Skip to main content

The Decision to Free Range

Our girls roam free. They enjoy exploring the yard, eating what the birds and the squirrels drop from our feeders, sunning in the lower part of our barn, eating out the compost pile, and walking the trails of our yard. Our last group enjoyed crossing the road to our neighbors yard, and they even strolled up the road sometimes.

The Benefits
Free range chickens eat well - so many greens, bugs, and other critters - and produce the best eggs I've ever seen in my life. The shells are thick and hard to break. The yolks are brilliant gold, and stain the bowl when we mix up an omelet or scrambled eggs. Study results published in Mother Earth News showed that free range eggs (literally roaming free out under the sun versus roaming freely in an over-packed hen house) have higher nutritional value - lower in bad cholesterol, high in all that good stuff - than conventional eggs from chickens raised in a high-density setting on a diet of grain that includes antibiotics and pesticides.

The Risks
Free range chickens are at risk. Predators (coyotes, hawks, raccoons, foxes, oppossums, skunks), cars, dogs, etc. tend to also free range, especially in the country. Having a small free range flock is delightful for the eggs and the joy of seeing a chicken ambling about your yard, but they are in more danger than they would be in a contained run.

What We Do
Other than hoping for the best for them each and every day, we take a few precautions. We lock them up each night around dusk and let them out each morning. This is labor intensive and sometimes tedious. If we're out of town for an extended period we need to schedule family, friends and neighbors to help out. If it's just one evening, we'll rustle them into the coop using bird seed.

We put away their feeder each night. Their food is attractive not only to them, but to predators. One night I found an opossum inside the feeder when I went to pick it up.

Predators are often attracted by the chicken smell. By closing the girls up at night, we figure we lower the smell a bit for the evening. We also figure that by having them free range the smell is dispersed. (We realize we may be fooling ourselves.)

We gather eggs every day. Predators also like eggs. By gathering them each day it means the eggs won't be left to rot and smell. We do leave a wooden egg in the nesting box so the girls don't feel completely bereft. No one has been broody, and so far we don't think they're laying elsewhere. We did have that problem a year ago with the first flock, but the wooden eggs seem to help. I also don't let them see me take the eggs out of the nesting box. This probably is more me than them, but I don't want to risk it.

Comments

Loribelle said…
PopcornHomestead,

Thank you for mentioning us on your Web site. We're glad you enjoy Mother Earth News.

Great post on Free Range chickens. Glad our article was helpful.

Laura Evers
Mother Earth News

Popular posts from this blog

Finding Heirloom Seeds in Japan

Drying pods of heirloom Hutterite Soup Beans. Since moving to Japan eight years ago, one of my greatest challenges as a farmer-gardener has been to find heirloom or open-pollinated seeds. The majority of seeds available are not GMO (genetically modified organisms) as Japan, at this point, doesn't accept this material. Most seeds, though, are nearly all F1 varieties. Heirloom and F1 Varieties In plant breeding, F1 is the name given to the first generation of a cross between two true breeding parents. For example, if I decide to cross an Amish Paste Tomato with another heirloom variety tomato such as Emmy, in hopes of getting a gold paste tomato, the resulting generation of fruit is F1. In order to get that tomato of my culinary dreams, I'll need to choose members of that first generation that are headed in a direction I like - early ripening, medium-sized fruit, good taste - and save their seeds. I'll plant them and repeat the process again and again over time unti

Satoimo: One of Japan's Favorite Slimy Things

Satoimo in all their hairy glory. This post first appeared in slightly different form on Garden to Table as part of the 2012  Blogathon . The website has since moved on to the ether, but the post is still a good one. After all, people here are still eating satoimo on a daily basis, and many others are just seeing these little potato-like objects for the first time. Enjoy! Satoimo is one of Japan's odder vegetables. Under it's rough, slightly furry skin is white flesh that is a little bit slimy even raw, and with a gentle nutty flavor.* Baked, grilled, steamed with dashi, or deep-fried satoimo stands well on its own or paired up with other vegetables and meats in a wide variety of soups and stews . (The leaves are also edible.) Satoimo stores well, and like any root crop worth the effort, stocks are just running low on this household favorite as the farmers in my area of Tokyo get ready to put a new crop in the ground in May. I cannot say I was a fan of this l

Goma Ai Shingiku - Sesame and Chrysanthemum Greens

Last week I had the pleasure of helping some friends work in their parents garden not too far away. Tucked behind the house, the garden sits on a former house lot. When it came up for sale about five years ago, my friend's father jumped at the chance. Open land in Tokyo can be hard to find and expensive, but for a retired professional looking for a little spot to till in the city it was an opportunity to good to pass up. Now, it is a garden to envy. As we came through the gate rose, lily, and peony blooms greeted us with great shouts of color while rows of vegetables stood tidily at attention on the sunny center stage. Small fruit trees along with one of the biggest sansho trees I've seen yet stood quietly here and there. Near waist-high sweet corn, bushy young potato plants, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and beans were preparing their summer fruits, while a handful of still quite luscious looking winter vegetables like komatsuna, mizuna, and kabu held one last ro