Why We Chose Not To Free Range Our Chickens
It wasn’t too long ago I had sweet, blissful daydreams about relaxing on our front porch, with a glass of homemade lemonade while watching our chickens roam freely through our yard. And then, reality set in and I realized that as wonderful of a daydream as that was, it wasn’t going to work for us.
Yes, it’s true, free ranging chickens have many benefits. They are healthier, it’s cheaper, it cuts down on bugs and other gross things in the yard (huge plus for me) and their eggs are much more delicious. Feeding our chickens as organically and naturally as possible is a huge goal for Homesteader Hubby and I. We knew that free ranging our chickens would allow us to accomplish that goal, while cutting down on feed costs and providing our chickens with a very healthy lifestyle.
But we also know it’s not very practical.
Here in our part of the Midwest, we are surrounded by trees, woods, prairie land, ranches and farms. The same kind of environment that predators thrive very well in! This kind of environment provides snakes, coyotes, bears, raccoons and opossums an endless supply of food. If we were to free range our chickens, without a doubt one of these predators or the hawks and turkey vultures would be sure to have them as a snack.
The last thing I want is to set my chickens free, only to watch a hawk carry them off. There would go my free ranging chicken and all her delicious, healthy eggs with her. It would cost us much more money to replace our chickens after they were either killed or attacked so severely we’d have to put them down ourselves.
Another factor we took into account when deciding what was best for our homestead and chickens, was the fact, that chickens have absolutely no discretion about where they poop. They poop on your porch, your walkway, your wood pile, on the hood of your car, and pretty much everywhere else they go. We’re not really interested in free range poop, so no thanks!
One option was to turn our storage shed into a chicken coop, attach a run to it and leave it at that. But, we didn’t really like that option. It meant that we would be losing a bunch of storage space and I knew Homesteader Hubby didn’t want to do that. The other issue, I wanted the chickens to have plenty of vegetation, bugs, and worms to forage for. I feared that keeping them confined to just a 20 x 50 chicken run would limit the variety of what they would otherwise be able to forage for if they were able to free range.
We did have another option available and after reading about chicken tractors, this just might be the way to go!
We didn’t have the funds to go out and buy everything we needed to make it all pretty and perfect, but….we had a lot of wood and tin that had been left on the property by the previous owners. Lucky for us, the wood had been kept in the barn, so it was in decent condition. The tin needed some painting and the fencing we bartered for.
With the chicken tractor, we are able to move our hens to various areas of the homestead a few times a week. This provides them the nutritional variety we are aiming for, while protecting them from predators and keeping the chicken poop contained. The hens are safe, the eggs are safe and our chickens are sorta free ranging without being fully exposed to daytime and nighttime predators.
UPDATE: Homesteading is about making mistakes, learning from them, gaining knowledge and then making it better the next time. Our chicken tractor didn’t turn out the way we had hoped. It’s a little too heavy to pick up and move around, even if it had wheels. So, we adding a run on for now and will work on a new type of chicken tractor when time allows.