To Free Range or Not?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Rudy57, Feb 1, 2014.

  1. Rudy57

    Rudy57 New Egg

    Feb 1, 2014
    My wife says it is absolutely essential to free range the chickens. Since we are now BYC Raisers she was telling me how beneficial to our garden chickens would be. She was also saying that the garden would be almost bug free.
    I disagreed with her saying it is not essential that the chickens rome free. All they need is a place inside for protection and a place to lay their eggs. Also a place to walk around outside that is all fenced in.
    Maybe I say this because I cannot picture myself chasing chickens all over the yard when night time comes.
    Who is right and who is wrong.
  2. enola

    enola Overrun With Chickens

    Chickens will eat more than bugs. They love vegetables especially melons and tomatoes.

    As for who is right or wrong, it depends intirely on your "environment". I have neighbors that won't keep their dogs home...... and foxes. ..... and hawks.......
  3. mustang56

    mustang56 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 4, 2012
    You both can do it both ways....
    Now I have predators here, so they have to be penned.... and the pens have to be cleaned regularly...
    If it wasn't for the predators, I would free range them....
    They get more of a variety of plants and bugs...and slugs... ewwww.
  4. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    I won't get in the middle of an argument between Husband and Wife! But I can tell you what my experience has been, and what has/has not worked, and what I plan to do in the future. My 5 girls have a winter time run that is 20' x 30' as well as a predator proof run/sunroom that is 8 x 8 with an additional 4 x 8 that is partially predator proof (the 8 x 8 is covered with 1/2" hdw. cloth, and the 4 x 8 is covered with 1" chicken wire, both covered with 4 mil. plastic to make a warm sun room) In the summer, they have a 1600 s.f. run that is moveable and enclosed with electric poultry netting. They are allowed out to free range in the warmer months when I am home, and can keep an eye out for dogs/hawks, and any other dangers. Last summer, I had to herd them out of the garden until it got grown enough that they couldn't destroy it. It was a constant chore to keep them away from the blueberries and greens. This summer, I plan to close in the garden with deer fencing to keep them out. I am also changing the lay out of my garden into more 4' wide beds with 4' paths, and will put up fencing here and there to close in a bed, or allow them access to the space between beds. I also have a 3' x 6' tractor, and may make a second one to allow them to range safely over a bed or between beds without destroying the whole garden.

    So... in answer to your questions: It is not essential to free range chickens. Lots of people keep them just fine in a coop and an enclosed run. If you keep them in a run, they WILL destroy all of the vegetation. Last summer, if I hadn't moved my 1600 s.f. run, they would have removed at least 75% of the vegetation, and would certainly complete the job this spring! In a smaller run, I'd recommend doing a deep litter in the run itself to prevent excessive nutrient build up in the soil, and run off. It will also prevent the run from turning into a fly infested mud pit/dust bowl/moon scape. (depending on your weather.) And it will give the girls something to do. They love to forage in deep litter for bugs and what ever else they find to eat.

    Now, your wife is approaching the idea of having chickens from a completely different paradigm. Of course she is... If you both agreed on every thing, one of you would not be necessary! She envisions chickens as being mobile lawn ornaments, with a side benefit of providing free fertilizer, weed control, lawn clipping, and bug control. This is the reason I got chickens, with the eggs being a mere bonus. Your lawn ornaments will leave fertilizer bombs indiscriminately where ever they go. If they want to go on your deck, they will. (though mine have yet to be bold enough to venture up onto the deck or even up my front steps) They will dust bathe in your flower beds, they will destroy your newly planted garden seedlings, They will definitely scratch all of the mulch out of your flower beds... and they will do it all with great enthusiasm and chortle with glee while doing it. If they are allowed to free range, you'll have to provide the fencing to keep them where you want/or don't want them, supervise to keep them out of trouble. There is also the increased risk of predators, as every body likes chicken.

    Have fun deciding what to do, and realize that it doesn't have to be an all or none decision. They will need a run for safety, b/c if they don't, they won't survive long in this chicken loving world, but you can let them out for supervised free range as time and mood allows!
  5. IttyBiddyRedHen

    IttyBiddyRedHen Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jul 30, 2011
    East coast
    No one is right or wrong. I am sure you'll get several responses on this topic.
    As for is very healthy for them to free range for grass, bugs, grubs, herbs, mice, exercise. They love to scratch and dig and find goodies as far out as possible. It is good for them to free range...if possible.

    Now, you'll have to be aware of whatever predators are in your area. Any loose chicken is a target for dogs, foxes, hawks..etc. There are many informative threads in BYC addressing that very issue.

    As far as chasing them back to the coop at night.....they know where they sleep and lay their eggs. I kept mine in the coop/pen until they were comfortable with seeing it as their home. They want to go back in to the pen. I also trained mine on treats and scratch....showing them, calling them, and they all come running to come get the treats. I have a chicken tractor and a pen, and that training works great to get them to bed. I feed 2 hours before their bedtime. When they get a full crop, drink their water....they put themselves to bed. All I need to do is go outside after sunset and lock them in...after a quick head count.

    Welcome to BYC by the way!! [​IMG]
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    Glad you covered the bed time routine Moxie. Chickens are highly trainable with proper motivation.... FOOD. I can round my girls up and get them in the coop easily any time during the day with a can of scratch. I've found that it's easy to lead a chicken, but **** near impossible to herd one! And bedtime... they head for bed long before it gets dark.
  7. cafarmgirl

    cafarmgirl Overrun With Chickens

    Your garden will be more then bug will be plant free as well lol! If you want to harvest anything for yourselves then it's not the place to let your chickens roam.

    Yes, chickens can be kept in a coop and run only. But their lives are much more enriched if they can get out and forage. It's the nature of the bird and what they love to do.

    You won't have to round up chickens when night comes, they put themselves to bed very nicely when evening comes. Right now where I live it gets dark about 5:15ish. My birds are back in their coop and on their roost long before then. some ways you are both right and both wrong lol!

    Good luck!
  8. Scott H

    Scott H Chillin' With My Peeps

    Oct 29, 2012
    Twin Lakes, ID
    My Coop
    We love to watch ours free range. We just got three so they wouldn't eat the greenery to the ground and it has worked. We just want our chickens to be, well chickens, and confining to a pen wasn't our idea of having chickens so we have less of them. Poop is still a battle tho. I break out the hose once a day and shoot off the walkways and patio. It's water soluble.[​IMG]
  9. boxofpens

    boxofpens Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 9, 2013
    Ours free range with supervision due to the number of hawks we have. The rest of the time they're in their run and coop (which they constantly complain about :rolleyes: ).

    They will decimate anything that is green, so make sure your garden is established before you let them in it, or put cages around things that are small. We have the added problem of rabbits, so our beds are really high.

    They should put themselves to bed before it gets dark. Ours always have. When I'm really close by, a few of them will hang out with me until it's almost dark. However, they always go to bed on their own.

    Definitely trainable with food. I use the "chick-chick-chick" call, while shaking a container of treats method. They've also learned to come when I say "Come on girls".

    When you start training them, if only one comes, make a BIG show of tossing her some treats while using whatever "call" you're going to use. Once they see her eating, the rest should run over too (pretty quickly :lol:). They're food motivated, so they'll figure it out fast. We do have one that is a little deaf, so she doesn't always come when we call, but when she see's the others running, she'll high-tail it over. :lau
  10. foundhenfarm

    foundhenfarm New Egg

    Jan 24, 2014
    It really depends on your opinion.
    Benefits of free range:
    -YES it helps your garden LOTS. Not only does it help with bugs but it fertilizes as well.
    -Your chickens will get plenty of daylight and exercise, so potentially they could lay better
    -Your chickens will be extremely happy with their life in the open

    Cons of free range:
    -You will be stepping in chicken poop all over the place, but if you're like me and everyone at my little farm that is not much of a problem because we don't mind
    - The safer option for the chickens would be a coop with a connected run with a roof and underground wire. Hawks could very easily scoop up your chickens on free range for a snack, and any on foot predators could dig your fence. My neighbor recently lost one of her free range ducks to a hawk.
    -I am personally very attached to my chickens so I have a large run connected to a coop with a roof for mine. But free range is a very nice experience if you are willing to take the chance

    However, even for free range, you need your sturdy coop to put them in at night. 3 sq. feet per chicken.
    Want a run? Go bigger than you need to make your chicken happy, and have 14 inches of chicken wire underneath the fence.
    For free range, unless you have acres, I would defiantly tell you to have a fence so you aren't chasing your chickens down the street

    Hope this helped and good luck!

    -Found Hen Farm [​IMG]

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