks of free-ranging chickens. From my perspective, there are really only two negatives, but they can seal the deal for a lot of people.
The first drawback is quite simply: chickens make a mess. I have a hard time keeping flower beds pretty, and if I can’t find some way to keep chickens out of my garden when I’m planting, they destroy everything with their scratching and eating. I had to fence my garden to protect it from our free-ranging birds
Scratching through the garden is not the only messy negative, though. They also poop all over everywhere. If they decide your deck or garage are nice places to hang out, be prepared to clean up chicken poop. It’s a little gross honestly. There are days when this messy drawback is enough for me to reconsider letting my chickens have free run of our entire acreage.
The second drawback to free-ranging chickens is that it’s harder to keep them safe from predators. We have taken a multi-tiered approach to chicken safety by incorporating roosters, guineas, and geese into our flock. We also have a lot of protective help thanks to our two Great Pyrenees dogs.
However, if you free-range your chickens, you will ultimately experience chicken loss to predators. It will happen at some point and is a risk you will have to accept if you want to free-range your chickens, even with a lot of added protection.
Benefits of Free-Ranging Chickens
While I think there are only two drawbacks to free-ranging chickens, there are a lot more benefits. Here are a few of my favorite:
- Free-range chickens often have a more varied diet. When they free-range, they get to eat such a wide variety of bugs, seeds, etc, which makes their eggs richer in omega-3s, vitamin A and lower in cholesterol too.
- Because they can find more of their own food, free-range chickens often need less feed, saving you money.
- Free-range chickens can be useful garden tillers – when you’re ready to have them in your garden they’ll help spread your compost, mulch, eat the grubs, and get your garden ready for you!
- The have lots of room to spread out in which can help with fighting = more spots to hide equals less hen-pecking by dominate birds.
- The poop, which I mentioned being messy, also makes a great fertilizer for your lawn!
Is there a compromise?
Ultimately, I would like to have the best of both worlds. I want my chickens to free-range, but I also stay them to stay out of my flower beds, off my porch, and out of my gardens.
I would like to move my chickens further from our house and contain them in our pasture. Currently, our pasture fence won’t contain them, but we might switch over to poultry netting. This would give us a little more control over where the birds go, but also give them more space than confining them to our little chicken yard. I keep saying I’m going to do this, but I don’t! Maybe next year!
What are your thoughts on free-ranging chickens?