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Free Ranging Chickens

Free Ranging Chickens

There’s no doubt about it, raising chickens is hard work. That’s a proven fact. But believe those who have tried their hand at it, the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks. Obviously, feeding, watering and cleaning their pens and coops all take time and and effort. But it’s not all that harsh. Whether you have the best laying hens or the weightiest variety of meat chickens, you can give them the most natural and beneficial care without having to spend all your time on them. The answer lies in two words: Free ranging.

What is Free Ranging?

In the strictest sense of the word, free ranging refers to poultry that are allowed to spend most of their time outside, provided that the weather is suitable. In an ideal setting, free ranged poultry are not fenced or if they are, the fences are placed far from their chicken houses. Food and water are placed outside. In a true free range setup, you can comfortably fit 50 chickens or less in an acre of land. Going over this number results in the pollution of the free range area with chicken dung and the killing of vegetation as chickens scratch and peck the ground in their search for food. To keep the manure that you have to clean at manageable levels, you will have to ensure that they don’t grow to such a number that your present land area cannot handle. In a free range setup, feeding is supplementary. Most of what chickens need nutritionally can be found in a pasture or backyard. Pasture basically provides most of the food. Free ranged hens have the ability to search for bugs, insect pests, weeds and seeds. If you observe them closely, they’ll find the food their bodies need so that when you compare free ranged chickens to those who are raised in coops, you’ll see that they have glossier feathers and better dispositions. The simple fact is that Free Ranging results in improved chicken health for your laying hens or your meat birds.

But How Do I Free Range in Small Yards?

Not everyone who is inclined to raise chickens has the land that allows their birds to go free range. However, if you want to let your chickens roam around free in your small backyard, you can! It is technically known as “yarding” and not free-ranging, however provides the same benefits. Because you’re limited with space, the best approach to yarding is to keep a limited number of hens. You can judge how many your yard can keep without overwhelming you with chicken manure to clean around the houses everyday and ensuring that the environment still provides enough food for your hens. One of the best methods of free ranging in small yards is known as the paddock system. In a nutshell, this is a system where you have four predesignated paddocks where grass, vegetation and chicken food is abundant and you rotate your chickens in these areas. Fences mark one paddock from the other. You then have a small and portable chicken coop which can easily be transferred. In this system, you allow the chickens to stay in one paddock for a maximum of 10 days before transferring them to another area. This gives the chance for vegetation to grow back since you are allowing the land to rest for about a month before bringing in the chickens again. This is the reason why the coops have to be small and easily wielded since regular transferring will be involved.

How Do I Deal with Poop?

Admittedly, cleaning chicken poop is one of the unpleasant tasks of keeping a backyard flock. But when you free-range your chickens, their droppings are dry and easy to clean up if you with to. In many cases, most of the manure will be concentrated near the chicken houses. One of the tried and proven ways of dealing with chicken poop is to turn it into fertilizer for your plants.  By adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil, you harvest healthier vegetables free of chemical pesticides. If you don’t have a lot of chickens, you can simply put the poop in the trash. The reason why some cities do not allow backyard chickens is the concern of smell and the threat of phosphorous run off brought by all the chicken manure. However, if chicken owners simply dispose of the poop properly or limit chickens to a reasonable number, these concerns are invalid.

What are the Advantages of Free Ranging Chickens?

Freeranging is advantageous in many ways. First of all, it allows you to save on the cost of commercial feeds. Depending on how often you see the need to give them commercial grains and crumbles to supplement what they get on the field, you can save as much as 100% on feed costs per year. A 30lb bag of feed lasts me more than twice as long since I began free ranging my hens. Another benefit is that free ranged chickens are healthier. Healthy and happy chickens produce more eggs per chicken. Studies have shown that eggs from free-ranged hens have more vitamin and mineral content, have less of the cholesterol and saturated fat and have more antioxidants than those harvested from farms. Eggs and meat from free-range fowl taste better, too. And if you’re selling free range eggs and meat, they fetch higher prices, allowing you to add substantially to your income. Research has also shown that chickens which are free ranged help in pest and weed control. They eat pests that would otherwise damage crops and destroy vegetation.

What are the Disadvantages of Free Ranging Chickens?

With free-ranging, you can have poop all over the place, particularly if you’re giving them free-reign in your backyard. This can be avoided by allowing your chickens only in designated areas and off your deck or driveway. You will also need to train them to go into their coop every night, however this is easily done within a week. The most obvious disadvantage with free ranging is that hens have access to lay their eggs anywhere they choose. The hidden egg problem is easily avoided by providing a preferred nesting area and ensuring that your hens are comfortable using their designated nesting boxes. Chicken predators are another disadvantage of free ranging. It only takes once for a person to lose a number of chickens

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