When you first get chickens you will need to decide where you’re going to keep them. This will mean you have to think about the various ranging options. There are numerous choices including:
• Complete free range
• Keeping them in a secure run
• Supervised ranging
• A combination of the above
Let me say here before we continue, this isn’t a conversation about keeping them in cages inside; this should never be done.
In this article we will look at the pros and cons of letting your chickens have complete free range before suggesting alternatives to free ranging.
The Benefits of Letting Your Chickens Free Range
Letting your chickens free range gives them much more space to roam around and generally keeps them happier. They will spend most of their time roaming around finding little tidbits that they can eat. The main benefit of this is it helps reduce anti-social flock behavior such as bullying and pecking. This is because the chickens are stimulated and have something to do.
Another benefit of letting them roam is that they will find a surprising amount of food when scavenging, meaning your feed bill will likely reduce.
The Drawbacks of Letting Your Chickens Free Range
In my experience there are two main disadvantages with letting your chickens free range. The first is that when your chickens are ranging far away from the coop they tend to lay eggs all over the place and forget about their nesting boxes. This can turn collecting eggs into a treasure hunt!
The second, and far more serious risk, is the threat of a predator attacking your flock. The heartbreak at having lost a flock due to predators attacking them whilst they were free ranging is difficult to put into words.
Viable Alternatives to Free Ranging
My personal preference is supervised ranging. This means when I’m away from the house they are in a large pen (1/2 acre) and can free roam safely there. And when I’m at home I open the pen up and they are free to roam wherever they please.
However I realize that not everybody has time to oversee their hens ranging, especially if they need to work or spend most of their daytime away from home.
There are certain things, however, that can be used to help and ‘automate’ this though. If you are looking to make things as safe as possible you could consider getting an automatic coop door and motion sensor lighting. I’ve found this combination to be very effective when it comes to preventing predators attacking my chickens.
As with most things chicken keeping, it’s a personal preference whether you let your girls have complete free roam, supervised roaming, pen only access, or some combination.
Having lost several hens through predator attacks I can tell you first hand that it is absolutely devastating. This is why I now use the safer option of supervised ranging and offer them a large penned area during the times I’m not there to supervise. As a final note if you are building a pen for your chickens make sure to use hardware cloth, not chicken wire. Hardware cloth is much stronger and will do a better job of preventing attacks.
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