Free Range? Four Ways to Manage your Small Flock

For people new to chicken keeping, deciding how they will manage their flock---free range or confined--- can be pretty daunting. Part of the problem is that there isn't really one BEST way to keep a flock. A lot will depend on your own situation.

For instance, my chickens free range in the true sense. That is, they literally have no fences to keep them confined anywhere, so they are out ranging all day long on our nearest acres. We can do this because we're lucky enough that we don't have any close neighbors. There is no one for our hens to bother, unfettered as they are. They won't be getting into a neighbor's yard, won't be pooping on a neighbor's walk or porch, won't be scratching in a neighbor's garden. At night they retire to the coop, and I lock the door when they've gone to bed. In the morning, it's opened up again.

free range chickens

We can do this true free ranging by virtue of our location, and the amount of space we have... as well as the fact that I work from home, so I'm almost always here to make sure everything is okay. Our birds spend their days hunting, scratching, grazing and foraging for bugs. When it gets cold, they huddle together or may choose to stay in the coop. When it's hot, they take shade under our old locust tree with a view of our little holler.

But that's not the only way to manage your small flock. The second way to range your hens is confined ranging. Most people manage this way. If your yard or run is fenced, your birds are enjoying confined range.  With fences or enclosures, your flock can't wander willy-nilly into a neighbor's property, or into the road and traffic. Presuming the yard is large enough for your flock to have access to green pasture, confined ranging often works out to be much the same thing as fenceless ranging, so far as the birds are concerned. The birds themselves don't get to define their territory like they do without fences, but they do have a large outdoor territory that they can explore freely during the day. In some cases, chicken people will use mobile "tractor style" coops that are moved to fresh pasture every day. Thus, the birds are always on fresh range, and are also always safely confined.  This is a truly ingenious method of flock management, especially for urban and suburban chicken keepers with limited space and/or close neighbors.

Confined Ranging

The third way to range your hens is part time ranging. This is a great way to operate in some situations. It may be necessary to supervise ranging time, for instance if your neighborhood has many stray dogs, or there is a danger of other predators. Or, if you're not home to supervise during the day, your family may decide to let the hens out only in the evenings or on weekends when someone is around, in case there is any trouble. Part time ranging is very popular, too.

Full time confinement

Some urban and suburban keepers don't range their birds at all, but instead have full-time confinement. This is probably less common--or at least we hear about it less often! Full time confinement occurs  when a flock has access to the outdoors, but not to green pasture, not even on a part time basis. For people who keep pet chickens confined, these birds are usually still quite pampered. They probably get fruits and veggies as treats, mealworms, or sunflower seeds. Plus, the confined space will be roomy presuming they observe space recommendations. The advantage of not ranging at all is that, if your coop and run are secure, there is no danger of predators. There is always some danger of predators with other methods. The disadvantage, though, is that there will be a lot more cleaning involved, and birds will be more prone to boredom and behavior issues like pecking, egg eating and the like. Illnesses and infestations can also spread more quickly through the confined flock. Plus, it may be a bit more expensive, since the birds will have no ability to supplement their diet by foraging.

As you probably know, even full time confinement is WAY better than factory farm "free ranging." This needs to be mentioned here, although no one in their right minds would count it as one of the "Four Ways to Manage your Small Flock." Free ranging in factory farm terms is not free ranging at all, in any objective sense. There is no free ranging about it. In fact, the "free range" label has become just one of those doublespeak terms co-opted by big agro in an effort to confuse or delude you about how your food is produced. Their hope is that when you read that your eggs are produced by free range hens, it's natural for you to picture true free ranging, confined ranging or even full time confinement with the type of space-per-chicken provided to backyard flocks.  Instead, what you really should picture is this:

Factory Farm Free Range

"Free ranging" in factory farm terms is just a vast warehouse filled to capacity with chickens. Somewhere there is likely a door to a small concrete pad outside where they can "range" if they happen to be near the door. It's unlikely there is any grass or pasture available, and they certainly don't have treats of fruits and veggies, meal worms and sunflower seeds like backyard chickens do. Nonetheless, big agro can legally call that sort of arrangement "free range," in the hopes you won't know any better. (Way to institutionalize dishonesty,  Big Agro!)

For your small backyard flock, the bottom line is this: the more greens and bugs they can supplement their diet with, the better... whether they are truly free range chickens or whether you are bringing in treats for a pampered flock that must be fully confined.  You've heard it from us before: chickens with access to pasture lay healthier eggs. Studies show they have 1/3 less cholesterol, 1/4 less saturated fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, 3 times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta carotene than the eggs of chickens without access to pasture. They are also healthier in other ways; for instance they are much less likely to spread food-borne illnesses or contain other things harmful to our health.

So, how do you range your hens... true free ranging, confined ranging, part time ranging or full time confinement? Did you start out imagining you would care for your flock one way, and end up doing it another? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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10 years ago

We have 5 Plymouth Rock Hens and I would say they are Part-Time Confined Rangers. They have a 4 x 6 coop and an attached 6 x 10 run which they stay in normally. However, each afternoon, they are turned out to a section of the yard which is 6 ft chain link and about 1/4 acre in size. They are out there for at least 3/4 hours. Their time outside their run must be balanced with the time my dogs are out (I raise German Shepherds and chicken is their favorite flavor!!).

10 years ago

I have 6 hens in a 35'*75' suburban backyard. They have free range in the yard dawn to dusk, or whenever they go to bed. Love them and their eggs!

10 years ago

Our poultry (40-some chickens, 6 ducks, 1 goose, 6 guinneas, 10 turkeys) range totally free during the day but we make sure to close them in at night. We lost some birds to great horned owls before we learned our lesson, and have lost some this year to a raccoon that got into the barn. Our two Aussie dogs are wonderful protectors, but they come in at night, the most dangerous time for poultry.

A tremendous advantage to free-range poultry is the insect control- we have far fewer ticks and flies. The chickens love to scratch the cow pies apart and they disappear into the pasture much faster. The biggest challenge is keeping chickens OUT of where you don't want them to be. We had to fence our patio (they like to hang out there with us) so we don't have to power wash the patio every day. We have fully fenced our garden and igh tunnel greenhouse so they don't scratch up the plantings in their quest for bugs, and so the ducks and geese don't eat all the greens and berries. I have lost quite a few new flower plantings to chickens this spring,--aargh! But seeing them range across the yard gives me great joy, and nothing is more entertaining than watching a turkey chase a butterfly.

Donna Walker
10 years ago

We have a neighborhood on one side of us and pasture land on the other. I can only let our birds out a couple of hours before roosting time for supervised ranging. I have trained them to head toward the pasture... not toward the neighborhood and by supervising them I can be sure the coyotes and birds of prey keep away. Our compost mound is inside their fenced yard on the high side of a slope. When our busy birds scratch inches of the mound down toward the low side of the yard we take the time to rake and push the debris back up the compost mound. In this way their yard stays clean and the compost mounds is frequently churned. The compost mound ensures a constant supply of earth worms to reward their scratching. When a hard rain washes the finer compost down the slope and against a 'stop board', designed just for stopping the ready compost from washing away, we shovel wheel barrow loads of the compost into our gardens! I love my 'compost churning' birds!

Melissa Dawson
10 years ago

We have a large farm so my rooster free ranges during the day but as for my 21 other chickens, they are only 4 months old and some 2 months old so i am still leary about letting them free range, mostly do to hawks and other dangers. I was wondering when ppl usually start free ranging chicks. Occasionaly one or two get out when I am outside and they do enjoy themselves but want back with the flock soon enough. I also have 21 peckin ducks that are free range. They are pets so they stay close. The rooster is funny, he enjoys picking and scratching through the horse stalls after everyone is out in pasture, but my most fav is he thinks he has to be where ppl are so he is usually right back in the back yard or if we are outside he is right beside us checking everything out. When we go somewhere and come home like a good boy he comes and meets us at the car. To Funny.

10 years ago

I have 96 chickens altogether of different ages. My big chickens have a chicken coop for roosting, laying eggs, etc. They have a 30'x50' pen to run in, but the gate & door is open daily. they enjoy the run of the yard, fields and know they are shut in safe & sound at night. Everyone tells us how they love to drive by our home & see our beautiful chickens running loose. We live in a big old country farm house built in 1846, We have a big red & white barn with a couple other metal sheds & a couple grain bens. So they have plenty of places to explore & hide if needed, but they always come back to their coop at night, thankfully. I enjoy my chickens, they come up for treats, come when called. They are a hoot. Got to love em.

10 years ago

I have a rooster and hen that took up residence on our property a year ago. They roost in my dogwood tree at night. They get to have all of the leftover veggies, bread crusts and seeds that they want. They just had four chicks that were born on Wednesday morning. I have setup a small (for lack of a better word) coop for the hen and her babies. The rooster is protecting her and the chicks in the daytime and I make sure she is protected from predators at night. (I have floodlights to illuminate the side yard to prevent predators from coming in to that area and go out several times after it gets dark to further discourage them.) Momma is extremely protective of her babies and will huddle them up very quickly if she senses danger. We do not have fences, and live on two wooded acres. Finding eggs is a bit like Easter egg hunting everyday!

10 years ago

Reading this, I am having some guilt. I have just a few hens who will be soon be moving into a coop in my backyard. Because the yard is small, and they must share it with my young children, I have to confine the birds to an area approximately 30' by 7'. It's a good sized area for 3 hens, I think, but there is NO grass. It is dirt, and a few small weeds. The run will have to be covered in bedding to keep their feet dry. I plan to supplement with kitchen scraps or cuttings from the garden, but what can I do to improve their foraging??? I have a fairly shady yard, in the Pacific Northwest. Help??

Debi Crane
10 years ago

I was totally free range until recently when a fox killed 8 of my hens. Now they only get out when I am home, which is most of the time. They hate being up they make all kind of noise to get out. They have a pretty big enclosure and we are planning to make it bigger with a bigger hen house but they would still like to be out. I would like to trap the fox but dont know how. Does anyone have any ideas? I have a fairly large trap. But I am afraid of trying to trap it I will only encourage it to come around more by baiting it.

My hens are very happy out and they are spoiled I walk out the front door and they come running for a treat. This makes it very easy to put them up when I need too. I just dont know what to do about the fox. We havent seen the fox in about 2 weeks could it possibly moved out and we wont see them again?

Becky Ralston
10 years ago

We have 4 girls left after apparently some youngsters from an ajecent neighborhood burned our barn, chicken pen and killed 11 of our flock. Our survivors are currently residing in our sun room while their new chicken headquarters are being constructed. They seem to enjoy the radio, and watching tv so we may have to get solar powered electonics for them now. 🙂 Yes they are spoiled, but one of the 4 deserves to be spoiled as she ran through the fire and is now nicknamed Phoneix. She is regrowing her tail feathers, wing feathers, the feathers on top of her head, the pads of her feet and the scales on her legs. She is amazing!! They free range very close to the house and LOVE it. They Free Ranged as a group of 15 originally closer to the barn, but seem much happier to Free Range close to the house. Since they don't have our Roosters to alert them to danger anymore, I observe them listening carefully to the Blue Jays who alert our whole back yard or danger. (we have 5 acres in a rural/suburban subdivision). I love our girls. I can't wait to get more again when we get our new Ck Headquarters completed!

10 years ago

I am lucky enough that I live 6 miles out of town..and live in a spot where I have a cornfield in between me and my closest neighbor other then the one across the streett.ands my unlike the old joke " why did thher chicken cross thee road" mine have no disier to.what hen would with cornfeil to explore and a large yard that they have all to them full of trees to shade under and a dustbath just a few feet away..for the most part my flock of 17 get the run of the place and sleep at night in a locked me there's nothing like watching chickens get to have the freedom to be chickens...I feel Thackerat having tthat freedom to forage, lay in the sun, dustbath wherever, or just come hang ouut on the front porch makes a both happier and healthy hen 🙂

10 years ago

I have eight pullets (soon to be hens I hope) and a suburban lot of half an acre. The fenced back yard is about a quarter acre, part lawn and part formal flower beds. I let my chickens out of their run and into our back yard for two or three hours each evening. They run around exploring, usually heading to underneath my wild bird feeders to scavenge any fallen seeds, then wandering at will through the yard. Some times I stand one one end of the lawn, about 100 feet away from them, with a handful of meal worms or other treat. They half run, half fly across the lawn in about two seconds for their treats! Anyway, this system limits the damage to my flower beds and lawn, but gives my birds a fun play time daily. And I love watching them their behavior as they move around the yard.

Thank you so much for your blogs! I really enjoy them and am learning a lot from you and from the other people who comment!

10 years ago

We part time range our 5 chickens (2 roosters and 3 hens). Their enclosed pen is 16' x 32', they have a large coop, spiral perches, rocks to play on, benches to sit on, etc. We call it the chicken palace. On the weekends they are let out in the yard all day and once they are ready for bed, I do a check to make sure the neighbors cats aren't in there and lock up their pen door. During the work week they are let out as soon as we get home til it's their bed time. Our yard isn't fenced but they are pretty good about their boundaries. Lately they have enjoyed sitting on the front porch toward evening. The neighbors cats don't bother them, it's the other way around. The chickens love to chase anything that comes into our yard. Mostly birds are chased off and the cats are allowed to stay as long as the chickens aren't annoyed by them. We have 5 more female chicks that will share the space with the big ones as soon as they grow a bit more. We should be getting our first eggs this week or next. I can't wait to taste them!

10 years ago

I would let my chickens out more, but I can't be there to supervise. I have a run attached to the coop so they have access to the outdoors but they've picked all of the grass out of it. We are building a chicken tractor so that they can range, but still be safe and I can have the piece of mind. We are also expanding the run to accommodate the new chickens I keep getting! Space is more then enough if I were to free range, but there are many barn cats, hawks, raccoons, and foxes to deter these thoughts until I work things out to be safe.

Larry E
10 years ago

We free range almost full time. The draw back is that we loose our hens to predators once in a while. Last year, a group of hawks spotted our hens and we lost 4 of 5. That was kind of devestating. We raise Faverolles that are quite social and friendly. We currently have two hens and no rooster but plan to add 4 hens and a rooster in the next year or so.

10 years ago

We had 6 hens that were free range in the almost 1 acre yard dawn to dusk (2 silkies, red star, Silver Laced Wyandotte, Brown Leghorn, . A dog or dogs ripped apart the fence boards and killed all but 2 hens. The chickens were then confined to the coop and fully enclosed run unless we were in the back yard. We have adopted 2 chickens and are up to 4 but still don't allow them out unless we are home.

Terry E.
10 years ago

We are beginner chicken owners. We only have three hens and they are only about two and a half month's old, so we're very new at this.
I was so glad to find this blog today because our chicks are what you would consider part-time, supervised free ranging. We have a german shepherd that we thought might be a protector, but so far, we're not so sure.
So, we keep him locked up in the basement while the chicks are out. We let them out of the coop to wander around the yard (almost two acres in a subdivision) and did not always supervise until a couple of days ago when we saw a stray cat in our yard for the first time. He was probably drawn here by the chicks.
So, we are staying out there with them, enjoying watching them when they are out three times a day.
Loving raising chickens for the first time. Only wish we had more space so we could have more of them.

10 years ago

Our chickens are also free-ranged on top of a West Virginia mountain. Our neighbor is almost a mile away, so we don't have to worry about them invading his space. We live in the woods, so there are a lot of places for the chickens (and our ducks and soon to be old enough turkeys) to scratch up yummy bugs. The best bug zappers to have!

10 years ago

I have 4 hens, and nearly an identical setup to Tina (first commenter). I have about 1/2 acre back yard and let the girls out for a few hours in the afternoon/early evening when I can keep the dog locked in the house. If I could get the dog to stop trying to herd the girls I'd let them out all day.

My hen house and run are portable so a weekly move to 'greener pastures' isn't particularly difficult.

10 years ago

We free range our chickens, too. We have 16 hens and 2 roosters. Open the coop door in the morning and they roam our property all day and go in at night. Then we shut them in for the night. The only times they stay in is when it's way too cold out. On those days I try throwing them fresh fruits and veggies they like to keep them busy. This past winter was so warm that they hardly stayed in

We live in the woods and at the top of a hill also, but we're mostly surrounded by trees. There is a farmer's field behind our house and we try keeping the chickens out, especially when he's planted something.

10 years ago

We confine our 5 chickens, we are hoping to build a pen to bring them around the yard in, but we live in the suburbs and there are lots of dogs in the neighborhood and a large tangle of brambles directly behind their coop that is undoubtedly full of foxes and other creatures who would love some chicken for dinner. But we bring the pasture to them. They get all the grass clippings from the yard and all the veggie scraps from our prep for meals and leftovers. They also get tons of other chicken friendly treats. I don't feel too bad for them as it's very obvious they don't have much sense when it comes to staying out of trouble and they are very safe in their coop.

10 years ago

I have 6 leghorn & 3 RIR & 4 batom hens. they free range most of the time. there are days they set up in the barn when its cold to windy or raining. funny thing is they always make it to there nest box to lay eggs.they go into the woods next to the nabors hourses come home every night. this amazes me.In the winter they wont leave ther coop for anything. I have bin having chickens for only 2 years. and have learned to let them be chickens. they are funny smart & free.

Shirley Ann
10 years ago

I'am a city girl turned Country Living. Love my chickens who free-range part time. I had several different chicken generations: Kindergarten chickens were my first, then a friend bought me 7 misc. banties at a flea market (they have wonderful ability to fly from danger), several generations hatched in my barn, love that, now I have 8 Plymoth barrd rocks (all hens), 3 banty roosters (I don't think they are quite as successful as they might like). We have lost a few to fox, but our Aussie listens to the flock. When a predator hawk or fox comes arround, she goes to the rescue. She does not allow such activity on our 5 acres. Our horse Sara Jane spends a good part of the day with her head in the chicken coop. She thinks they are color TV. They go in and out between her legs. The eggs are good & so is the entertainment. Also, I've met the nicest folks who stop by because of my flock.

I love reading your posts! This may be a dumb question but... do they know to come in at night, or do you have to go round them up? -- a city girl who knows nothing about chickens but would LOVE to... 🙂

10 years ago

We're glad you're enjoying the blog, Melissa! Once they learn where "home" is, they do go in at night on their own when it gets dark. However, it is TRICKY to say the least, to get them to go in before dark. You can read my horrifyingly humorous (or is that humorously horrifying?) story about that in my post two weeks ago regarding what happens when you forget to shut the coop at night.

10 years ago

To Aunt LoLo, who worried about providing some foraging to chickens who have to live in an area with no grass---I had this in my last house. I scavenged some plastic totes, short ones about five or six inches tall, filled them with dirt and threw down some fast growing mesclun lettuce seeds. I think I had four of them going. Once a week I would put a tote of fresh lettuce in their area, and they could eat it, scratch it up, or lie in the fresh dirt. In a day or so, I would take the tote out, reseed it and let it grow for four weeks, as I rotated the other totes in and out. It was not perfect, but the gals did get some fun and grew to recognize the totes and would barely wait until I moved out of the way.

10 years ago

Where I live, you are supposed to keep chickens always confined and so far that's what I'm doing (they've only been outside for a week) and especially because I have two dogs. I'm working on adding to their run so they have a bigger area to explore.

10 years ago

We have about 1/4 of an acre in a rural/suburban area with close neighbors, and at first I thought I'd most certainly confine range them. However, as the number of chicks I planned to get grew and grew, that was no longer possible! I now plan to part-time range the chicks I hope to get late July once they are old enough. 🙂

10 years ago

I thought I would do something like a chicken Tractor at first.. But They Free Range mostly in a large field fenced in only by trees. I have older neighbors that love to watch them and not have to care for them; and I would probably get complaints if I fenced them in at this point.

10 years ago

to: Melissa from the Blue House: I have around 40 chickens, a few like to roost in a tree at night, but most of them roost on tree limbs I have mounted in my Chicken coop at night. all I have to do is go close the door.

10 years ago

To Debi Crane: I had a fox, steal a few of my Chickens, but there are enough People around where I live that animal control got called. I was told they were going to trap it. I haven't seen it in about a month now. Hope this helps. Good luck.

To Melissa Dawson, My first batch I did at 6 weeks about 2 years ago. Then I kept an eye out and kept counting them to make sure they were all there. This year I put some in a low uncovered fence at the back of my coop that they could jump out of, when they felt like leaving the coop they did, and I thought I would have to go find them at night, but when I walked out to shut the coop door, I found all five of them about 7 weeks old all lines up perched in the coop on there own. Might have been following my older chickens lead, I don't know but it worked for me.

Jim Phelps
10 years ago

I read, while surfing the web, of an excellent way to provide forage for confined chickens. And it works! Extremely well! Make a 4 X 8 frame of 2 X 4's turned on their edges. Nail one or two 2 X 4's across the center for braces. Cover the frame with hardware cloth or similar wire. I use 1 X 2 welded wire. Plant a cover crop (millet, buckwheat, clover, etc.) and cover it with the frame. The chickens eat the plants as they grow through the wire, but are unable to scratch them up. Wonderful idea. I wish it were mine.

10 years ago
Reply to  Jim Phelps

Jim, we even have a seed mix for chickens: Chicken Salad Seed mix

Chelsea F.
10 years ago

Hey all, I'm a soon-to-be new chicken lady. Very excited to place my order through My Pet Chicken for chicks this spring! I hope someone can help with the question of how I should manage my flock. We'll be moving out to our property which is 2.5 acres in the middle of a forest. Literally, we'll have a square mile of wilderness behind us and 3/4 of the neighborhood are not full time residents like we intend to be. We've seen bear tracks numerous times, even had a bear run across the road as we were leaving one time! Plus there are mountain lions, hawks, you name it. A perfect slice of paradise if you ask me! But I want to protect my flock from predators while still giving them an outside area to hang out in. I've been following the blog and am definitely going to build a run with 1/2in. hardware cloth on all sides. Any other suggestions?

Thanks and love the blog!

10 years ago
Reply to  Chelsea F.

That's about the same situation I have, Chelsea. We have more acreage, but we're as removed from neighbors as you are (maybe more). We have black bears, foxes, bobcats, coyote and smaller predators like raccoons, too. Also, of course, hawks. My choice was to free range our flock. I have lost the occasional bird to predators, but keeping a rooster with your flock in a situation like that really helps. The rooster keeps an eye out and warns the girls of impending danger so they can flee or hide. Whether you free range or not will be a personal choice. Many people prefer confined ranging in a secure run.

10 years ago

My chickens are free range, 100%. They are almost a year old. We started with 12 and now have 2 hens and a rooster. Like most, we have the predators like snakes, foxes, wolves, bears, coyotes, hawks, etc. Until about a month ago, the hens were laying eggs under our deck where we couldn't get the eggs. Something has started to dig eggs out. The hens that we have now are laying under our house, near where our dogs sleep at night and our cats. Yesterday, we noticed an egg partially buried. Today there are 2 eggs in the open near the buried egg. Our girls haven't been "broody", they don't seem to care if I remove the eggs when they are laid. I am wondering if I should leave these eggs where they are and see if one of the hens is broody. About 6 months ago, we had 4 eggs which they laid. I had decided to leave the eggs alone. The eggs are still in the same spot! What is going on?

10 years ago
Reply to  martha

No... you never really want to use real eggs to check to see if your hens are broody. First of all, you'll know: if they're broody, they won't leave the nest at night; there should be no real wondering. Secondly, if you're just hoping to encourage them to become broody, it would be better to use wooden eggs or golf balls, because that way the eggs you're wanting to hatch won't get old (and wooden eggs won't get accidentally cracked, or frozen, or become an attraction to eat, etc.). Eggs will hatch better when they're fresh. When you're sure your hen is broody--on a nest of golf balls or wooden eggs--then you give her real eggs to hatch, and in a safe place. Read more about how to give your broody a good place to hatch here.

9 years ago

Mine are true free ranging, and absolutely love it! I would raise them no other way. They are in their runs for the morning, but are free ranging for at least 5 hours a day. The eggs taste better, and My birds are healthier!

Jonah Weiss
9 years ago

Mine are free range. It makes them happier and lay tastier eggs, the only bad thing is that once and a while a fox will get them or they get bumble foot. But these don't matter to all the bonuses.

Kirsten Vedal
9 years ago

I usually practice part time free range, because we cannot always be around to watch the chickens. They stay in the chicken run most of the day, but I usually let them out for free range about 4-6 hours a day though, usually early afternoons till dusk. I guess my chickens have been happy with this set up, they never failed me in terms of egg produce, and their eggs are one of the most delicious eggs I have ever tasted.

8 years ago


8 years ago
Reply to  pat

Just to keep your chickens away from the road, you won't need an expensive fence. When you fence, you need it to be predator proof! However, you should be able to deter your chickens from going into an unsafe area just by using something relatively inexpensive, like deer netting. Remember, this is not predator proof or even predator resistent like good avian netting that you would use for the top of a fenced run. But it IS inexpensive and is great for fencing chickens out of areas. It will also help to make sure your chickens have access to some good shade in the back. They may be coming up front because they're looking for shade; it's natural for them to want cover not only from the sun, but also from flying predators. You might plant a nice tree, and rig up a little shade cloth for them in the meantime.

7 years ago

My biggest fear of free ranging is hawks. Is there a certain size chickens can get that birds of prey are less of an issue?

7 years ago
Reply to  Kris

The larger breeds (Brahmas, for example) won't present the best targets to smaller raptors like sharp-shinned hawks. A large red tail may make an attempt at even large birds, though. The larger ones are more difficult to carry off, even by a red tail, but they may still be on the receiving end of an attack and get injured. There are some steps you can take to make your flock safer from birds of prey. Check out the highlighted link to read more about them.

7 years ago

Our free ranging hens have access to our acres during decent weather when I am around to make sure that they are not being bothered by predators or dogs. If I am not around, then they are out in their fenced yard. At night, they are locked in their hutch as there are predators around. Only during really bad weather, such as temperatures below zero or driving rain, are they confined during the daytime. Our flock has changed over the years. Right now we have 4 Americaunas (but 1 of them doesn't lay), 1 Buff Orrington (which no longer lays anymore), a Rhode Island Red and a Plymouth Barred Rock. We get very colorful and delicious eggs.

[…] packaged free range. They’re a phenomenal nutritional boost, no matter which of the four methods you use to manage your flock. And we use non-GMO ingredients! (For the detailed ingredient lists, click the links […]

7 years ago

We've just moved with our 7 hens into a small rural town. We used to free range our hens on our 20 acres, being locked up at night. Now we have a coop and small run. We've just installed a 6 foot fence around the entire back yard. I'm still concerned about the hens flying over the 6 foot fence. I have found them roosting in trees so I know they are capable. Even though it's a small town, we live right next door to the post office and I don't want the city to get upset with chickens running around. I plan to use bedding to keep them clean and dry. I would like to let them out in the evening and weekends. Do you think I should be so concerned that they will fly over the 6 foot fence?

7 years ago
Reply to  cari

If they CAN fly the fence as you've said, they probably will at some point. If your question is really about the level of anxiety you should carry about that ("should I be concerned?"), I can only say that worry doesn't really help any situation, right? But your chickens will be less motivated to get out of their area if they have plenty of room and green things to eat inside it. You may be able to head things off and alleviate some of your feelings of concern by securing the area a little more.
Try affixing some inexpensive netting over the perimeter of your fence... that way, if they go to the edge of the fencing and try to fly up, the netting will keep them inside. Hopefully something like that will work for your setup.
The other thing you might do to help alleviate any worry is to talk to your neighbors/neighboring businesses about your concerns. I live rurally, but the town associated with my zip code is a small town, too (just a few hundred). My experience, and I don't know if it is typical or not, but my experience is that people who live in small towns are more likely to be friendly and understanding. Look at this as a good opportunity to meet your neighbors. Perhaps just explain that you're trying to determine how well your fence will keep your ranging chickens in the yard, and promise a dozen eggs if your flock DOES make an escape. Give your number. That way, if anyone sees wandering chickens, they'll just give you a call, and may be more likely to be happy about the free eggs than angry! If your neighbors know what to do if they see your birds in their yards (call you), and understand that you care and don't want it to become a problem for them (you do care--so much that they're going to get free eggs), it will probably go a long way toward easing their minds, too.

6 years ago

Thank you for this article! I have learned everything I am doing for my chickens from sites like yours. My husband and I just bought a house in December 2016 on 5 acres and it came with 7 wonderful hens. Our five acres is surrounded by farm fields. The back of the chicken coop is lined with a single tree line with a single line of pine trees just in front of the tree line. We also have a couple pines next to the barn in front of the coop and a thicker tree line that has thorn bushes and other ground cover just past a small open grass area on the side of the coop. So my girls have lots of cover from predators. With that being said I lost one of my girls yesterday from what I think was a hawk. There were some feathers plucked around neck and upper shoulder area, but only her head was destroyed, leaving her body in tact and untouched. I then had to wrangle my other scared girls. I did see a hawk setting in a tree just above where my girls were hiding under a pine tree. I shouted and acting like a maniac to scare the hawk off, which thankfully I did successfully. Then I was able to get the girls safely in their coop. The hawk them returned a short time later. I plan on leaving my girls in their coop for a few days while the hawk figures out the food source is gone! Do you have any other tips for me on this subject? I believe in free ranging and let them out about 8:30 AM and right now since it is winter they are back in their coop around 4:30 because it is dark around 5/5:30. They get so excited to free range and I am home all day with them so I can keep a good eye on them.

6 years ago
Reply to  Jennifer

Keeping them inside for a few days is probably the best solution. If it does end up that you have a hawk wanting to hang around long term, you might contact your local extension office for advice. Sometimes they will relocate a bird of prey when it's harrowing livestock. Best of luck! So sorry you lost one. 🙁

5 years ago

I have three hens. I live in a small town with less than an acre of land for my yard. it is partially fenced in.They used to be in a small enclosure with a hen house attached but it seemed much to small for them so I made a Mobil hen coop with wheels that I could roll around the yard with them to give them fresh pasture. the problem with that is I am in a wheel chair and found it really difficult to move several times a day. I decided to have built a coop off the side of the garage. it is 20 feet long and 14 feet wide and the roof has clear and painted panels that give them light on dark days. there are 2 perches that are attached to the garage wall so they can perch any time they wish and the original nesting coop is in there which I had a hole cut through the garage put in and the nesting box is partially in the garage so I can get the eggs right from inside the garage. My 3 girls loved the mobile pen and the chance to get the bugs and grass and also be safe from the many hawks that circled our property. but after we built the bigger pen for them. although they loved the large space they now had they still wanted to go out and free range in the yard. I decided to confine range them since the yard was mostly fenced. the problem is they found the area that wasn't fenced and want to range over to my neighbors yard or to go out the driveway toward the street so now I follow them with a stick to keep them in the area that is fenced, They go out about 7pm for about an hour to an hour and a half and then they bring themselves back for the night and go back in their coop by themselves then I just close the door for the night. I don't let them range during the day because its too hot outside for me in the wheelchair to follow them around all day. They seem happy though to be able to get out for a while toward evening.

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