The Pros and Cons of Free Range Chickens

free range chickens

If you close your eyes and picture the perfect homestead, you might have visions of chickens roaming and pecking freely throughout your acreage. Eating tasty insects and filling your coop with eggs containing bright orange yolks. It’s a pretty picture, but is it realistic? Let’s look at the pros and cons of free range chickens to see which one is really a better choice for you!

The Benefits of Free Range Chickens

free range chickens

  • You will save money on commercial chicken feed. If your chickens are roaming freely all day they will be able to search out much of their own food. They will find insects, berries, grubs and greens to fill their stomachs and in turn you will not have to supplement as much in the way of feed.
  • Your eggs will be more nutrient dense. When a chicken’s diet includes naturally foraged items their eggs will benefit by transferring some of those nutrients to their eggs. There is some controversy around this subject, but you can’t convince me that a chicken eating more natural and fresh foods will produce eggs of the same nutrition as those raised purely on corn and grain.
  • Your chickens well be less likely to become overweight. Yes, chickens can become obese too and it can be quite dangerous. The more room they have to roam, the more exercise they will get.
  • You will have less pest insects in your yard. Japanese beetles? June bugs? Grasshoppers? Those are favorites of chickens- they eat them and you don’t have to set out traps to stop infestations.

Those are the main benefits you obtain from free ranging your chickens. So, now let’s look at the cons.

The Negatives to Free Range Chickens

  • free range chickensYou will save money on commercial chicken feed. I know what you are thinking, I already said that up in the benefits section. But, this time it’s a negative, because they will not only eat insects, they will eat your garden. You will find perfectly ripe tomatoes with holes, your zucchinis will be pecked, and your strawberries nonexistent.
  • Chickens love to scratch. If chickens are allowed to freely scratch they will scratch in places you don’t want, like on newly sprouted crocuses, newly planted vegetable seedlings, or in the middle of your front yard.
  • Chickens love to dust. Often times dusting will go hand in hand with scratching. Your chickens will scratch up a nice big hole in your front yard and then proceed to dust in it for hours making it bigger and also ensuring that the grass will not grow back any time soon!
  • Chickens poop. And if allowed to do so freely they will poop in places you don’t want. Like your back deck or directly outside your front door. It’s not pretty. It’s not inviting. And it’s not fun to step in.
  • You will waste your liquid gold. Have you ever amended your garden with chicken manure? It’s good stuff, and when chickens are in a more contained location you will get more of it, when they free range most of your manure will be spread all over your yard and will never make it into the garden- except when they are in there eating it….
  • They are at risk from predators. If you have neighborhood dogs or trouble with wild predators such as foxes, raccoons or bird or prey, your chickens will be much more at risk free ranging than if they are in a yard or covered run.

Looking at that list you might think that I am not a supporter of free range chickens. But if were to look outside I will see a chicken sitting on my front porch and if I look out into the field I can see a dozen more. Our current chickens are 10o%, completely and utterly free ranged. But on the to-list for this winter…is fencing. And that brings me to the middle ground.

The Best of Both Worlds

There aren’t only 2 options. It’s not black or white. Free range or caged run. There are actually a few middle ground options the offer the best of both worlds.

yarded chickensThe Chicken Tractor:

A chicken tractor is basically a covered run on wheels. The chickens are enclosed but their house and run is moveable so that it can be moved to a new piece of grass daily. They still get the benefits of foraging and pecking grass and bugs from fresh earth, but they will not have access to the garden or living spaces. Because it is moved daily the chickens will not overwork one piece of land and the grass will be healthier because of them. And since the tractor is enclosed, your chickens will also be safe from predators.

The Yarded Chicken:

This is my preferred way of raising chickens, and the way our chickens were pastured for years before we moved to our current homestead. The fenced chicken yard is large enough for the chickens to get almost all of the benefits of free ranging, yet confined enough to keep them out of the garden and off my deck. You will have to manage your pasture to ensure that they will not destroy every living thing and be left with a barren yard of dirt and you will still have some predators to deal with, but overall yarding your chickens can be one of the best options that make everyone happy and healthy.

 

How do you contain your chickens? Covered run? A yard? Free range? If you have any other pros and cons to add to my list I would love to hear them!

This post is linked to From the Farm, Tuesdays with a Twist, Clever Chicks Blog Hop, The Homestead Barn Hop, Homemade Monday, Thank Goodness It’s Monday, Modern Homesteaders Hop, Creative Home and Garden Hop, Simple Saturdays, Natural Living Monday, The Backyard Farming Connection, The HomeAcre Hop,

© 2013 – 2014, Sarah Toney. All rights reserved.

22 comments on “The Pros and Cons of Free Range Chickens

  1. Karen says:

    Hello! I enjoyed your chicken post. We live waaay up in the Sierra mountains and had free range chickens for many years before the predators moved in and began harassing them when they were in the coop at night. In one night we lost them all and it was heartbreaking! We mourned for Sally, Lorraine, Ginny….. But, after a few years of not having our birds, we have decided to go for it again (we miss the interaction, reduction of bugs and ticks around the homestead, not to mention the fresh EGGS!) and will be reinforcing the coop, and perhaps trying a chicken tractor, although, I much prefer to let them roam free during the daytime :) My husband is a little hesitant to go free range again though. Well, I’ve got hens on the brain now. Thanks for sharing :) Happy holidays!
    Karen

    • I can’t imagine how devastating! We don’t deal well with losing one at a time! I have been wrestling with the decision to allow them to range vs putting up a fence. We are planning a much bigger produce-oriented farm and can’t afford for them to peck their way through the crops anymore. We hope to still let them out to range in the winters though. Thanks for sharing!

  2. I love the IDEA of free ranging too. My chickens have always been behind a fence though. One of my reasons is that a free range chicken may get into your neighbor’s petunias. With neighborhood restrictions the way they are, I think that it is best to be a responsible neighbor, that way neighbors are more likely to be open to the idea of chickens.

  3. Susie w five hens. says:

    Free range is nice in concept. I like my greens without chicken drizzle. On the other hand, the entertainment of free birds during grasshopper season is worth seeing.

  4. I’ll be glad when we get back into a house… would love to have chickens! :D

  5. We love our girls free ranging, but hate the poop and the mess they make in the garden. So, we created “paddocks” where we move their free range area weekly, and they get the benefits of grass and bugs and such, but we don’t have to deal with them all over the place. Or in the garden. Sorta best case scenario for our situation, I guess.

  6. […] They love to roam. I recently shared my thoughts on free range chickens, but I assume if you want to purchase guinea fowl it is mostly for their tick-eating tendencies. […]

  7. Great post! I agree with you on them roaming into our garden and taking bites out of our tomatoes, haha! We’re working on a plan to protect our garden alittle more this coming season and still let the girls have some stretching room!

    • We fenced in our garden this past year- but our berries are outside that fence. We finally decided to put up a fence around the chickens since it wouldn’t be feasible to fence the berries!

  8. Chicken and duck poop on the back deck – it’s enough to make my DH crazy. The holes everywhere and the pecked tomatoes are my beef! We are also thinking about pasturing next year…but it is so nice to see them wandering around. Great article :)

  9. Thx for sharing on Thank Goodness it’s Monday. I agree with you, and now have them “free range” in a large fenced in yard for half the day. It’s much more than a run. We keep 10-20 chickens in 1/3 acre with shrubs, small trees, and our compost bins to make foraging a lot more interesting than just a patch of grass. There is still some risk of predation, but much less, because we can see where chickens are at all times, and they do have plenty of cover within the yard where they can hide from hawks. As usual, a middle ground works better than either extreme (total free range vs. tight confinement)

  10. karen says:

    Wonderful post. I let my girls free range and with six I was getting a lot of problems in my garden areas….bummer. I lost some chickens to an owl so the three girls now stay in the coop and the run. They don’t even want to go into the yard. I miss seeing them in the yard. I will add new chicks this Spring and get them started in the yard again, maybe the older gals will come out.

  11. Issa Waters says:

    This is very complete coverage of the ins and outs of free ranging. My chickens are currently 100% free ranging. They nest up in the trees at night and do their thing all day long. I have an electric perimeter fence that keeps out the biggest predators, and a lovely bunch of crows who keep away most of the hawks. We fence our gardens, or just share what isn’t fenced. It’s a real joy to have the chickens running about here and there all day, running up to see us when they spot us, hoping for a treat and watching them chase bugs. Of course, we’re not finding very many eggs, so that’s a downside! And the poop! I like to warn people that free range chickens means free range poop. Especially when it’s rainy, they just hang out under cover on my front porch all day. So gross. So far, their entertainment value and joy of having them running around outweighs the negatives, but I could always change my mind.

    • Ours have had free range of our property for the past 2 years (since we moved to acreage). I have wrestled with the decision to put up a fence, but we are hoping to start up a much larger farm business- u-pick pumpkins and berries, and can’t afford to have them free any longer…I will miss seeing them wander the fields, but not the poop on my deck!

  12. […] The Pros and Cons of Free-Range Chickens from The Free-Range […]

  13. Thanks once again for sharing on Tuesdays With a Twist. We don’t have chickens, yet, but due to the reasons you have mentioned is why I want to use the chicken tractor. Pinning to my chicken board.

  14. […] My favorite post from our last hop was from The Free Range Life: The Pros and Cons of Free Range Chickens […]

  15. […] This post at The Free Range Life covers a lot of the concerns. Pros to free ranging include saving money on feed, fewer bugs in your yard, and more nutrient dense eggs. Cons include chicken shit everywhere, not being able to find the eggs, and predators. […]

  16. CJ says:

    I can’t imagine having chickens NOT free ranging unless you live in town. The benefits outweigh the negatives, hands down. The entertainment factor? Priceless!

    • I used to think that…but when you grow crops as a livelihood and chickens eat those crops…..the fenced area we are building for the chickens is large- 1/4 acre or more….so they still have plenty of room.

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