Free ranging didn’t work for me… July 11, 2012
When I go out in the morning to bring treats to my girls and collect our little egg gifts for the day, I’m greeted at the run door by hens begging for me to let them out. How could I turn down those sweet little faces?
Sadly, I feel I have to. In the early days of my chicken keeping, I wanted to give them the best of everything… even freedom. After losing some of my favorite birds to dogs, foxes and hawks, I came to realize free ranging just wasn’t for me. At first, I was heartbroken, thinking they’d be coop-bound forever. But instead of getting mad, I got smart.
First things first: I secured aviary netting to the top of my run to keep out hawks and other birds of prey (see my prior post on Blue Heron). Second, I buried galvanized hardware cloth 12″ deep to keep out diggers like foxes and dogs–and rodents. With the run secure, I had no problem letting them out, but still they were pouty about being imprisoned, and no wonder.
So, the ladies and I came to a compromise. Some days, right before sunset, I let them out. I stay outside in the garden and watch over them while they graze. They know the day is ending and don’t wander off too far. (That saying, “chickens come home to roost” is really true–every night, faithfully, they’ll return to their coop.)
After weighing my options, this routine is best for me and my girls. So many of you I’ve spoken with on the phone prefer to free-range your flock all day. You know you’ll lose some to predators, but you prefer them to live the happiest, healthiest lives possible, even if those lives are occasionally cut short. Ultimately, so long as your chickens are respected and given a healthy, clean living environment, the rest is up to you. No matter whether you choose to free-range them all the time or just once in a while, they’ll still be much, much happier than factory farm birds living the whole of their lives indoors.