Rethinking Our Free-Range Policy



Our chickens in their coop.

We’ve always been big enthusiasts of free-ranging our backyard flock and, in fact, have practiced this for the larger part of our career as chicken owners. Recently, however, we had to rethink our strategy a bit due to the appearance of a particularly sneaky fox that started to make its way on our property at the most unexpected hours. Up until now, we were used to foxes roaming either at night or very early in the morning, which makes it possible to ensure the chickens’ safety by locking them in the coop at sunset and releasing them around mid-morning. When a fox comes hunting anytime — at 10am, 3pm, or midnight — it’s impossible to rely on a safe time.

From our experience, a predator’s attacks usually don’t last forever – a fox or a bird of prey will choose our yard as their hunting-spot for a while and, if dissuaded by repeated failure to carry off a chicken, eventually will move to more favorable places. Therefore, we made the decision to lock up our chickens for the time being (unless we can personally supervise them while they are pecking around in the last half-hour or so before sunset), until this particular fox loses heart and goes elsewhere.

There are many big benefits to free-ranging: saving on chicken feed, natural pest control, a cleaner coop (less time in the coop = less poop in the coop), soil improvement by way of chickens digging for worms and insects and dropping their manure around. Are there benefits to not free-ranging, though? During the past few weeks, when our chickens have been mostly locked up, we’ve had the opportunity to look at this from a different angle:

Our garden is safe. We do put up fences, protective nets, etc, but in general, it’s an ongoing battle between us and our birds — we exercise all our ingenuity in order to protect our vegetables, while they will spare no effort to get in the garden beds and either eat our precious crops or simply turn the carefully made beds into dust-bath craters. No chickens in the garden means no problem.

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