Why Free Range Chickens Aren’t For Everyone
Backyard chickens are really what started this whole dream for us. Andrew’s dad let us build a chicken coop in his backyard while we were still dating and the whole idea of farming snowballed from there.
We’ve tried chicken coops, chicken tractors, and free range chickens and we’ve finally decided what works best for our farm and our lifestyle. They all have their pros and cons and what works best for us might not work best for you but I hope this provides some insight.
When we first bought our farm two years ago, we started with a chicken coop that was quickly thrown together and it definitely wasn’t the most aesthetically pleasing coop you ever laid eyes on. It wasn’t long until we decided to tear it down and let our chickens free range.
At first we thought free range chickens were great… They were covering more ground meaning they were eating more ticks and bugs, we didn’t have to buy chicken feed, and our farm was sprinkled with Rhode Island Reds and Barred Rocks. They also provide great photo ops as you can see from all the pictures in this post. Exactly what we had imagined, until we started losing chickens at an alarming rate. Not to sickness but to predators, most commonly, dogs. Our dogs got quite a few including our one rooster, Fred and the neighbor’s dogs got quite a few. We have 3 labs, aka bird dogs, but that’s a story for another time. They’re in the backyard but the chickens walked right through the fencing and unfortunately, they were free game to our dogs. There really isn’t any telling if we lost any to other predators like hawks, opossums, etc.
The amount of chickens we lost was disheartening so we decided to try out a chicken tractor. You can read about that story here. Andrew spent all day constructing a chicken tractor and we had our chickens in there for a week or two. The problem with our chicken tractor was, it was so heavy that you needed the side by side or tractor to move it. I really believe they need to be moved every day or two and that is just not conducive to our lifestyle or farm, especially now that we have our front pasture fenced. Even though it was bigger than the average chicken tractor, especially for the number of chickens we had and we continued to feed our chickens table scraps, it still felt really confined.
We kicked around the idea of building another coop but this time doing it the right way and building one that will last, not some makeshift coop we threw together. Timing wasn’t right so we decided to let them free range again. We didn’t lose as many as our flock was already dwindled down to a handful of birds, but we quickly got tired of all of the “presents” being left on our porch and them laying eggs EVERYWHERE. It was like an Easter egg hunt every morning. We have a beautiful porch swing, a church pew, new landscaping, and a front pasture looking out at our heifers but we didn’t even like to sit on our porch and enjoy it because our porch was spotted with chicken poop. We also had a broody hen which was ironic because we don’t have a rooster. She sat in the carport on top of her eggs all day and would only jump down when we fed the cats. She usually chased them off too and would peck them or try to scratch them with her talons. Barn cats are tough but will back down to a broody hen.
We finally came up with a plan to solve our chicken problem once and for all. We had a really nice shed on our property that we didn’t use. The only issue was, it was right by our bedroom window and that is really the last place you want a chicken coop. So, Andrew and a buddy from his work moved it over by the garden area, far away from all bedrooms. Andrew built a big run with cedar trees and chicken wire. We hung heat lamps, nesting boxes, and waterers.
It feels so good to go back to what works best for us. I enjoy letting the chickens out for a couple of hours while we’re outside and then putting them back in their run/ coop knowing that they’re safer in there than they were roosting in the barn or the carport. I’m excited to have friendly chickens again. Free range chickens want you for food but once you try to pet them or pick them up they usually dart. Our backyard chickens that we started with in Southern California were more like pets. Since we’re not raising them for meat birds, we’d like to get back to that, especially since Oakley is getting older and loves to interact with them. In California, we actually had one that would come and stand at my feet when we let them all out of the coop. She preferred me to hold her instead of run around with the rest of them. Chickens are weird, y’all. Lol.
I’m excited to not go on an Easter egg hunt every day. I can’t wait to share more of the coop, how we take care of our chickens, the systems that work for us, and our new chicks! I decided to go with rare breeds this time. I’ll share where we order them from and that process as well.