A big conversation between people who own chickens is how they choose to let them be outside. Some people choose free-range, some pastured, and some just have a small run for them. It’s my personal opinion that people’s choices on how they raise their animals are just that: their choices. Unless the animal is being mistreated, it’s really not my place to judge or lecture.
I have chosen to pasture raise my chickens for a number of reasons, which will each get their own explanation. Regardless of how you feel about it, it is my decision and my chickens are insanely spoiled!
Stepping in Poop Barefoot Sucks!
We did free range our chickens for 5-6 months when they were first outside. We had 12 chickens and they were let out in the morning until they put themselves to bed at night. They had the complete reign of our 3.5 acres and utilized EVERY LAST BIT. It would’ve been nice if they went back to the coop to poop, but they’re not that considerate. My family is a barefoot family when we can be. I hate shoes, as do both my daughters. Let me tell you what…stepping in chicken poop barefoot is the worst, especially if it gets in between your toes! It was something we were willing to overlook, but now that we don’t free range it’s nice that dog poop is the only thing to look out for!
They Get Into EVERYTHING!
Legit…everything! My flower beds…the sandbox…my vegetable garden…our deck…Free range is quite literally FREE. No matter how many fences I put up, they always found an opening to my garden and had an epic dust bath, sending seeds everywhere in the process. Likewise, they took over the girls’ sandbox as a dust bath rave and refused to budge. They came up on our upper deck and would hang out, pecking the windows and pooping everywhere.
Losing One is Heartbreaking
At this point, it was about Octoberish and we had built the Fort Knox of runs the chickens were in during the day. When I got home from work, I would let them out for free range time until bed. We decided to stop free ranging two nights after two of my favorite hens, Freakshow and Hennyetta, were taken by a fox. I remember it vividly. When I went to lock up the chickens, I only counted 10 on the roost, not 12. After wandering the neighboring field, I found clusters of both Silkie and Leghorn feathers. I felt like I let them down, like I should have protected them.
The next day, we continued to free range because we were home and could watch them. I hear a kerfuffle out by the swing set where the girls were and went out to see what it was. The fox came down into our yard and was about 5 feet away from my babies trying to get the chickens. I ran after it, screaming and shouting and being a Mama Bear. It was then I built an extended run in record time. I did not want to risk any more chickens lives, and there was no way in hell I was risking my kids lives.
There are downsides to not having free range chickens. Calling them and watching them do their awkward dinosaur run for treats was an endless source of entertainment for our entire family. They still do it in their big runs, but it’s not the same as watching a chicken run full-tilt up the driveway for some meal worms! Our bug population has gone up since they stopped free ranging. Hubs and I were both amazed at how little ticks were on the animals when the chickens were out and about for most of the day. However, these downsides are a fair trade for all of the things I mentioned above.
While we have chosen not to free range, we also turned the back lot of our property into extended chicken runs. They have plenty of space to “chicken.” No matter what you choose to do, do what works for you! No one else is living your life and should pass judgement on a decision you make–this extends beyond chickens, but that’s a whole ‘nother blog post!