What are the ups and downs to free ranging?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by bock, Sep 25, 2010.

  1. bock

    bock Songster

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    I will be getting about 12 chicks this Spring for future egg production and pets. The pen my current chickens live in is not big enough for all of these birds, so I have two choices. I can either expand their cage or let them free range. I worry about keeping them cooped up because the cage would be mostly in the sun, I would have to spend more money on feed, I would have to spend more money on wood to build the cage, and I worried about them getting bored. If they free ranged I worry about predators snatching them, them getting too far away from home, and that I would have to have an Easter egg hunt every day. So, I really don't know which way to go with this one. Any advice or personal experiences would be appreciated! [​IMG]
  2. TennesseeTruly

    TennesseeTruly Songster

    Mar 5, 2009
    Church Hill, TN
    My chickens, although I free range quite a few of them, always go back to their coop to lay their eggs except my one Silkie mix girl who lays an egg under our back stairs every day.

    The only ones that we had to hunt for the eggs with were our guineas but we soon learned how to find their nests. If your chickens begin to lay in coops, once they begin to free range, they will continue to lay in the coops.

    The ups to free ranging for me is that they get lots of exercise, there are no fights, no feather picking from boredom. They also take care of insects and in the summer months they eat less feed.

    The biggest down side is the if I want pure eggs for selling, then free ranging isn't the way to go. I do have eggs that I sell and we do limited free ranging with those chickens in a large grassy area so they still get the benefits of free ranging without being jumped by a strange rooster.

    The other down side is predators. We've been very lucky this year (knock on wood)! We lost a female guinea, at night, who refused to go back to her protected back poor coop one night. Try as we did to get her to go back inside, she was foolhardy and refused. The next morning she was gone. Last year we lost a rooster to a fox. We also lost a gander to a copperhead.

    We've found, for us, that there's safety in numbers. We have, at any given time, 30 to 50 birds (chickens, ducks, guineas) all free ranging together. No one has been taken during the daylight hours while everyone has been out together.

    Free ranging has definitely worked for us and we don't have to round everyone up. At 7pm every evening, the chickens return to their coops. At 8pm, the guineas return to their coops. Then we just lock the doors for the night and reopen them in the morning.

    Good luck!

  3. Qi Chicken

    Qi Chicken Songster

    Jul 3, 2009
    I think you should do both. Extend the run but also let them free-range when you're home. We have tons of predators here (foxes, racoons, hawks, even a bald eagle in our tree) and have not had any problems until today. A hawk swooped down and a chicken flew by the living room window. My husband ran outside as he just happened to see it. We finally found one missing chicken half an hour later.

    As to the benefits. #1 and Major is HAPPY CHICKENS. That is how a chicken is meant to live. You may loose one. And as everyone says it is always your favorite. The one that was missing today was Marge. My avatar and our absolute favorite chicken from day one. My dd carries her everywhere. The chicken that flew across the window was Bubbles who laid her first egg today. The other savings is feed. They just roam around and eat all day long. I think we buy 40# for 15 chickens 2X a month. I don't know how this compares to winter as this is our first season. Eggs are better, yolks are deeper in color. Good if you're selling them. Good if you're not. One of the Barred rocks caught a mouse and ran across the yard with the other 13 hens and the rooster chasing her. That was priceless. Watching them outside and roam, also priceless.

    Ours don't seem inclined to lay outside of the nest. You have to have enough room for them that they can all be penned up in bad weather or to get them used to the space. 4 feet inside per chicken and 10 ft in the run outside if you have large fowl. You have until spring to prepare for this it sounds like. Keeping chickens will be stressful if they don't have the proper accomodations. Just fix it up right with the appropriate amt of room and let them out when you're home. We have 5 acres and they don't really roam very far. They have a pattern and they stick to it. we can never not see them if we look. I wouldn't worry about them straying too far.
  4. bock

    bock Songster

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    Thank you. I am still unsure about all this. [​IMG] Why do you say if I want to sell the eggs that they should not free range? [​IMG]
  5. bock

    bock Songster

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    Thanks Qi chickens! That actually seems like a very good idea! We do have plenty of Red Tailed Hawks in the trees around here, which worries me. They have snatched up quit a few of our homing pigeons which are about the same size as my three bantams. So if I were to expand their cage, how much space do I need per chicken? [​IMG]

    I am sorry you lost your chicken today [​IMG] . I know that is hard. I have a chicken named Bubbles too, she is a Production Red.
  6. fzouk

    fzouk Songster

    Jan 27, 2009
    middle Tennessee
    I'm a happy free-ranger too but I will say in my experience that the breed should be taken into consideration. When I had Silver Spangled Hamburgs it was a nightmare because they are SO WILD. They would not come in at night no matter how often I had them on lock down to reinforce "home". They would occasionally lay in the coop but if they ever saw me near the nest they'd take their egg laying outside again. [​IMG] Anyway the point is they were not good chickens for free-ranging. (lots eaten by predators)

    NOW I have Australorps, EEs and cochins and it's so much better. They come in at night no problem, they lay in the coop- it's MUCH better.
  7. bock

    bock Songster

    Oct 10, 2008
    Northern CA
    I was thinking about getting EE's, RIR's, Barred Rocks, Brown Leghorns and Wyandottes.
  8. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Quote:I think they meant, if you want to sell eggs of a particular breed that you couldn't free range those hens with a roo of another breed and get a pure bred chick from them.

    I free range and it actually increases your egg sales....eggs for eating, that is. [​IMG] For me there are few downsides to free ranging as I have two dogs who free range as well on the same area and this provides excellent protection from predators.

    The one downside is that occasionally a bird will establish a nest outside that the dogs find before I do. You can usually determine this is happening if your egg count should drop suddenly for no reason. Then you can confine them to the coop for a few days until they retrain to the nest. OR...you could let the dogs have those few eggs. I will do the former if its many eggs, the latter if only a few. The dogs can always use the extra protein and I get plenty of eggs, so who cares about a few?

    Another downside is that you may need a fence around your gardens if they free range in that area. An upside to this is they can clean up your garden in the fall, deposit their droppings there and eat all the bugs for you.

    An upside to free ranging with dogs is that they consume all the chicken poop so I don't have to walk in it.

    Another upside is that there is no barren run that draws flies and stinks, gets wet and stinks, and turns all your chickens into sodden messes when it rains....and they stink.

    Upside, varied nutritional benefits for your hens. Clean air, sunshine, grass underfoot at all times, dusting spots aplenty and bugs, bugs, bugs.

    Upside, most of their fecal offerings are deposited outside in the grass...where the dogs slurp up the extra protein.

    Upside, they scratch into and eliminate parasites from the dog droppings, dispersing them into the grasses and letting the rains wash them into the soil easier.

    They aerate the lawn. They look pretty ranging across the green grass. As mentioned before, they never fight, feather pick or otherwise cannibalize each other. They get to be chickens...and that's a full time job! [​IMG]
  9. coq au vin

    coq au vin Chirping

    Quote:I think she was talking about selling purebred hatching eggs. [​IMG]
  10. bonder

    bonder In the Brooder

    Jul 2, 2010
    My chickens are about 12 weeks old. They have never free ranged...until they learned how to fly out of the run today. I took that as their way of telling me they were ready. So we opened the door and they came pouring out. I was so worried that they wouldn't return at night but they had themselves tucked into bed by dark.
    They looked like they were having so much fun exploring the grass and woods that I'm sorry I didn't try it sooner.
    I didn't let them out until around 5:00 tonight and it was dark by 7:30 so they didn't have time to go very far. I've been told they won't go too far but I'm not ready to risk it yet.
    Good luck with your new chickens!

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