Chickens are on my mind all the time lately. Now that we are for real going to get some chicks in a few weeks, I've been in hyperdrive reading, reading, and reading some more on their care and housing. One of the things that has been getting the most of my attention is how our girls (and boy(s)) will spend their time outside of the coop.
Since the beginning, my hubs has been 100% a fan of free ranging. Two of my favorite blogs, Chickens in the Road and Cold Antler Farm, are free range fans. Suzanne at CITR often says she doesn't know exactly how many chickens she has at a given time. Jenna at CAF has found some broody hens hatching chicks in her barn. And both are well aware, and share on their blogs, that free ranging does mean that you will probably lose some chickens. The chickens, however, get to live the perfect lifestyle - searching for bugs, dust bathing, and just being a chicken. Feed costs are reduced since the chickens can forage for some of their food. I've read that chickens can be good insect control and with some supervision in the garden can be excellent management for slugs and other bugs. And the yolks from free range hens! I've never seen a more brilliant orange.
A lot of the books I've read all advocate some sort of fencing or run. The runs can be as fancy or basic as you want them to be. Some people landscape around their coops, which is beneficial both to the chickens and the chicken keeper. Some people allow a "supervised" free range, or only allowing their chickens to free range when they are outside with them. Predators can still be a problem, even with humans around, but securing chickens in a run lessens the threat.
Are you as torn as I was? I spoke with the farmer who is hatching our chicks for us and she told me that we would lose a few to predators and while this is sad, it helps teach the remaining chickens to be more alert. She free ranges her chickens and said she had a hawk get away with a few. But, she said, once the other chickens were aware of warning signs of a hawk, they are able to get away from it.
After some serious talk and thought, we have decided to free range our birds. Our neighbors are far enough away that they won't be a nuisance. And our main reason for getting chickens is for the eggs and eventually, meat. I'm sure we will become attached to them, as we do any animal. But, at the end of the day, we will know that they are living a life that is most suited a chicken.
I'll be sharing along every step of the way - we have a general idea for our coop and I'd still love to do some landscaping around our coop. And I'll share how we plan to protect our garden as well as provide some shelter for our birds from aerial predators.
How about you - do you free range your chickens?