We’ve had chickens for about a year and a half now and although keeping them healthy and safe are my highest priorities, we recently decided to begin a season of free-ranging. Our flock has grown this year and their run didn’t feel spacious enough for eight of them, not to mention the fact that they have eaten the vegetation down to dirt. Mix that dirt with typical, rainy Washington weather and what do you get? MUD. I don’t remember their run being this muddy last year, but I knew we had to make a change.
There are pros and cons to free-ranging vs. the chicken coop + run set up. Chickens kept in coops with a run attached are easier to keep safe from predators. That being said, chickens that are able to free-range have more space to explore and adventure. Since we live on over two acres, there’s plenty of space for them to enjoy.
I’ve been hesitant to free-range for several reasons, the first being our outside cat, Nora. Nora is as sweet as can be, but she’s one of the best hunters I’ve ever seen. That girl brings birds, mice, shrews, and even chipmunks on to the front porch. I was worried about what she would do with a free roaming chicken… or eight free roaming chickens for that matter.
The other factor I was worried about was aerial predators. We occasionally have hawks and eagles that fly over our property, both of which could easily swoop down and take even an adult chicken out of the game. I’ve done research about ways to trick aerial predators such as scarecrows and plastic owls to deter them.
Despite these two factors, I wanted to test my theory that Nora is already used to seeing the chickens around and won’t go after them because she is also very outnumbered. After several days of supervised free-ranging, I was pleasantly surprised to realize that Nora had little to no interest in the chickens. As far as the aerial predators, we plan to get some sort of scarecrow to put out in the field near their favorite patch of grass. With both of those factors considered, we were ready to free-range. It has been over a week now and our girls are loving this new routine.
My hope is that with continuing to free-range, the girls will be happier, healthier and help our little homestead continue to flourish!
Tell me, fellow chicken keepers, do you free-range? Comment below and tell me about your flock!
-The Happy Egg
-The Happy Egg