What are the benefits of free ranging?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by deetrane, Aug 1, 2007.

  1. deetrane

    deetrane Hatching

    Jul 16, 2007
    Hi all - I was wondering if the community could shed some light on this for me. Together with my next door neighbors I launched a flock of 6 hens about two weeks ago. On the third day we started to let them free range around our backyards (they are connected). They really seem to like it and they peck away at the dirt and grass, but they do poop all over the place.

    I personally am not grossed out so much by the poop, especially when it's dry. But one of my neighbors just expressed concern about our kids making contact with the poop, and my wife agreed with him. Their suggested solution is to put an end to the free-ranging and just let the 6 hens make do with their run (about 9 feet long by 3 feet wide by 3 feet tall).

    So my question is, what are the proven or alleged benefits of free-ranging to the chickens, and do these benefits outweigh the risks of illness to kids from coming into contact with the poop? Alternatively, should we just commit to cleaning up chicken poop that gets dropped during free ranging, thereby minimizing the kids contact with the poop and preserving the chickens' ability to free range.

    In short, just how important is free ranging?

  2. CoyoteMagic

    CoyoteMagic RIP ?-2014

    Lets look at it this way.

    You got 6 of little kids. They are all locked up in this 9 feet long by 3 feet wide area. This is where they stay all day and all night. This is where they eat, sleep, play and poop. Someone comes in daily to give them fresh food and water and cleans up the poop on occassion. On even rarer occassions, they disinfect the whole place.

    Now you can just imagine what these 6 little kids get into all day long. The things they pick up in their hands. The things they put in their mouths.

    Ok enough, I'm starting to gross myself out where my mind is going (scary!!)

    "PROVEN" Dunno if there are any facts out there. I just know that my birds are a whole lot healthier than some others I have seen that are locked up in little pens all day long.

    I would be more worried about your kids coming in contact with chemical being used around the yard than from a little chicken poo. It's chicken feed and water!
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2007
  3. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude

    When they range, they eat plants and animals/bugs that have nutrients they instinctively know they need. They get alot more greens that you dont have to buy and it saves you money. They are healthier and so are their eggs. There was a study done, sorry, can't quote it exactly, but it found that freerange eggs were actually higher in certain amino acids and other nutrients and lower in cholesterol, if I remember right.
    I personally dont think there's much hazard to kids coming in contact with poop unless they're eating it, like a toddler might do. What about farm kids? My goodness, no one when I was a kid ever thought to pen up chickens except maybe to protect the chickens from predators, never to protect the kids from the chickens. We went in and out of the coop, chased the chickens, and went everywhere without the slightest worry.
    If they're penned in that small pen, they will make quite a mess of it and more work for you in that regard.
    I know that the most germophobic people, the ones that use hand sanitizer like they own stock in the company, are the ones who catch every little thing. They sanitize themselves so much that every germ that does get through really makes an impact. I can't get one friend to realize that that's the reason her daughter is ALWAYS ill with something or another.
    Last edited: Aug 1, 2007
  4. mdbucks

    mdbucks Cooped Up

    Jul 14, 2007
    EXIT 109 on 95
    If your worried about your rugs, teach your kids to wipe thier feet and/or take off thier shoes. I dont lthink there is anything in chickenpoo that will kill your kids if there was I would have burried my sons Lab a long time ago She is known to have chicken breath, and it isn't cause she eats at KFC all the time.
  5. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD

    I have a pair of small birds that are not allowed to free range and I think the color of the yolks say it all. Their coop is moved every once in a while and all the food is the same, but copared to the others, the yolk isn't nearly as orange. As long as the kids wash thier hands and take their shoes off at the door, I think it should be fine. Tiny droppings from wild birds probally harbor more of a risk than cleanly kept chickens. A 3x9 foot run to their coop isn't really big enough for 6 hens to live in all the time either if you go by the guideline of 10 sq feet run space per bird.
  6. sunnychooks

    sunnychooks Songster

    Jul 21, 2007
    Chickens that are allowed to free-range live more stress free lives. If a chicken (or a human, for that matter) is under long-term stress it will affect them physiologically. Some of the physical signs associated with stress can be higher blood pressure, increased heart rate, shallower breaths, higher glucose levels (remember "fight or flight" response from H.S. biology class?) and most importantly, the body will not produce as many red cells. This means that her immune system will be compromised and she will be more susceptible to illness. These responses are caused by stress hormones (adrenaline and natural steroids) that are released into her body. Don't forget, whatever is in the chicken ends up in the egg! Personally, I don't find chicken stress hormones to be too appetizing!!!

    Also, chickens that are allowed to free-range will be able to find more hiding spots from any potential feather pickers. This will help to stop any problems from starting. Once you have a a feather picking problem in your flock, it's difficult to stop it.

    I know that a lot of people successfully manage their chickens in pens and enclosed areas Many do that because of predators (be sure to protect your chickens from any potential predator in your area) . But, IMHO, if you have a choice, I'd go with the free-range.
  7. jackiedon

    jackiedon Songster

    Jun 4, 2007
    Central Arkansas
    My husband had a few chickens before I got into the hobby. He always kept them in their little pen. When my chickens got old enough to go out to a pen. I started letting my free range. I started letting DH's out too. When I thought they had stopped laying I kept them penned up for a few days. Oh the yelling they did at me! They were just pacing waiting to get out and sqauking. I let them out and it was like recess time at school.

    We just have to hunt more for the eggs.

    I just boiled 2 dozen of eggs for egg salad and it was great with homemade pickles too.

  8. MayberrySaint

    MayberrySaint Chillin' Out

    Mar 7, 2007
    Mount Airy, NC
    I think there are a lot more harmful things in our environment than a little chicken poo...like an earlier poster said, it is primarily chicken feed and water...pretty organic...:)
    I have a special pair of shoes that I wear in the yard and my toddler has his own chicken shoes...they never come in the house so as to keep our carpet clean.
    Free-ranging will defintely keep the hens happier as the lower rung hens can escape the bullies...something they can't do in a run. It will also cut your feed cost by 50%...I can sure tell a difference when I have kept my girls in the coop.
  9. countrygirl4513

    countrygirl4513 Songster

    Apr 14, 2007
    Portland TN
    IMO...free range is the only way to go with chickens. Sure they squirt alot, but I would take their squirt over chemicals. My babes are 20 wks. and they are fat and sassy and clean, and they look so dad blame happy taking a siesta under my burning bush and pine tree. I often think of the poor layers in the egg business. They are given only inches to exsist. They can't even spread their wings. I would advise enlarging your run if you are gonna keep them penned. They need more space. My babes have free run of the whole plantation. I hose down the porches a few times a week and let that excellent liquid pooh fertilize my landscaping.
  10. horsewishr

    horsewishr Songster

    Jul 7, 2007
    West Michigan
    Here's an excerpt from a Penn State article:

    ". . . pastured birds produced about three times more omega-3 fat in their eggs than did birds raised on an industrial diet. Regarding the best pasture mixes, “On average across all these periods, the mixtures highly dominated by legumes — clover and alfalfa — produced 18 percent more omega-3 fat than grass alone,” Karsten says. Eggs from the alfalfa pasture had 25 percent more omega-3s than grass-produced counterparts. . .

    Pasturing also boosted levels of vitamins A and E. “On average, we saw about twice as much vitamin E and 40 percent more vitamin A in the yolks of pasture-fed birds than in the caged birds. The longer the animals were on pasture, the more vitamins they produced,”

    From this study we confirmed three nutritional advantages of raising hens on pasture as compared to on an industry diet in cages: the increases in omega-3 fatty acids and in vitamins A and E. We also found that differences in omega-3 levels in plants have an effect on the eggs. And we learned how to manage chickens on pasture.”

    Link to article:

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