Perspectives from those that have real free-range flocks

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Wandercreek, May 3, 2017.

  1. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'd like to hear from other folks here that have real free-range flocks. I think we all know what 'free-range' is supposed to mean, even though the term is very loosely defined for egg labeling requirements. I'm looking for those of you out there that manage your birds without any kind of regularly forced confinement.

    I'm curious about other people's reasoning for choosing to free-range. Is it from a moral/ethical standpoint, or is it more for better nutrition/health? Is it something else entirely? Reduced management costs perhaps?

    And if you realize a reduction in costs, how so? In what areas are you experiencing this? Obviously, feed costs are heavily reduced or perhaps even eliminated, but what else? Do you cultivate special forage for the birds or just rely on nature to provide?

    To be clear, I'm not trying to decide if I should do this. I've been doing it for years already and have no intention of changing. I'm just interested in the perspectives and experiences of others that raise birds in a similar manner and perhaps start an exchange of ideas and solutions to some of the unique challenges inherent with free-ranging.
     
  2. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

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    A 150 years ago knowledge about human or animal health was scant.

    In fact not to the 1880s was medial science willing to admit that bacteria caused diseases like Anthrax.

    135 years ago the only way that a farmer could raise healthy animals was through "Free Range"

    If you will go back and watch the flick "Old Yellar" you will get educated on the down side of Free Range Farming.

    Up until the end of the Civil War people fenced in their crops and let all their farm animals have the run of the county.

    That is why people use to say "Until the cows come home" meaning a long long time.

    Actually it cost more to fence your crops off from your neighbors hogs, cows, and sheep than the land cost you in the first place.

    Today using modern animal science one is able to raise healthier farm animals in a building where all the animals' needs can be addressed than it is to keep free range animals.

    The last vestige of true free range chicken rearing was 60 or 70 years ago when the game rooster men wanted strong, healthy hard to kill roosters.

    Unfortunately today the pendulum has swung in the other direction and free range/farm walked chickens really means poultry despite the owners best intention has to one degree or the other has been neglected. [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: May 3, 2017
  3. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I appreciate your input chickengeorgeto, but I wasn't attempting to start a debate on the merits of free-ranging. We each have beliefs and ideals that drive us to do the things we do. I'm very aware of the downside to free-ranging, but I believe the benefits outweigh them.

    I'm interested in talking with people that have free-range flocks so that we can perhaps compare notes, so to speak, and support one another in our efforts.
     
  4. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

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    I usually completely free range my flock on an acre of property. I do have a coop that they get shut in every night, and a run if I need to keep them confined. But 99% of the time, they are free range. Feed and water is always available. Even with free ranging in a climate with year-round forage, they still need feed. On average, they eat about a pound of feed per bird, each week. In confinement, the amount of feed consumed is nearly doubled.
     
  5. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    That's interesting. I've never quantified the amount of feed I throw out, but I've started thinking about it these last few days. I ordered a feed scale that should arrive tomorrow so that I can weigh the feed and then do some calculations. I've always been under the assumption that I feed way less than is recommended on the feed bag and I still think that that is true... I'm just thinking it will be interesting to find out exactly how far off from the recommended ration I am.

    I also lock them up at night.

    Well, that's not entirely true.

    I lock the ones up that want to sleep in the coop. About half the flock prefers to sleep in the open wall area of the barn. When I go open the coop in the morning, I throw out a scoop of food and then somewhere around midday I'll throw out about a half scoop if I don't see a lot of full crops. My guess is that a bag of feed is lasting 3 times as long as it would if I were following the recommended ration guidelines. Anyway, tomorrow I will know for sure how much feed I go through every day and will be able to calculate daily feed costs. I'll even be able to get a good estimate on cost per bird.

    I don't free-range for the cost savings, but it's a nice bonus.
     
  6. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

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    A chicken left outside the coop at night around here is a dead chicken. WAY too many predators around. The feed is always available during the day. I don't ration them as I've always got chicks around that need it.
     
  7. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    We've been lucky as far as predators go. The chickens that sleep in the barn roost next to 3 Boers, so that might be what keeps some of the 4 legged predators at bay. I have problems with owls at my other ranch, but I haven't seen any here so far. There is a pair of Red Shoulder Hawks that live in a tree right outside the barn. RS Hawks and Owls are sworn enemies, so I may be also reaping the benefits of that rivalry. The hawks have enough food here to keep them uninterested in the chickens.

    I don't allow chicks to free-range with the adults. I suppose I might if a hen hatched some of her own, but none of my current chicks were hatched here. They are housed initially inside the barn. After a few weeks, they move to brooders that are also in the open wall area of the barn, and from there end up in a grow out pen in the same area.

    Do you notice the chicks learning to forage early on or do they predominately rely on the feed you provide?
     
  8. Adalida

    Adalida Chillin' With My Peeps

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    "I'm curious about other people's reasoning for choosing to free-range. Is it from a moral/ethical standpoint, or is it more for better nutrition/health? Is it something else entirely? Reduced management costs perhaps?"

    I've been free ranging for awhile now, but when I first had chickens and ducks, they were confined for most of the day and let out for a few hours in the afternoon. Their time outside the run has gradually increased and now they're outside basically as long as there's some daylight, they get locked up at night because there's so many roaming predators. The deciding factor for me is that they are so much happier out roaming around. Their run is plenty big but not nearly as exciting as 8+ acres of grass, trees, etc. When they're free ranging, I can see how happy they are; constantly on the move, investigating and scratching around. When they're in their run, they pretty much stand against the fence and beg to come out. For me, it's all about them enjoying their life to the fullest.
     
  9. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    As you stated, free-range has a variety of meaning. Some people have hens in town, and to them free-ranging is letting them wander around the back yard. I live on a ranch in western SD. My chickens can free range as far as they want on prairie and cricks.

    I don't free range 100% of time, I have too many predators and they all like chicken! I have a nice set up, that I could leave them in 24 hours for many days, but I like to let them out to dig and scratch, I think it keeps them healthier, they get more exercise, and they can eat what they want. However, with my predators, I have found, that if I vary my routine, sometimes let them out, sometimes not, sometimes early sometimes late, and have a mature rooster with them, they do not get hit so hard by predators. If I get a hit, I stay in lock down for several days to even more than a week. Once predators find you, they come back for more.

    This is a dry arid climate, now it is getting a bit warmer, and the bugs are beginning to hatch and get active. From here through most of July, I will have less consumption of feed. By August, they will be eating more commercial feed. I myself, do not offer feed 24 /7. I think that brings in rodents. I want my feed pans pretty empty at dark. If there is a lot left over, I feed less the next day. If they are completely cleaned up, I feed a bit more. I have found, that the consumption of feed various quite a bit through the year.

    Mrs K
     
  10. Wandercreek

    Wandercreek Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I agree with you Adalida. I like the idea of providing a life as close as possible to the way they were meant to live. I have the means to confine them, and I do when necessary. It always makes me feel sorry for them though. They like roaming and hunting. I bet the things they find to eat are far more appealing than dried up feed.
     

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