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