To Free Range or Not To Free Range

Barb : I rescued 5 chickens about a year ago and sadly, I am down to 2. All three of the chickens that I lost were due to the fact that my chickens free-range during the day. One was taken by a hawk one was taken by a fox and one was taken by a farm Patron whose dog escaped his car and chased down and killed one of my girls. I am really struggling with how to proceed as far as the type of Lifestyle I offer my chickens. I loved the fact that they free ranged our property and I felt like they were happy picking around the garden and the flower beds and eating the bugs and worms. Any time my husband was out tilling the soil in preparation for our planting they would join him there and eat the worms and bugs that he turned up but with all of these deaths I am afraid to let them out again. On the other hand I don’t think that I could feel good about keeping animals caged up for the rest of their lives even though The Henhouse and the run that we had built for them is very roomy. I understand that this is the circle of life, it’s just very difficult because I become very attached to my chickens. I would like to hear your response and perhaps what others have to say about this dilemma. Thank you, Barb

My Reply : I’m sorry to hear of your losses it is horrible to lose them like that. There are definitely more risks to free ranging but even those keeping their chickens in a henhouse and run can experience losses to predators because very little is ever 100% safe. The risks of free ranging can be minimised by fencing the perimeter and providing lots of cover (trees, bushes, bales of straw etc.) which makes it harder for hawks to swoop in and also gives your flock hiding places and flying up to places to get out of the way of ground predators (I’m guessing you probably do have some sort of cover as you only lost one at a time). With two hens a rooster could be more of a hindrance than a help (hens can get sore backs from being mated too much) but for larger flocks a rooster can provide some protection (he would do his best anyway, but it is not always a fair fight) and a livestock guardian dog may also be an option.

I also love to watch mine pecking around the garden but realised the other day that they don’t actually use very much of the space they have – most of it is only used by them to walk to one of their other favourite areas. Recently I did have to keep mine in their pen due to the bird flu restrictions, and even though it wasn’t set up for them how I would have liked (their pen is only really for a bit of extra safety before they go to bed/get up) they seemed quite happy – I think it was me who was the most upset. A lot of the things chickens like to do when free ranging can be done from a roomy henhouse and run so I am sure that yours would adapt to it quite happily if you felt that the risks of free ranging had become too high. With mine I know they (I?) would be happiest if they had a pen where they had somewhere to perch (most of their perching is done in their coop entrance or on a bench they have inside their pen so that is already sorted), somewhere to dustbathe, an area that catches the sun (I have one that sunbathes at every opportunity) and a bush to stand/sit under (I don’t know why but it seems about half of their day is spent just standing / sitting under a bush by the pond!)

2017-07-16T15:26:14+00:00

6 Comments

  1. Robert Gary Monague July 15, 2017 at 5:53 am

    Here in BC Canada I lost a lot of birds. Then a local said he plays CBC radio 24/7 near the coop. I have been using this trick for about 4 years and my predation rate has dropped to near zero. Raccoons, Hawks, Ravens etc hear this constant noise and think there are people around. It even seems to keep the deer away.

  2. Debbie July 15, 2017 at 3:55 pm

    I set up electric poultry netting surrounding the coop and pen. My 12 girls enjoy a large foraging area and plenty of trees and bushes for cover. I still lock the coop up at night. You can always reposition the location of the netting to allow for grass regrowth if the area becomes too barren, but it is a lot of work to undo and set back up again.

  3. Tony July 27, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    Have you considered a chicken tractor? Since you don’t have a big flock you can probably construct one.

  4. Roy Nilson July 28, 2017 at 4:49 am

    This certainly summarizes the pain so often associated with free ranging. Free range chickens make a great lunch for any predator

    Sadly, your response, while sympathetic to the writer, seems stuck in conventional thinking about confinement or extra fencing etc. I took a slightly different approach five years ago and designed a chicken tractor designed to be truly moveable and safer for small flocks. It also ships UPS ground in one box and needs no tools to assemble. I first tried building a chicken tractor with old 2 x 4s and found it to be much too heavy, too ugly and not at all secure — so I started over from scratch.

    Since then, I have sold about one coop a week year round and have shipped to customers in 40 states. In all that time I have received NO predator complaints.The coop is made of strong aluminum square tube, weighs just 35 pounds, and is covered with poly-coated steel chicken wire. It comes with a perch, shade cover,. wheels, drinker, feeder and ground stakes to secure it on windy days. MSRP is just $429.95 when purchased direct from thelittlechickenfactory.com — slightly more when sold by resellers. Two have been struck by falling trees with no escapes and no injuries.

    Perhaps you would agree that we do not always have to sacrifice our chickens to old ways of thinking about chicken keeping.

  5. Gina July 29, 2017 at 11:49 am

    Barbs main concern had seemed to be more for the loss of their lifestyle. A secure chicken tractor can be a good way to safely give a flock more variety and areas to explore, particularly if they otherwise would have little outdoor space but it does not really give them any freedom to choose when they want to sunbathe or scratch under a bush or fly up to roost somewhere etc etc. So from a lifestyle point of view, to my mind, in Barbs situation if she did decide to no longer free range them a chicken tractor would be more confining for them than the roomy run she already had which could be tailored to their individual requirements and the activities they had been enjoying.

  6. Roy Nilson July 29, 2017 at 5:38 pm

    Thanks for your response

    IMHO

    I guess it depends on whether you value safety or freedom of choice.

    A truly and easily mobile chicken tractor provides a measure of choice and security

    This little project began when I realized how many people are losing chickens to predators

    I’d rather eat the eggs and enjoy the pets than mourn their loss.

    There are perhaps no compete or perfect solutions

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