Complete free range vs. large run -- any feedback?


8 Years
Apr 26, 2011
West Texas
Hello all!

I currently have 19 chickens and one duck that free range over our ranch headquarters in the livestock pens (to which their large coop is attached/part of). My 16 hens are starting to lay (I've gotten two eggs in the coop in the past three days!) and I'm really loving it! They are 19 weeks old.

My conundrum, however, is this: I work full time in town, and must turn my birds out by 7:15 in the morning at the latest so I can make it to work by 8am. As the days shorten, I am getting worried about predators, etc. and having the coop door opened so early. I wanted to get some feedback from people who are more experienced than I am with birds -- what are the positives/negatives about keeping the chickens in a large run vs. completely free ranging? I don't want them to start beating the crud out of one another in a run, which I am worried about with them having grown up free ranging. I have tons of room, so the only constraint on run size will be how much fencing material I can afford.

I am also having a bit of trouble finding eggs (those that are being laid, anyway) and am thinking that having them in a run vs. free ranging will help with this. I would still turn them out to free range in the evenings when I can, and on the weekends.

A true story on something that happened yesterday....

Bill and I were out in the backyard on the upper deck making 7 foot long boxes to be placed in front of one of our three coops/runs, filled with dirt and planted with shrubs, flowers, etc. to pretty up the area. We that moment...pounding nails into these boxes when we heard "Cassanova", our MF cochin bantam give one heck of a holler.

We looked up to see either a hawk or falcon (unsure which) take off from the ground around the bantam coop and fly up over our wood privacy fence and away.

Note that this took place while we were working in the backyard, making a racket putting these boxes together and with our so-called guard dog laying by our feet, no more than probably 50 feet away from this predator. Neither one of us saw him glide in to land. I should mention that we do not live in the country; we live in the city, although many of the lots in this area are covered with old growth trees.

We have (right now) 23 chickens scattered into three different coops and runs. All runs have roofs of hardware cloth.

Again, even living in the city, raccoons, possums, squirrels and snakes are very common. We had a family of owls nesting nearby for several years and one summer noted a pair of hawks nesting high up in one of our very old pine trees. I used to see a fox running the neighborhood early in the morning.

I have no doubt that if any of our chickens had been free ranging yesterday we'd be down at least one of them today.

I vote covered run. Whether it is covered with wire or roofing I feel it needs to be covered.
I live in town and have seen regularly a family of foxes, raccoons, and hawks.
I and DH feel that if anything is going to eat my chickens it better be us not some other predator.
we have a run for ours but thats because we tons of predators. if you could get an electric coop door you can set it up with a timer to open and close.
Another true story 3 days ago went out at 5:30 to feed everyone all present & accounted for. We went back about an hour later to give some treats noted we were short some heads came up 4 packing peanuts , 2 BO's short. We had been outside abut 75 yards away didn't hear or see a thing . Never found the 1st feather of any of them trust me I did a search the next day. They are not allowed out without someone being right them now. They had been able to free range as long as we were home. I don't have a clue what took them or anything .
So the answer for me would be do the large run, free range when you are home & can keep up with them. Not only that you may be able to find more eggs. I guess I will always opt for their safety more than what we think they may want.
I agree with all the other folks. I know free range is the best like my folks used to do on the farm when they were at home all day working around the house. The other reason was that we were so poor my folks never fed anything except a little scratch feed to the chickens. I assume that is why they left them out all the time and they would roost in the barn loft and in the cow and mule stalls. Chickens could pick up their feed in the barnyard and stables. I can't do that where I live. we are covered up with preditors of all kinds. Here in the mountains we have stray dogs, stray cats, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, Hawks and even a occasional black bear and a recent sighting of a mountain lion about 3 miles from my house. I would lose chickens at a fast rate if I free ranged all the time. sometimes I do turn them out if I can sit and watch them for several hours. My answer is to give them plenty of good food, plenty of clean water and as much run as I can afford to give them.
I live on a 150 acre farm, surrounded by 1000 ac owned by other family members. No way would I let my chickens free range. They are in a large covered run. Too many predators.
I seriously recommend a big run, and then let them out when you can keep an eye on them. Two eyes! A coyote has almost gotten our chickens twice now - while we've been home in the middle of the day. I beefed up their tractor and changed the latch on the door, but I still keep tabs on them. I hate to fence them at all too, but it beats the alternative.
I live in an urban area, and I used to free range my hens all day. After I lost a hen to a hawk a few years ago, I decided to change my management. My hens stay in the run most of the day, until I can be out with them while I work in the yard. They still get to regularly do all the free ranging things they like, just much more limited.

I vote for large run.
If your really worried build them a run. You can always let them out to freerange in the summer or whenever your around. So far I've been lucky. We have an excess of coyotes and so far they haven't gotten any of my bird or sheep. It may because I have some St. Bernards that would love to eat coyote but hey who knows

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