A newbie question about free-range and lawns


9 Years
Oct 13, 2010
NW Connecticut
A lot of this appeals to me, but I have a few fears that remain, even after reading a bunch of forum posts and a few good guides on the web.

We've got about an acre and a half of lawn, which the hens would have free-roam of once they were properly "roosted." What I'm wondering is -- what can I "expect" in terms of damage?

I'm not a lawn freak, there are large sections of my lawn that are pure moss, and I've never fertilized or done anything more than mow, with the exception of seeding and watering once in a while when I'd like a section to be a little thicker.

I know there will be dust holes, but should I expect some large-scale carnage in spots?
First of all,

I let mine free range and they haven't done any damage at all to my lawn - if anything, I think they have enhanced it (from the constant fertilization and aeration). They have, however, taken over my flower box for a nest and eat all my tomatoes from my garden. I also have areas in my yard without grass which they use for their dust baths -

I'm not sure if they would make holes in the lawn to dust bathe though. I think that any holes in the lawn would result from overcrowding, but to play it safe, you might provide a few flower pots filled with dirt for them to dust bathe in.
It could happen. We don't have a large "lawn" but do have 3 acres. Our chickens found one spot on the lawn that they seem to prefer over others and have torn it up a bit. They haven't gone into the front yard yet so I don't know if they will find other "favorite" spots or not. The rest of our property is just left to nature and they do scratch and dig in places but it is not noticeable there.
You didn't mention how many chickens. I would expect little damage in general, except right around the coop, which they will turn to dust -- figure maybe 10' out. If you can tolerate a dust hole here and there, you should be fine. Mine make dust holes where the earth is bare, not where there is grass.

Now, I found out very quickly that I couldn't keep pine straw mulch under my bushes as they scratch it all out.

If you don't mind things like patches of moss (I don't have a real lawn either; I just mow whatever grows) they will probably not do anything you will miind.

And the poop-fertilizer is a good point. It's greener around here than it used to be.
Thanks for the responses, y'all have quite the community here.

We would have 4, possibly 6 max. It's mainly for eggs, and we only have 4 people in the house, one of whom won't eat eggs anyway.

Do they wander into the woods at all? The area I'm thinking of borders the woods, mostly pine needles under cover of some very well-established cedar trees. I'm also a little concerned about the road -- it's not a busy road by any means, but that could be worse, if they didn't learn to fear it.
I too have around 3 acres, but they seem to stay in a large area by their coop. If you have a grasshopper problem, they will fix that. I have my tomatoes in raised beds, so they didnt bother them at all. The fun of having them free range, out weighs a few lawn issues!
OK, I have 18 chickens on 11 acres, maybe 1/3 mowed and 2/3 in weeds and young trees. There are no fences, and there are some old woods behind me, and I live along a long stretch of road. They do go into the woods, but they never go near the road, they stay toward the back of the property. My dogs keep fox, etc. away. I have read of people having problems with chickens going onto the road, but evidently this does not happen often. After all, they want grass and leaf litter and such, not dirt or pavement....

They will be exposed to predators but they will also return to the coop at night, and many people lock them in after they return, because the worst of the predators are usually at night -- unless you have dogs wandering around loose. But the whole question of free range and predators and safety vs. freedom is another conversation.

Meanwhile, I don't believe 6 chickens are going to do serious damage to 1.5 acres.

If you want to get into the predator question, you might want to start another thread in the predators and pests section. Everybody likes chicken -- but chickens love to free range. In the end it's a personal choice.
What about .5 acre (6 chickens)? Mine is fenced in (for the dog) right now... mostly lawn some woods. I could expand it to be more woods. I'm planning to have a coop and there will be a tall fence around my garden (I do have a problem with a resident gopher). Not sure if the gopher is going to hurt the chickens. I'd love if they could be free range during the day when I'm at work. I'd lock them in the coop at night. But Id ont want my lawn to turn into a mudpit, My husband would NOT be happy.
Hi activia! Welcome to BYC!!!

I'd be more concerned about your dog attacking your chickens, than the gopher attacking your chickens.

Chickens WILL destroy your lawn, unless the lawn can recover faster than the chickens tear it up. So it depends on the size of the flock and size of the lawn, but also on the species of grass, time of year, growing conditions etc.

One strategy folks use is to have multiple yards. When one area is looking ragged, the flock is let onto a different area. I'd also recommend a dedicated dust bath site, such as a clean cat box filled with playground sand - otherwise, the chickens will surely build their own.
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I have a fairly large 'urban' back yard. One quarter acre at most. My back yard is mostly lawn with an assigned area for the coop and run. I have several 'built in' planter boxes a largish patio, and an fenced area for my garden. My chickens are out free ranging every day; they have done no damage to the lawn, minimal damage to the planter boxes and none to the garden. I have twelve hens and two roosters - all standard size.

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