A lot of people love the idea of free-ranging their chickens and I’m definitely one of them. Like with anything in life and homesteading, there are some pros and cons to free-ranging chickens.
Free-Ranging Chickens- The Pros vs The Cons
Chickens are known as the “gateway animals” in homesteading. So, you get a few baby chicks and then they get big. What do you do with them now? “To free-range or not to free-range?” That is the big question.
We’ve been raising free-range chickens for many years. In that time we’ve learned quite a few things about it. While I prefer the free-range method (because raising pastured poultry is important to us), I know it is not for everyone.
Don’t feel bad if you decide not to have free-ranging chickens. It just might not be a good option for you. If you have a small property, live in a neighborhood, have a lot of predators, or any other reason it’s ok to raise them confined. Just be sure that they have enough space for them to stretch their legs and scratch around.
Another great option for free-ranging chickens while keeping them secure is a mobile coop or chicken tractor. This gives you the ability to move them as needed and keep them safe all at the same time. The benefits of free-range and the security of confinement. Best of both worlds!
The Pros of Free-Ranging Chickens
Free-range chickens are able to forage for bugs, grass, and herbs. They will have a much more diverse diet than when raised in confinement. This makes them happy and healthy birds!
Fewer Feed Costs
Because the chickens are foraging, this will supplement some of their feed. You will still need to give them chicken feed but the amount will be greatly reduced by free-ranging. Saving money and cutting costs is always a good thing in life!
Free-Ranging Chickens are Fun to Watch
One of my favorite things to do is sit outside and watch my chickens roam around. They’re very entertaining creatures. If you’ve never watched chickens fight over a worm or two roosters show each other who is the boss, you’re missing out on a lot of fun entertainment!
When you crack an egg from a free-ranging chicken and compare it to a store-bought or confined chicken egg, there is a noticeable difference in the color of the yolks. The free-range egg yolks are a much deeper yellow (sometimes even orange) and are full of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. I think they taste much better too!
Free-Ranging Chickens Have Healthier Meat
When chickens free-range, they tend to have a healthier and more natural diet. They are also more active and exposed to more sunlight than their confined counterparts. In my personal opinion, I believe this results in healthier eggs and meat for the consumer.
More Exercise for Free-Ranging Chickens
As I said, free-range chickens are more active. We all know that exercise is better for all creatures big and small, human or otherwise. You may also find yourself getting exercise in the case of trying to catch your free-range chickens. Those jokers are fast!
Coop and Run Stay Cleaner
When your chickens spend the majority of their time out and about, they aren’t in the run and coop to dirty it up as much. You still need to clean them on a regular basis to keep your chickens healthy but much less frequently than when confined.
When the coop stays cleaner and there is less chicken mess concentrated in one spot, it is less attractive to flies and you’ll have fewer pests on the farm.
If you raise other types of livestock, free-ranging chickens may even find their manure and scratch through it making it less attractive to flies to lay their eggs in. But if they do, the chickens will find the larvae and eat them. Fewer flies on the homestead is always a good thing!
Remember all of the chicken poop and bedding you cleaned from the coop? Throw that stuff into a heap and you’ve got a compost pile in the making. Chicken waste needs to break down for a year to reduce the excess nitrogen (this can burn your plants) but once that stuff is aged, it’s an amazing additive to your garden soil.
The Cons of Free-Ranging Chickens
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits to free-ranging chickens but there are some downsides as well. Let’s hit on those points now.
Free-range chickens are more susceptible to predator attacks because they aren’t confined to a safe enclosure. If you live in an area that’s prone to a lot of predator attacks, you may need a more confined solution or perhaps a livestock guardian dog to keep your chickens safe.
Oh yes, chickens like to go rogue. Why do they cross the road? Because the grass in the neighbor’s yard must be greener or perhaps the bugs are juicier. At any rate, free-range chickens will start to wander beyond their allowed area. I usually remedy this by keeping them locked up in the coop for a few days and then they behave for a while afterward.
Free-Range Chickens Poop Everywhere
Oh, the poop! They will poop on your porch, they will poop on your sidewalk, they will poop everywhere. If chicken poop all over the place bothers you, free-ranging may not work for your situation.
Chickens will try to find a way into the garden. I mean why wouldn’t they? They see all of those bright tomatoes and beautiful pumpkins…. they’ve just gotta have a taste. We make extra efforts to fence the chickens out of the garden because they will destroy the harvest and devour it all for themselves.
We try to train our chickens to lay in the nesting boxes by keeping them up for a couple of weeks until they are laying well in their designated nesting box. This works but sometimes, you’ll have some chickens decide they’ve found a much better place for eggs. Unfortunately, you often find the nest after the eggs are too old to consume. Retrain your naughty hens by locking them up for a bit again. Easter egg hunts all year round!
Intimidating Non-Homesteading Guests
If you aren’t a chicken person it may be quite scary to be chased by little dinosaur-like creatures. I promise they aren’t attack chickens, they’re just curious and maybe you brought them a snack?
Annoying Delivery Personnel
Your mailman, UPS guy, or FedEx delivery personnel may be annoyed (or even terrified) when trying to deliver packages. Those pesky chickens are all around their truck, under their feet, and sitting right where they need to leave the package. You may also come home to chicken poop on your package. Yay!
Space Required for Free-Ranging Chickens
Free-ranging chickens will require a little extra space than confined chickens. If you don’t have a lot of room for them or perhaps a high fence around your yard, your neighbors may end up with chickens at their place. This can result in the chickens messing up their flower beds, gardens, and pooping on their property. Doesn’t really make for good neighbor relations.
What it Boils Down To
If you have the space and capabilities to safely free-range your chickens, go for it! Most chicken problems (wandering off, laying eggs random places, etc….) can be fixed by cooping (literally) them up for a few days to a week. I think you will find it fun to watch your chickens in action from your porch.
If you decide that free-ranging isn’t the best or safest option for your birds, you may find ways to give them access to more grass and bugs. You can get creative with a mobile coop, grass clippings, herbs for them, mealworms, or even raising some sort of bug farm to feed them from. Keeping them happy, healthy, safe, and comfortable is the overall goal no matter how you raise your chickens.
I wish you the best of luck in your chicken-raising ventures free-range or otherwise!
More About Raising Chickens
Whether you’ll be free-ranging them or not, keep reading for more information about raising the healthiest and happiest backyard chickens on your homestead!
- The Basics of Raising Chicks
- All About Cardboard Bedding in the Chicken Coop
- 5 Reasons to Raise Pastured Livestock
- Why You Need a Rooster
- How to Keep Chickens Warm in the Winter
- How to Treat Common Chicken Illnesses
- 10 Ways to Help Chickens Beat the Heat
- Chicken Breeds for Colorful Eggs
- Cornish Cross vs. Freedom Ranger: Which Meat Chicken Breed Should You Choose?
- Heritage Meat Chicken Breeds
Jenna is a busy wife and a mom to eight kids. She’s a homesteader, homemaker, and homeschooler. She’s very passionate about organic gardening, and naturally raising livestock. You can find her on her YouTube channel and her blog, The Flip Flop Barnyard.
We raise about 40 heritage breed chickens right now, headed for 50 next year. They are out on about 1 1/2 acres of pasture with two coops that have ‘runs’ that shelter their feed and water. They are fenced off from the gardens and the house area, so is no problems with them roaming everywhere. We lock them in their coops each night for safety. We love letting them run out all day on grass and in our sheep barn (we have donkeys also). We have a few scattered egg laying areas, but they lay in predictable ‘nests’.