When raising chickens, you may want to free range your chickens. But often times it isn’t the safest option to keep your flock safe. There are many pros and cons to raising free ranging chickens.
Today, I’m going to cover mostly the cons.
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 raise 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.
Updated from original publish date of August, 2016
Benefits of free range chickens
Before I dive into the cons of free ranging, I thought I’d cover a few things that are beneficial to raising chickens that roam freely around the yard or pasture.
Typically, chickens that are allowed to free range, are much more happier and healthier. They have a better quality of life.
And free range eggs are so much more delicious and nutritious!
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 my backyard chickens to free range for 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!
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 out, 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.
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.
Solutions to predators
Because the girls still need outdoor time, but I don’t want to keep them locked up in the hen house all day! 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.
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”.
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.
Btw, always use hardware cloth and not chicken wire for your chickens. Chicken wire is basically pointless! Any predator can get through it easily.
The ground of the run will also be lined around the perimeter of the coop and run to protect our chickens from digging predators.
Another suggestion several of my friends use is a chicken tractor. It helps them to raise free range birds that they can move around the yard or pasture. Plus, the chicken poop helps their grass grow in nicely!
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 more on how we protect our chickens from predators: Chicken Predator Control
There are some really clever suggestions that we’ve put to use after this post was initially published. Be sure to check it out!
Predator Control Methods
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 amazing guard dogs. They protect our farm animals from many predators, but this method is not completely perfect. It does not keep the predators away at all times.
The best method that I’ve found to work for us and our small farm is utilizing this electric fence when the hens are outdoors. It’s seriously amazing!