free range


In the Brooder
8 Years
Jun 23, 2011
wyandotte, mi
What exactly constitutes "free range?" Mine get out of their coop and get to run around the yard or a grass run a few hours everyday. Are they free range?
I think that is like being catholic, some are more so than others!

I think of myself as a free-ranger as mine spend most of their days out pecking in the Ranch yard, but there are days that I don't let them out of the run, and I always lock them up at night.

I think imho free range should be pastured, large open spaces.

But I think that for most, if your chicken are not constantly confined in the coop or run, then they are free ranged.

I am also wondering just exactly what you call it when you just let them out for an hour or two?
Controlled free range!?!?
A couple of days ago, after reading about a bunch of y'all letting your chickens out for an hour or two before roost time, I got up the nerve to try it!!! Let them out for about 30 minutes. They loved it!!! Skipped a day and then let them out again tonight for about an hour and a half. All I have to do is shake a plastic container of oats and they come running, with usually just one straggler that has to be chased in!
They just love getting to run around and be CHICKENS!!!

I never thought I would be able to let my chickens out because my next door neighbor raises BIRD DOGS!!! And, we have hawks that hunt in the pasture behind our chicken house, plus numerous cats. I am so thankful for people posting about letting their chickens out for an hour or two. I do stand guard over my babies!!!
I think of free range as having a field to wander about during the day with no chicken run and a coop that they get locked up in at night. I let mine out to peck around the yard during the day and dh and I call it "walkin' the chickens" LOL. Basically that's what I'm doing, staying right there and keeping watch that they don't get eaten, get into my veggie beds or over a fence. :)
Production egg layers are contained in a small cage and thats all they know. Cage Free would be they are kept in a small coop with a run. Free Range could be still kept in a coop and with a much larger run or let out of the small run to have total free range. My new runs will give each bird 25-30 sq ft per bird - that will be their free range.
Here's how the USDA defines "free range":

Here's what Robert Plamondon has to say about it:

1. What is free range?

There are three basic definitions of free range (as it applies to chickens). One is correct; two are bogus.
The correct definition is, "Free-range poultry are, for practical purposes, unfenced, and are encouraged to spend most of their time outdoors, weather permitting." Free-range poultry are often not fenced at all. When they are, the fences need to be very distant from the birds. True free-range flocks are generally fed and watered outside. This encourages the birds to spend time outdoors and keeps the houses cleaner and drier.
If the fences confine the birds to a smaller area than they would normally use, the practice isn't free-range at all. It's yarding. Yarding provides an entirely different set of management challenges from free-range.
Bogus definition #1 calls poultry with any access to the outside "free range," no matter how small or disgusting their outdoor yard is. This is the definition used in the US by the USDA. This definition has the advantage of being obviously bogus.
Bogus definition #2 is the European Union's definition of "free range," which is what you'd get if you took the USDA definition and had a PR firm give it a facelift. It's still just yarding.

Hope this helps.
Free range is one of those things that means different things to different people. Some think of it as meaning no fences. That's a traditional definition with cattle but not when applied to chickens. With chickens it does not mean much when you see it on a dozen eggs or a package of meat at the store.

Most of us think of free range chickens as having access to plants and bugs, being able to get out and enjoy the sunshine. Europe is probably different, but here in the US the legal definition of free range is that they have access to the outside. That access is not defined. If you take a hen house with 5,000 hens and have a pop door open a couple of hours a day that leads to a dirt covered area 4' x 4', that is legally considered free range. Not many hens are going to walk past all those other chickens to get to that open area. To me, a label that says free range does not mean much.

If they truly free range on grass and dirt, they have access to parasites and diseases. Big commercial operations really do not like to expose their chickens to parasites and diseases. They don't keep their chickens the way they do just to be mean and cruel. They keep them that way because it is more cost effective. Land is expensive. It would take a lot of land for chickens to not strip off the vegetation and commercial operations keep tens of thousands of chickens. You can't control the diet as well when they forage as when you feed them everything they eat and that feed is very carefully controlled for maximum efficiency.

My rural carrier used to raise 50,000 turkeys at a time, much of that time outside. They would cover the hillsides. He would lose a bunch to coyotes. Raising poultry outside a henhouse is less efficient. It costs more.

So if you have a run with no grass that they use they are actually much better off than the legal definition of free range. If yours have access for just a little time each day to grass and weeds, flying and hopping bugs, and all sorts of creepy crawlies you might not want to think about, yours are doing really well.

By the way, cage free does not mean they have a run. It means they are not kept confined in cages. They can still be housed in very crowded conditions with practically no room, but instead of keeping them in cages, they let them roam free inside that hen house. If they have access to a run, that is legally free range. To me, cage free does not mean much either. I consider cage free and free range just marketing ploys.
How do you get back into the coop? I have viisons of running around chasing the little ladies for a hour trying to catch them. And how far will they go from the coop?
We let our girls out for a few hours every evening and they never go far. Around dusk they find their way back to the coop. If we need to put them up early I just go out and sort of herd them back towards the coop.
At first they won't go real far from the coop, but they do get braver. They will definitely get into anything you hope they won't like flower beds and gardens. Mine just go back in about or just before dark. However, I can most always get them in any time.

When you feed, always shake the feed in the bucket and call "here chick, chick, chick" even if they are standing right there. That will get most of them pretty quick, but there is often a straggler, and while the others are pecking away, I will take a stick that I keep to extend my arm, and get the straggler between me and the gate. I walk toward the hen, and she will move away, if she trys to go in the wrong way, I tap the ground beside her and she will move toward the run. Usually they go right in.

While it is nice to let them out, and I do all the time. You are risking them, EVERYTHING likes to eat chicken.


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