What is a Free Range Chicken?
Like everything else in the world, there is a debate concerning even this. Not just about whether or not to do it, but the very definition of what “Free Range” means.
To some, Free Range, means to never confine or lock up an animal. Ever. I haven’t met too many people who cling to that notion. So let me just say this, to most, Free Ranging means, chickens are free to roam whatever property during the day and then, at night, they sleep in a Coop. This is also my version of Free Range. So if you hear me use the term concerning my Chickens, know that I’m saying they go in a Coop at night and then early in the mornin’, I let them out to run around.
Also, if you are thinking about Free Ranging, check out your breed. Some have to be Free Ranged and are healthier and happier for it, while others do better in confinement.
Let me also point out, there is no training for chickens that Free Range. Meaning, I never taught mine how. My Breeds are great foragers. They go all on their own to the Coop just at dark. Once inside, we close the door and lock them up till mornin’. I do the locking because we have Predators here. Big ones. (I’ll talk more about that in another article, though.)
So do I have eggs dropped all over my yard? No.
When it’s time to lay an egg, my Chickens go to the nesting boxes inside the Coop all on their own. Occasionally, I’ll get one that lays in a weird place — like the doghouse — but mostly, they take to the Coop.
They love feasting on bugs — but keep in mind, landscaping may not be an option if you Free Range. Gardens have to be protected as well. My chickens tear up some tomatoes but I don’t mind because they can only reach the ones on the bottom. They are great when it comes to keeping bugs off my plants. Play havoc on ticks, flying insects, June Bugs and more. However, pretty flower beds, landscaping and such — my girls will scratch those things to kingdom come. So, you may have to watch that or fence a particular part of the yard off.
Free Range Chickens will climb up steps and get on porches. Where they go, there will be Chicken Poo left behind. Mine don’t really mess with my porches, for whatever reason, but I know people who have gotten rid of Chickens all because they splattered their steps with Poo. I love my Ladies, so if that happened here, I’d just spray it off with a water hose.
Coop-kept Chickens and Chicken Tractors
If you are keeping your Chickens in a Coop permanently, then you’re going to have to keep the Coop clean. Disease can spread in a dirty Coop. While my Chickens Free Range and while I still have to clean the Coop, I don’t have to do it as much as a person who keeps Chickens in one all the time.
A clean coop keeps birds healthy and from getting certain parasites, worms and such. And make a run (a fenced in area) big enough so that your birds can get some exercise. Chickens need to be entertained. I know people will say “dumb birds” but they are not dumb at all. They are curious and busy little creatures. If they can’t stay busy or muck about things then they may just go batty on you.
Remember, no matter what you do for your birds – free range or coop – don’t just chuck out their poo. That’s pure gold when it comes to gardens, flower beds and fruit trees. Pick a bedding that’s easy to rake up – some people use sand, but many use Hay or Straw or even concrete – throw it in a wheel barrel and scatter it where you need extra fertilizing.
Many people are using Chicken Tractors now — a Coop on wheels— because this allows them to move it around the yard. Chickens help peck the bugs out — in the area that they are in— and leave Poo behind, which fertilizes the grass. It’s a way to keep Chickens contained but also giving them a chance to move around, even if slowly.
Chicken Tractors are also used by people who do Meat Birds. Meat Birds are Chickens kept only for about 4 to 8 weeks before they are butchered. People don’t want them running around burning off calories but they also, don’t want them in a stationary Coop, either. Tractors seem to be a happy means to a desired end. No pun intended.
There are some fantastic Coop plans and ideas on the website Backyard Chickens. (More on Coops in another Article.) You can get fancy or you can be more down to earth. Here is my Coop. Nothing fancy. Later on, I might throw paint to it, but we are still adding on.
All Coops need the basics – nesting boxes (to lay eggs in), a place for food, fresh water and roosting bars. Everything else, you will add or tweak along the way based on your desires or what the chickens need—such as auto-feeders or heat lamps. .
Next article: To Cull or not to Cull — That Tis the Question.