It’s Perfectly Okay If You Don’t Free Range Your Chickens
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Friends, I’m going to be bold and give you my opinion about something chicken-ish. Ready? Here goes: I think it’s perfectly okay if you don’t free range your chickens.
(Don’t want to read all the words? This blog post is also a podcast—just press the triangle play button on the little black bar at the top of this post!)
When I first became a chicken mama m-a-n-y years ago, before everyone and their brother was on Facebook, there was an overriding belief across online forums and chat rooms about chicken mamas who free ranged their chickens.
No one really came out and said it (ok, some people did) but you could feel it hanging on the breath of our conversations: chicken keepers who free range their birds are more awesome than chicken keepers who do not.
And honestly, I bought into that for awhile.
I was probably caught up in some sort of crunchy backyard chicken elitism, but all I could think about was the day I’d be able to let my own chickens out to free range. Why?
Because then I’d be doing a proper job of raising my precious chickens.
Yes, then I would be awesome. I’d get a free-ranging chicken keeper crown and sash and entry to an exclusive club. I would know that I was doing better things than all those people who (gasp) just let their chickens out into a (gasp) run.
We free ranged our chickens for a couple years at our home prior to the farm, and we free ranged our chickens for several years after moving here to our farm
But we don’t free range our chickens anymore.
And I’m here to tell you that not free ranging your chickens is completely and totally okay.
Trust me. It’s fine.
Free range chickens are fun to watch, but…
A friend who was bummed out that we had locked our chickens up told me, “chickens dotting the yard is what makes a farm a farm.”
I admit, I really enjoyed seeing our chickens out and about in the yard. It was sorta Norman Rockwellish.
But a big thing I didn’t enjoy? Watching dogs or fox or eagles come into the yard and haul my chickens (or their chicks) off.
With free range chickens, there were other things to deal with as well—some of them minor annoyances, other things that became major annoyances when all snowballed together.
I mean, you do realize that wherever a chicken goes—anywhere on your property, or your neighbor’s—they leave little white and green blobs of evidence that they’ve been there?
What do you mean you don’t free range your chickens?
“Do you free range your chickens?”
“We used to. We don’t anymore.”
When I’m in this conversation, there’s usually a sort of pause and then a silence after my answer.
It’s almost like they don’t know what to do with that information. Because people assume since I’m that farm(ish) girl with that one blog, that I’m raising my chickens correctly (read: free ranging them).
I mean, real chicken mamas free range their chickens, right? It probably says that somewhere on a t-shirt or a bumper sticker.
Maybe I’ll make a t-shirt that says, “real chicken mamas do whatever works best for their chickens on their property with their lifestyle, and sometimes that will go against the popular crunch-tastic homesteader line of thinking”
That’s sort of a lot to fit on a shirt, though.
But if you don’t free range your chickens, you’re being cruel…right?
“Isn’t it cruel to have chickens if they can’t free range?”
Cruel is keeping 100 chickens in the space that is meant to comfortably keep 10 chickens.
Cruel is forgetting to feed your chickens. Cruel is leaving them without clean water.
Cruel is kicking your chicken around like a football.
But choosing not to give your chickens roam of your property? That doesn’t mean you’re cruel.
At this time, my chickens do not have roam of our farm….
…and my chickens are happy. I spend time hanging out with my chickens. I bring them treats. I built them a fodder system, and I bring them green yums every day.
I talk to them and sing them pretty songs. Ask them.
They’ve got a large, lovely covered outdoor pen which protects them from jerk-face dogs, hungry eagles, and sneaky fox.
Our contract is that I keep them safe and happy and they lay me eggs.
We’ve all signed on the dotted line in agreement.
I don’t free range my chickens. And I’m okay with that.
You guys, it’s not cruel or mean or horrible to choose not to free range.
What’s cruel and mean and horrible is maybe spending all this time judging each other’s chicken raising, instead of celebrating the fact that we’re able to have chickens at all.
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