At some point, every chicken owner will have to make a decision to either free range their chickens or use a coop with a chicken run attached. Both options have some advantages and some disadvantages.
The advantages of keeping your chickens in a coop with a run attached include:
- Chickens kept in coops with a run attached are easier to keep safe from predators. Chicken runs can be basic with wires strung across the top to discourage flying predators like hawks or they can be elaborate with a complete wire roof that is high enough for you to comfortably enter the run to clean.
- Chickens will use the nesting boxes provided making egg collecting much easier on you. While you may occasionally find an egg in the run, most chickens will use the nesting boxes you provide.
- There is less worry about diseases when your chickens are confined where they cannot mingle with wild birds and you can control who has access to your chicken's living quarters. Wild birds can carry many different strains of bird flu and human visitors with birds of their own could inadvertently carry a virus in on their shoes or even their car tires. When your chickens are confined, you can limit their exposure to diseases.
The disadvantages of keeping your chickens confined include:
- You will spend more time cleaning. Chickens poop. A lot. The smaller the chicken run, the more often you will need to clean it.
- Flies. The more concentrated chicken poop you have, the more flies will be concentrated on that poop.
- Overcrowding causes stress which can lead to sickness or bad behavior. If you choose to keep your chickens in a coop with an attached run, make sure you provide enough room for each one to move around and be a chicken. Chickens like to stretch their wings and take dust baths. They like to run around. By keeping them penned, it is your responsibility to make sure they have plenty of room.
The advantages of free range chickens include:
- Chickens can reduce pests in your yard. Chickens love pests. From fleas and ticks to flies and grasshoppers. Chickens will even kill mice and snakes.
- There are many nutritional advantages of free range eggs. When you add grasses to their diet, you add high levels of omega-3 from the greens. It is recommended that we should eat equal amounts of omega-6’s and omega-3’s, but most Americans have at least 10 times more omega-6’s in their diet. Excess omega-6’s can lead to degenerative diseases. When your chickens are allowed to free range, it balances out the omega-3’s and the omega-6’s and is healthier for you. Free range chicken eggs are also higher in vitamin D, vitamin A, beta-carotene and vitamin E.
- Free ranged chickens are usually healthier than confined chickens. They are able to forage for greens and insects, they can move around more getting the exercise they need to stay healthy.
- They provide great entertainment. Chickens are fun to watch. Many free range chickens develop great personalities and make wonderful pets.
The disadvantages of free ranged chickens include:
- Free range chickens are targets for predators. Hawks, coyotes, fox, and more. It can help to have birds that will blend into the landscape or to have a guardian dog. Roosters will protect their hens from predators (but many people do not want to have a rooster).
- Free range chickens may not use the nesting boxes you provide which means you will be going on egg hunts often.
There are advantages and disadvantages to let your chickens free range or keeping them in a run. But, there is another way that your chickens can have the advantages of both with few disadvantages.
There might be a better way.
By using a coop on wheels with a run that is easily moved, we have all the advantages of both free range and coop/run without the disadvantages of either. Our chickens are protected; they are never confined long enough in one place to attract flies or to destroy the grass. Instead they fertilize our lawn and take care of pests.