Free range chickens are fun to watch, but hold on a second.
Before you open the coop door and let your chickens run wild, there are some truths you need to know about the free range life.
Free Range Chickens Truth #1: There is poop.
Chickens poop. A lot.
Chickens poop anywhere they want to. Which includes on the firewood, your front step, next to the car, the fence you didn’t want them roosting on, the neighbor’s front step, the sidewalk, the river rock you just landscaped with, the lawnmower seat…nowhere is off limits.
That cute chicken friendly yard project you saw on Pinterest is going to be annihilated with chicken bombs (even though they didn’t show that in the pin). Get comfy with p-o-o-p. And forget about going barefoot in your yard, ever again.
If the chickens can get to it, the chickens will probably poop on it. End of story.
Free Range Chickens Truth #2: There are predators.
I’ve watched full grown chickens (and baby chicks who were following their mama) be carried off by hawks and eagles.
I’ve went after the neighbor’s dog who was chasing my chickens.
I know that right now a fox is hanging out near our property just waiting for a chance to snap up a free meal.
Wait, you say, there are no predators in my area. I haven’t seen anything that would mess with my lil’ chickens. Do you want the straight up truth? Chances are you won’t know what predators you have until you let your chickens out. Death is a real consequence of having free range chickens.Chances are you won't know what predators you have until you let your chickens out. Click To Tweet
Free Range Chickens Truth #3: They bring destruction.
Chickens aren’t very clear about boundaries unless the boundaries are made very clear to them. If your garden (flower or vegetable) isn’t fenced (and fenced well), your chickens will be snacking on anything that looks tasty.
Chickens are also destructive during dust baths. Dust baths can be fun to watch but they also leave huge craters in your yard—usually in the least convenient spot possible.
And be aware: if your free range chickens are hiding their nest of eggs, you might also end up with some surprise hatches!
Free Range Chickens Truth #4: You will go on egg hunts.
Yes, you’ve provided them with a nice coop, but even the most obedient chicken can get a feather up their bum and lay eggs Elsewhere.
If you’re free ranging your hens, plan to do some non-Easter egg hunting. We’ve found nests secretly hidden in our hayloft, the goat’s feeder, nestled into a hollow tree in the woods, the compost pile, in a pile of oats, underneath a stack of lumber, and in a tipped over tote.
There are probably many more hiding spots…we just haven’t found them yet.
Free Range Chickens Truth #5: You can’t control their diet.
You can’t control what a free ranging bird eats. If it’s on the ground and looks interesting, it’s fair game.
You’re going to have to explain to your friend who wants vegetarian eggs that your free range chickens are not eating a vegetarian diet.
(Note: Anyone who is selling “free range vegetarian eggs” is pretty much lying.)
Our chickens have been seen chasing, killing, and eating grasshoppers, worms, snakes, mice, frogs, and many other crawly things I couldn’t identify before they were swallowed up by a hen.
This goes for baby chicks who are following their mama as well! Those babies will eat just about anything that mama hen eats. Special diet for babies? Not if you have free range chickens. (This is one of the reasons that we no longer feed chicken starter to our baby chicks.)
Free range chickens are free to roam and fun to watch. It costs less to feed them and your yolks will be the most delicious deep yellow/orange color!
But ultimately the decision to free range your birds has a lot to do with where you live, what’s around, and what you’re willing to deal with. It’s important to make sure you know what you’re getting into when you decide to let those birds out to roam free.