Almost everyone who is interested in homesteading considers chickens at some point. Free ranging is a popular approach. There are advantage and disadvantages to this approach.
Advantages of raising free range chickens
- Free ranging can cut feed costs. As long as the birds have decent forage (grass, vegetation and insects) this approach can save a good deal on feed.
- Supposedly, the nutritional value of free range chicken meat and eggs is better than that which is raised in containment. I have no way to prove or disprove this assertion, but I can attest to the better quality of the meat and eggs raised this way, especially the meat. The theory behind this, is that the birds get a healthier diet, being able to select greens and insects. I’ve heard this raises the levels of omega 3s in their meat and eggs. What I know for sure, is that our family is completely addicted to the meat. It’s exceedingly flavorful, almost unrecognizable when compared to store bought chicken.
- Chickens love to free range.
- Free range chickens can cut down on certain insect populations on the homestead. They love crickets and grasshoppers, etc.
Disadvantages of raising free ranging
- If you free range, just count on losing some birds to predators. It’s going to happen.
- Having chickens roaming around the yard means they will dig holes here and there and often destroy garden stuff.
- Free ranging chickens can/will damage ones landscape. If you like the manicured look, don’t free range your chickens!
- If you live near a road and free range, there’s a likelihood that you’ll lose birds to cars.
- Free range chickens will lay eggs where you don’t expect. Do you like Easter egg hunts? If so, free ranging might be for you!
Tips for Free Range Chickens
- Even if one lets their chickens forage for food, it is important to provide a balanced chicken feed. I’ve known people to brag that their chickens find all their own food, but this is normally within months of losing their birds. If you free range, be sure to have a regular feeding time and adjust the amounts according to demand.
- Even if one free ranges, it is important to provide a coop for the chickens. Most people simply have no idea how many predators pass through at night. Chickens need protection at night. They also need shelter during inclement weather. I’ve known people who provided no shelter for their chickens. They used to have chickens.
- Some breeds of chickens are better for free range than others. Generally speaking, the lighter, more agile birds will have a higher rate of survival. Old English Game and Kraienkoppes are right at the top of the list for free range. Large bodied, slow moving birds are at the bottom of the list for this approach. Some large breeds are pretty alert and industrious. They generally do well. Bantams can be good for free range, other than being more prone to hawk predation.
- Darker colored birds generally outlast light colored birds on the “free range.”