Justifying Fenced Run vs Free Range to Landlady

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by ckickendiva, Feb 4, 2016.

  1. ckickendiva

    ckickendiva Just Hatched

    Oct 29, 2015
    Southern Oregon
    My landlady, awesome woman & friend, bought 16 day old chicks, layers, last Sept, & I've had full responsibility for them since. I've bought about half their feed too. They currently, happily & healthily, live in a large coop. Within the next few weeks she insists I have to let them out, unfenced, supposedly so we can save money on feed. The four acre property we're on is very open & adjacent to many wooded acres, home to various & numerous wildlife, including coyotes, foxes, raccoons, possums, skunks and, well, you get the picture. Yeah. Plenty o' predators+16 goofy chickens=a lot less than 16 chickens in a short amount of time. Even I can figure that out. Plus one very heart broken mother hen (me!). One idea I have is a covered run attached to the coop door or an opening for them to use at will during the day. Also, I could supervise them out of the co-op for a couple hours a day since I'm self employed & work from home. I have one rooster & our 3 month old German Shepard may eventually be a good guard dog for them.
    I did search the forums for answers & got some great info on runs & preventing loss to predators but I still have a couple of questions.
    1. Given that it's still winter here in southern Oregon (still raining, only a few nights around freezing,) a little vegetation like shrubs but no grass & not much ground cover & a few trees, I'm not sure we'll save a bunch on feed anyway. What would be the most we could save on feed if they were out during daylight hours, 50%, 25%? Has anybody figured this out for their flock? It might not be the same for us, but I'd like to at least know what the best case scenario would be.
    2. Would leaving them out for a couple of hours per day even make a difference in the cost of feed at all?
    3. Would a fenced, covered pen (400 sq ft?) they could access during daylight at will save much in feed either?
    4. Lastly, does anyone have any other information or suggestions that could help make everybody happily here?
    Also, just so you know what a softy I am, if push comes to shove, I will pay for ALL the feed and even buy the little stinkers from her before I accept the idea of losing ANY of them! Honestly, my partner & I will probably build them a run either way. She never comes to see them so, picture the scenario... "Chicken run? What chicken run? OMG! Where the heck did that come from. Fricking aliens! Gotta be. Wait, no! Sasquatch! Criminy! Look for footprints. U-Tube, here we come..."
  2. potato chip

    potato chip lunch-sharer

    I don't know the answer, but my gut reaction from observing my chooks is that all of the forage food and all of the veges and all of the treats are viewed as additional to their pellets. I have read that chickens will eat to satisfy their need for calories, but mine seem to eat just for the pleasure of it. If what I've read is true, then any amount of other food should lessen the amount of provided food eaten.

    I agree with you - if there isn't any grass, they won't be eating much to defray the cost of their pellets.

    Have you considered a mobile run? You could move it about to different spots to let them eat in different spots (in spring, when there's something to eat). A fixed run with vegetation in it will be a fixed run with sand in it in a very short amount of time.
    1 person likes this.
  3. SLAP STICK487

    SLAP STICK487 Out Of The Brooder

    Jun 3, 2015
    Liberty Ms.
    Well in my experience i never really shorten my Ladies' feed 1 grain and i let them out everyday ,but the feeder stays full a little longer during the day simply because they are elsewhere but when they return they make up for it.._.
    1 person likes this.
  4. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockless Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    Hi there,

    If you free range your birds, expect some losses - its simply inevitable (I do, but i know that i have to take the occasional loss on the chin).

    Food bills will not change as the birds should have access to food all the time (during the day, at least) and the foraging that chickens do will not provide them with the balanced diet needed - fenced area or totally free range. The kinds of chickens that can survive on limited proprietary food are those more typically found in developing countries and even then, the productivity of those kind of chickens left to basically feed themselves is very low.

    1 person likes this.
  5. ChickenMammX4

    ChickenMammX4 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 17, 2015
    SW Ohio
    We don't free range our chickens due to the many predators and that our coop isn't near the house so I can't even keep an eye on them. We have a large, secure run and take fresh grass, fruit & veggies to them. The deep litter in the run also provides bugs & worms. Not sure if that cuts down on the feed consumption or not.
    1 person likes this.
  6. MikeTheGardener

    MikeTheGardener Chillin' With My Peeps

    Sep 3, 2014
    New Jersey
    We don't let them free range for two reasons. One, predators. We have a lot of hawks in the area and if we let them free range they would all be gone by now. Two, we live in a more suburban environment and it would probably piss my neighbors off, and I'd rather not do that.

    However, I do have a friend that lets his chickens free range and his feed costs have not decreased.
    1 person likes this.
  7. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    I would build a run for back up safety (what are they living in now?) and try the free ranging if she insists(what a strange collaboration).

    I don't free range because of hawks, other preds, don't want to deal with poop all over, and indiscriminate plant destruction.

    Some folks who free range claim the regular feed use goes way down in summer, other claim not much difference...
    ......I think it really depends on what else is out there for them to eat.

    My confined birds eat a bit less in summer because they don't burn so much up staying warm.....
    ......but they pay for their feed all year round by egg sales and meat.

    There are many other ways to save on feed, and provide forage type foods, other than free ranging.
    1 person likes this.
  8. ckickendiva

    ckickendiva Just Hatched

    Oct 29, 2015
    Southern Oregon
    Thank you everyone for taking the time to comment. The consensus, and what I suspected, is that saving money on feed isn't a major benefit of free ranging, fenced or not. I've decided to built a portable run and look into other ways to save money on feed.
    I love this site! My first question posted and I got so much help already. Awesome!
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2016
  9. wingedshade

    wingedshade Chillin' With My Peeps

    Feb 8, 2016
    Delta junction, Alaska
    If there isn't much greenery or bugs turning them out this early probably wont cut down much on feed usage. On the other hand room to run and fresh air can be good for them! I also second the mobile run idea, it'll keep them safe and you can decided where they forage.

    The rooster will do his best to keep the hens safe, but I wouldn't depend on him too much. I would also keep a close eye on the dog around the chickens, he's still pretty young. I had chickens attacked by our dogs before, great dogs, just not around chickens!
  10. lynnehd

    lynnehd Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 1, 2015
    Vancouver, Wa.
    I agree. If you love your chickens, then protect them. You can make a daytime large run that will protect from hawks. If your dog is 'iffy' around chickens, make it secure enough so he can't get in, but his presence will keep away the stray daytime raccoons, etc., from your yard.
    Lock them up in the coop at night.

    Look up 'grazing frames' (for greens). You can consider sprouting fodder for some extra greens, or a 'mealworm farm'.
    You could use PVC or wood framed hoop runs, or just construct a secondary daytime run out of U posts, deer fencing, and netting over the top (around a tree, or supported by 4x4's or 2x4's with flower pots over the tops to protect the aviary or poultry netting.

    Last edited: Feb 8, 2016
    1 person likes this.

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