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Why We No Longer Free Range Chickens

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When we first started our homestead a few years ago, the plan was to raise free range chickens. It worked for a little while, but didn’t last long.

If you’re looking for info on whether or not to free range chickens, maybe our experience can help you a bit.

Our little homestead has suffered too much loss. Death is inevitable, but we still grow attached to our farm animals. It is completely devastating when a predator comes and wipes out the majority of your flock.

free ranging chickens in grassy lawn

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Some recent examples.

We came home from church one Sunday evening and it was just dusk, but a opossum was out and about. He decided to go after our flock.

This opossum took out about half of them before we were able to get the chickens to safety. Needless to say, he didn’t live to eat another chicken.

After that experience, I decided I would keep free range chickens, but only for half of the day. Despite my best efforts of keeping watch, things happen.

An owl got a few of my free range chickens. Who knew that owls were out hunting during the middle of the day? Because I sure didn’t!

group of chickens inside of fenced in run

And then there’s the ongoing and current problem we have with a fox. They don’t say “sly as a fox” for no reason.

These predators are incredibly smart! One took out all but one of our free range chickens. This was with me keeping an eye on them too!

That stinker was watching me and noticed when I walked away briefly.

So, safely raising free range chickens just is not an option for us. I have tried different things to keep predators our, but they are intelligent animals.

The inside of our coop flooring is concrete, yet I still have predators trying to dig to get to our flock. They are so smart that they are even picking at the wood and breaking small pieces off.

Completely ridiculous.

Around here we are dealing with and battling owls, opossums, raccoons, chicken hawks, skunks, and foxes. I’m sure there’s others that I’m forgetting about.

But you see our problem and why we choose not to raise free range chickens. It seems like it’s never ending and I want to do everything in my power to protect our ladies, while still giving them an awesome life.

group of chickens eating grain from a wooden feeder

Here’s our solutions to the raising free range chickens and protecting them from predators.

Because our girls still need outdoor time. And free range chickens still need to use a coop during the night.

One of our solutions is to utilize a few things that we currently have at our homestead.

We are putting our goats to work to help protect our chickens and ducks. We rotate several between being home or out in pastures for free range time.

Goats love to browse, clear up trees and brush. So we give them time to do what they love. But when they are home at the ranch, they help protect the chickens.

goats grazing in grassy pasture

The goat pen is set up to wrap around our chicken coop.

We keep our guineas with our chickens and they alert us of potential dangers, such as approaching predators. Our ducks are also set up near the coop with their own little housing, pool and fenced in run.

Have you ever heard a duck?

The are very loud. I have noticed whenever anything, such as our goats get too close to their pen, they alert us of “danger”.

ducks walking together in a group inside of a fenced in run

Currently we are working on creating a larger run for our chickens that will be harder than Fort Knox to get into! Ha. We are using fence panels and then lining it with hardware cloth. The roof is also lined.

The ground of the run will also be lined around the perimeter to protect our chickens from digging predators.

using electric fence to protect the free range chickens

Another solution we’ve been testing out is to utilize electric fencing.

This has worked for keeping our goats safe in grazing/browsing zones.

UPDATE: This fencing is amazing and has kept our goats and allowed us to raise free range chickens in small areas around the yard. Find the fence here!

Here’s how we protect our chickens from predators: Chicken Predator Control

goats foraging in a yard using the electric fence

So that’s our current plan. What methods do you use to keep your flock safe on your homestead?

Update: this post has seen quite a bit of traffic and I’ve received many comments regarding adding a livestock guardian dog to protect our hens.

We have tried this method out and we do have an amazing LGD. She protects our animals from many predators, but this method is not full proof. It does not keep the predators away at all times.

I feel like we are in a hot zone and many predators have a death wish. Ha.

The best method that I’ve found to work for us and our farm is utilizing this electric fence when the hens are outdoors. It’s seriously amazing!

brahma chicken standing next to an electric fence

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Kathi Seymour

Thursday 30th of March 2017

Hi my name is Kathi. My husband and I leased a farm last July. We acquired 6 Hens and 2 roosters. Soon after we lost 2 hens to a predator, but didn't know what. My husband is store manager at Tractor Supply, and talked with experienced farmers and found out possible possum was culprit . Sure enough couple nights later our 5 year old German Shepard Sargent came around the corner with a possum in his mouth. He has been the best farm dog we could have imagine. He has recused me from a mouse in the bathroom, alerted us that the chickens were loose by capturing and bringing them to the door , keeping deer out of the garden etc. what you need is a good dog.