Raising your chickens on open grass has several benefits, the first of which is that your production costs will be far less because the birds are eating grass and bugs, and you won’t be buying grains. Another advantage is that your meat and eggs will be organic, without the harmful chemicals found in many commercial chicken feeds. Finally, free ranging your chickens will cut your maintenance time by a large amount. You won’t have to be scooping up chicken droppings in small pens, and the coop will stay much cleaner for far longer because the chickens are outside most of the day. There’s a great side benefit to free range chicken raising too—all that chicken waste becomes fantastic, free fertilizer.
Yes, raising your egg layers on pasture makes as much sense as it does for meat birds. The USDA did a study that determined the eggs from free-range chickens were lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and had several times more vitamin A and omega-3. In fact, free-range chickens were found to have a whopping seven times more beta-carotene than eggs produced by cooped or caged chickens. Both your meat and egg-laying chickens will also be far healthier when allowed free range and have access to plenty of fresh air and sunshine.
All Cooped Up
Even though the idea of free-range chickens means plenty of outdoor living, freedom, and sunshine, that doesn’t mean you won’t need a coop. You will still need an appropriately sized coop for your flock so they can get out of bad weather and have someplace to sleep at night where it is safe.
Access to Water
If you do not have a stream or pond on your property, the one thing you will have to be sure to always provide for your free-range chickens is fresh water daily. You can use the same chicken waterers used in the coop, or you can simply put out pans or buckets of water.
The biggest hurdle for free-range flock owners is dealing with predators. Because you allow your chickens roam a larger area than you would if you just kept them in a coop and small yard, they are easy pickings for hawks, coyotes, and other wild animals. They can even be in danger from your neighbor’s dog if they are loose and you don’t have fences around your property.
One way to protect chickens from predators from above is to have lots of shrubs, trees, and tall plant life for the chickens to roam in. With more natural shelter, they aren’t as easy to spot. When purchasing your free-range chickens consider brown, tan or black breeds. They stand out less from above than white or yellow breeds.
Fence in your property with strong field fence or solid board fencing to keep dogs and coyotes out, and always gather the chickens into a coop overnight. Letting your chickens roost in trees out in the open can be fun, but it also leaves them vulnerable to night-stalking predators. It also makes it harder to find their eggs when they lay them. Free-range chickens can be ingenious when it comes to finding places to lay (and hide) their eggs.
If you have a livestock guardian dog that you raised with your chickens so they consider them their charge and not their prey, you can rest assured that predators will be kept at bay. That may be the very best method of protecting free-range chickens from wildlife poaching. Without a dog, even with your best care you will have to accept some losses due to hawks and other wildlife.
©2011 Off the Grid News