When we started homesteading on two acres we realized that allowing our flocks the ability to free ranging was the best choice for us. I envisioned happy chicken walking around consuming grass, dandelions, and bugs of all sorts – laying the most delicious eggs in our area. In the course of the last two years we quickly discovered the pros and cons of free range poultry and realized that it may not be the best decision for other homesteads.
Practice Safe Animal Husbandry
By allowing the flocks the ability to roam the land, we will never having to worry about how many birds would fit in a run, eliminating the problem of to many birds confined in a space. The amount of poultry on our property tends to fluctuate each year, averaging between 20 to 30 chicken alone. Now add our flocks of duck, guinea, and turkey; maintaining the amount of runs would be a full time job in itself.
A major concern about having poultry confined to a run is the spread of Coccidiosis, which is a huge concern in the Pacific Northwest. Due to the amount of rain we receive and the temperature rarely dropping low enough to freeze creates a breeding ground for this horrible disease. The proper best practices in regards to poultry husbandry, in order to avoid Coccidiosis, is the ability to rotate your runs yearly, allowing for the ground to recover and the waste to become absorbed into the ground for an entire calendar year, killing any trace of the bacteria. Free range poultry will distribute the waste across the property verses filling a dirt run.
Lower Feed Cost And Healthier Poultry
I think the biggest grumble of keeping poultry is the amount of money we spend on feed. In allowing for the birds to consume items in their natural habitat -grass, weeds, bugs, grubs, worms- reduces the cost of our feed bill. Free range and pasture raised poultry are less likely to become obese, making for less health issue and great layers.
A Better Tasting Egg
I am going to start by saying, the eggs our birds produce taste a million times better than any egg you will find in a market. They receive extra protein through what they consume while free ranging; a diet of just corn and grains is an egg, BUT eggs laid by free range hens are exceptional and our egg customers can vouch for that!
Natural Pest Control
We all seek a chemical free option for pest control, and there is no better team to have around than a flock of chicken, ducks, and guineas to do the job! Flies, ticks, fleas, grasshoppers, beetles, you name it they will eat it, keeping the pest issue under control.
But with the pros come the cons, and the cons often weigh heavy on many individuals.
Let’s Talk Poop
Chicken manure is valuable and free, gardens thrive on it and many gardeners who do not keep chicken purchase it…actually purchase it, heck if they came and asked I’d give it away for free! If your flock is roaming the property, there is no easy way to harvest the manure. It gets dropped and often scratched into the ground before you can blink, which is great for the environment they are in, but that does NOTHING for your gardens.
Not to mention the mess they make pooping EVERYWHERE; on your deck, the porch, forget walking around barefoot it’s like a landmine out there. It does get frustrating to have to hose off the back deck everyday, and having dinner on the back porch can be difficult with chickens underfoot at all times!
Destruction To The Land
As amazing as it is to see poultry roam around doing the things they do, you must know…they will destroy everything they touch. Chickens naturally scratch in order to find the bugs they wish to consume, and their scratching will destroy an area in a course of a few days. Not to mention the destruction they will cause to a garden! Ducks will aerate whatever space they occupy causing as much damage as chicken.
Dirt baths, chicken will dirt bath anywhere. They will work whatever area they wish, again causing destruction and holes to your property.
We have lost our fair share of poultry to predators during free range time, and this is not something we take lightly. As keepers to our animals it is our responsibility to keep them safe and out of harm, but nature will often take its course and a loss of a flock member is a hard blow to us. Predators comes in all shapes and sizes and by allowing your flock to free range, there is no possible way to protect them from the various types of predators in your area.
With all that being said, we will continue to free range our flocks and execute precautionary methods in order to protect our animals. The ability to allow them to roam is important to how we wish to raise our small livestock, and the quality of meat and eggs we receive in exchange speaks for itself.