Free-Range Chickens: It’s not that Great

Through experience, I came to find out having our chickens go free range is not as wonderful as I had once thought.  Our fence that holds the chickens in fell down.  It is a temporary fence, and it’s easy enough to put back up, but all 18 chickens got out from the garden area. At first it was wonderful.  I looked out from the window above my kitchen sink, and I was treated to a view of chickens doing chickeny things on the hillside.  20150104_091436

Chickens are funny creatures.  When they move, it looks like they have choreographed a comedic play just for you.  Their scratching is great for the garden while it is fallow, as I discussed in this post.  However, when they are in spots that are not meant for them, they can wreak havoc.

As Fall was rolling in, I mulched around my trees, brambles, bushes and strawberries.  I used straw in most places, and some pine needle “straw” around my blueberries and strawberries in the front of the house.  Loose mulch is chicken crack.  They love scratching in the loose mulch.  I think it’s like a chicken treasure hunt.  While I want to provide the best life for them I can, I am less than thrilled that they scattered the mulch, I apply the mulch to protect the plants and feed the plants as it breaks down.

I applied the pine needles in the front of the house.  I was a little disheartened when I walked out my door and saw this:

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They dug up my strawberries, exposed a ton of dirt and pushed all the dirt onto the driveway:

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Later, they were running out into the road.  Running into the road is not especially good for their long term well being, as moving cars and chickens do not mix.  And there was poop where poop does not belong.

Overall, I am not a fan of having my chickens free-range.  It is unsafe for them, and a headache for me.  And I also don’t believe the opposite approach is good either where they are cooped up in a small space and they can’t even spread their wings.   In my opinion, the best way to raise chickens is by using a rotational grazing pattern.

Rotational grazing is used by those who have any number of animals: pigs, cows, sheep, and yes, chickens.  The basic idea is the chickens (or insert your animal here) start off in one fenced in area.  They have lots of room to be a chicken.  They can scratch, find new tasty bugs, and make me laugh.  Once the land has been worked over by the chickens, but the land is still in good shape, you move the chickens to the next bit of paddock.  The chickens now get lots of new goodies and they aren’t depleting your land.

Meanwhile that first piece of land you had them in is now benefiting from the extra fertilizer and the bit of disturbance from the chickens.  The chickens won’t come back to that paddock until it is ready for them.  That is ideal.  BUT this is not what I’m doing now.  I have a slow paddock shift.  Where I’m letting the chickens go crazy in my garden, and they are tilling and fertilizing the soil.  When it’s time to plant in the garden, I will move the chickens into the system I described above.

 

 

7 thoughts on “Free-Range Chickens: It’s not that Great

  1. Alecia @ Chicken Scratch NY

    I had to laugh at the picture of your driveway, I’ve been there so many times! I think everyone needs to find their own comfort zone with chicken keeping. We free range as much as possible on our 5 acres (they also check out the neighboring hay fields) and it keeps our feed costs down a lot in the summer and I think it makes the birds healthier.

    Have I lost plants to the chickens? Yes. But I’ve devised some methods to protect vulnerable plants and try to take it in stride, if it’s not them it’s the bugs or rabbits or…. it’s a never ending battle anyway, might as well enjoy it 🙂

    Reply
    1. Julia Post author

      Alecia,

      It sounds like you have very happy chickens! It really is balancing what works best for you in your situations!

      Thanks for coming by!

      Reply
  2. Phall0106

    I’d love to free-range, but I’m way too paranoid about the stray cats that wander my area (and who knows what other predators) to let them wander. Instead, they’re in a spacious coop and run when I’m not able to watch them. But when I am out with them, they can be destructive! In my case, I’ve discovered that chicken wire is good only for one thing–keeping chickens out of stuff I don’t want them in (like my garden).

    It does also work on bunnies who want to eat seedlings.

    Reply
  3. Jaymie Pierce

    I really like the idea of rotational grazing on the farm, but at the moment don’t have the fencing to make it work. My chickens free range, but we live out in the boonies and there isn’t issue with them getting in the road or hit by a car. My only trouble with free ranging is keeping them safe from predators, but since getting our Great Pyrs, I don’t worry about that as much anymore.

    Reply
    1. Julia Post author

      Oh! Those are great dogs. It sounds like you found a system that works for you. I love the idea of Livestock Guard Dogs.

      Reply
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  5. Erin Blegen

    I definitely agree that you need to do things a certain way based on your setup and personal situation. Your flock is very happy, I’m sure! We’ve always free ranged; we have plenty of room and no worries about them getting out to the road which is a long ways away. But I lost many chickens to predators until I got a dog to keep watch over them. With 50+ chickens and 14 ducks free ranging, we didn’t lose a single bird last year.

    However- we have to fence in our gardens to keep the chickens out- or they destroy everything. Plus they poop everywhere :)- so free ranging isn’t always as picturesque as it may seem, as you pointed out 🙂

    Great post! Thanks for sharing,

    Erin
    http://www.yellowbirchhobbyfarm.com

    Reply

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