Should You Free Range Your Backyard Chickens?

Posted by Daphne Cybele
free range chicken
USDA Photo by Lance Cheung

A look at the benefits and the downsides of free-range chickens.

Future backyard chicken owners often dream of picturesque free ranging, happy chickens dotting their lawn, eating insects, and roaming freely in the fresh air. However, before you let them out of the chicken yard and open up the chicken run to free range your backyard chicken flock, it makes sense to take a look at benefits and downsides of letting chickens roam.

free range chicken
Photo: Flickr user

Drawbacks of Free Range Chickens

Do you like going barefoot?

Watch for chicken poop everywhere and anywhere. We have to keep our chickens in their run a couple days before birthday parties and family gatherings so that the lawn and drive are clean.

free range chickens
Photo: Flickr user fishermansdaughter

Free-range chickens will also scratch and dig dust bathing spots, usually in a sunny spot of your lawn.

You'll identify these easily: a circular dirt hollow right in the middle of a lawn or flower bed.

Is your vegetable garden protected? Free-range chickens ate all our bean seedlings this past spring and pecked our ripe red tomatoes last year. You can protect your garden with a fence or netting.

Photo: Flickr user Lutrus

Are your neighbors good with wandering chickens, or do you have a fence?

Free-range chickens don't stay within property lines without fences. Your neighbors may not love chicken poop or pecks.

let your chickens free range
Photo: Flickr user Naomi

Is your family good with chickens on the deck or the porch?

My husband shoos chickens off the deck. We have one that likes to sit and reflect under the grill. I thought she was laying eggs, but she just sits.

READ MORE: Five Life Lessons Learned from Keeping Backyard Chickens

Increased danger to your chickens from predators.

Hawks, eagles, wandering dogs, and foxes are potential predators who will find it much easier to target your chickens without a protective run. Providing cover by overhead trees, shrubs, and places they can hide in, run into, or run under (like a porch or a coop) can assist with predator protection, as can supervised free ranging, where you are outside with the flock. Some owners also have protective dogs as a sort of livestock or flock "guard dog."

Hidden eggs and surprise chicks.

Your laying hens may be tempted to search out a secret nest instead of your chicken coop nesting boxes, so it can be a pain to collect some free-range eggs. You may find a missing hen is actually a broody mama when she returns with chicks after a three-week absence.

Benefits of Free-Range Chickens

One of the reasons we let our chickens free range is for tick control.

We live in a rural area, and we have ticks in our backyard. Their numbers are lower with free roaming chickens. Chickens also eat grubs, Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and other pests.

Photo: Flickr user Spex

Free range poultry will lower your lawn fertilizer costs.

Chickens provide natural fertilization wherever they wander. We haven't fertilized our lawn in years.

Photo: Flickr user Lindsay Holmwood

Healthier eggs.

Free-range chickens have access to a varied diet of plants and insects (good protein sources) to supplement their feed. Studies have also shown that eggs from free-range hens have lower levels of "bad" cholesterol.

Giving your chickens free range is healthy for the chickens and for you!

Reduced stress from an increase in space may lead to higher egg production, reduced feather picking, and happier chickens. 

Nothing wrong with that!

In conclusion, there are drawbacks and benefits to letting your chickens roam. As with anything, you have to balance the good with the bad. Perhaps you need a chicken tractor or other free-range systems instead of a fully free-range flock, or perhaps allowing only supervised free range when you are home. Maybe a guard dog for your chickens? What is right for your flock?

Do you free range your chickens? Let us know in the comments below!

WATCH NOW: How to Have the Best Tasting Eggs from Your Backyard Chickens

oembed rumble video here


Should You Free Range Your Backyard Chickens?