- Less money for feed costs
- Healthier chickens and eggs due to higher nutritional value from access to insects and grass
- Free fertilizer to the lawn and land
- Free pest control
- Unlimited Entertainment
Why did the chicken cross the road? Because he was free ranging, that's why! There are a lot of opinions on chickens in coops and free-ranging poultry, and both have a lot of valid points. What happens to free range chickens, is a question that The Pierce Ponderosa hears often.
First, let me tell you my story. We started out with a chicken tractor. What is a chicken tractor you ask? It's a movable coop that you can move around the yard so that the chickens have access to green grass and insects after they have eaten all they wanted in the other spot. I didn't find it to be an ideal situation. My yard looked like it had some strange disease, in certain spots it was lush green and grassy and in others it was brown rectangles of dirt. Moving the tractor was a lot of work. We had to pick it up and move it around all at the same time shifting the chickens without letting them get out or smashing them. It was a headache.
I then decided that we needed a nice big run with a chicken house. My husband went to work on the chicken house and he and my sons fenced in a big, grassy area. That grassy area lasted a very short time and then turned into a mud pit after a lot of rain. I slipped and fell a couple of times and hurt my back and my pride, as I laid there in nasty chicken poo trying to get up, like a turtle on it's back, so not to touch any more chicken poo or mud. We had dogs get into the chicken run and kill a lot of our chickens and my heart was broken. I felt like I had set them up to be killed because they had nowhere to go when they were being attacked. I decided this was not an ideal situation.
I started reading about free range chickens and the more I read and the more I researched, the better it sounded to me. I left the door open to the chicken house and let them out into the world. I stayed with them that first day, and only thought that I would do it supervised. I did that for some time but finally I realized how happy my chickens were and how this seemed like a healthy way to raise them. Today, I still free range all of my chickens on our eighteen acres and we have happy, content chickens here on the Pierce Ponderosa.
You will hear people speak about predators with free range chickens. Yes, there are a lot of predators that love a tasty chicken meal, including domestic dogs like the ones that killed all of mine. I've written a post on 15 Chicken predators, and you can read more about the predators that go after chickens. I know that we don't want to lose any of our precious chickens and we fall in love with each and every one of them. But, in reality, we do lose chickens to death. Even chickens in coops get ill and have issues with health and can die. The circle of life means that if we are letting our animals out of our control, that they could disappear to a hungry owl or hawk. I can't fault hawks and owls and other creatures for snatching a bird because they are looking for a meal and are just living their lives. It makes me sad when it happens. I haven't lost as many birds to predators while free ranging as I did when I had them in a coop. I have Great Pyrenees and they are very protective of our livestock and they keep things away from our property. There are a lot of predators that can get into housed chickens and kill them. Raccoons, opossum, foxes and other animals can dig into a chicken coop and reap havoc, killing all the birds. If runs aren't covered, you still have issues with hawks swooping down and snatching a bird from their safe zone. Honestly, in my opinion, there are just as many ways to lose your birds to predators in a safe chicken coop as there are with them ranging freely and doing what chickens like to do best.
I love watching my chickens and seeing them scurrying around pecking and hunting for bugs. I feel so loved when I open the front door and they all come running from every direction, knowing they are due for a treat or just to say hello. For me, free-ranging my chickens just feels right. I can't imagine not having those heart melting moments from the kitchen window because they are all cooped up out of my view.
I have taken precautions to limit loss with my free range chickens here on the Pierce Ponderosa. I have Guinea fowl that acts as an alarm if there is anything out of the ordinary in the barnyard. They screech and run around insanely and allow me a chance to get outside to take a look. Like I mentioned before, I have livestock guardian dogs that help to keep predators away and I have a nice big rooster that watches his girls and is ready to put his life on the line for them. The same goes for my ducks as well, I always make sure I have a Drake to protect his ladies. And, I don't discount the intelligence of my chickens. They keep watch on the sky and are cautious on their own. They have plenty of places to hide and get out of harms way if there is a predator lurking around. People say chickens are dumb, but I disagree, I think they are very intelligent and know just how to do what they are supposed to do. With all these precautions in place, I will admit I've lost a bird here or there, but nothing like the slaughter when I had my coop. I had a bird bitten by a snake and one that wandered off into the open pasture alone and was taken by a hawk. But, for the most part, my free range birds live a fairly safe existence and are happy and content.
What is your opinion on free-ranging chickens? Do you prefer to keep them in a house and coop or let them wander freely around your property? I would love to situate my farm so that I can run my animals to keep my land healthy like Joel Salatin does at Polyface Farms in Virginia. If you ever get a chance to read his books or check out his website, do so, what he has done is amazing. We aren't that point yet, we need to continue to build our livestock and add our pigs and cows to our farm. Once we get ourselves in the right situation, I'm planning on following his advice and only hope to see a fraction of results like he has done. But, I digress, back to free ranging chickens!
I wanted to share some of the benefits that we have from free range chickens, besides their freedom that really struck accord with me and helped me to decide to free range.
There are a lot of studies about higher nutritional levels in eggs and the meat of chickens that are raised on pasture, and that is great news. But, for me it's more about the happiness and quality of life for my chickens. They give me so many benefits, the least I can do is make sure their lives are as happy as I can make them while I am raising them.
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Hi! My name is Jaymie and I'm married to my best friend and have three children. We live on our hobby farm in the north Georgia mountains and love it!
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