free-ranging makes chickens more happy and with all the extra space and grass, they can eat and roam more, i recommend it, but if you cant free range because you have alot of predators or just not enough space build a run to the coop
When I see how mine explode out of the run when I let them out, and how much they seem to enjoy themselves pecking, scratching, dustbathing, and getting into whatever I choose to do outside (especially eat watermelon), I don't think I would have the heart to not let them free range.
I have 1 acre fenced in for mine. They love it I do not think I have the heart to lock them up they really love it. Even though we lost one of our hens thursday to a dog, but he did not get in throught our fence. He broke in a window in the barn.
Mine free range our farm and are such a joy to have running around and following me everywhere that I too wouldn't have the heart to keep them confined. We do, however, have two great dogs that stay outside and keep all predators off our property. Rex, our GSD, has recently started chasing the hawks that fly over. It's pretty funny cause while he's looking up and running and barking and chasing a flying hawk like a lunatic, he nearly runs into barns, stables, fences, etc.
Amazing thing is that when the hawks are circling overhead, I look around and wouldn't know I had chickens. There's not a one to be found. As soon as the hawk flys off, here they all come from under bushes and buildings - seems they just morph right into the ground and suddenly just morph right back where they were.
There's so much joy to watching them be chickens that I now couldn't/wouldn't do it any other way. Even our baby chicks free-range. We've never lost a chick and never had an illness or fighting issue - just lots of healthy, happy chickens that somehow know how to survive without our keeping them locked up.
But I would say that having dogs that guard your property and interact with and guard your flock is the key thing in free ranging.
My 9 have been free ranging on 3/4 of a fenced acre for the last 6 months. They love being out and haven't gotten into trouble yet. They get locked up tight every night in a secure coop. BUT........they eat anything green - even evergreen trees and shrubs. They dig craters and I mean craters - the holes can be chicken shoulder deep. The garden, fruit trees and fruit bearing bushes need to be protected with chicken proof fencing. DH and I have thrown in the towel and decided to make a big run for them. The run will be 20'x 100' so I hope they will accept their smaller range. Its amazing how much excavating and damage a small flock can do in the yard.