Jessica is an experienced pet mom with dogs, cats, rats, fish, axolotls, a gecko, chickens, and ducks.
If you have ever joined a pet care group on social media, you know that people have strong opinions about the right way to do things. Those who raise chickens are no different. I regularly see debates about which is the right way to keep backyard chickens.
Personally, I do not see the free-range vs. chicken-run debate to be a black-and-white issue. Every situation is different, and there are many factors to consider when choosing how you will be keeping your chickens. This article will dive into the pros and cons of free-ranging your chickens or keeping them in a chicken run.
Pros: What Are the Benefits of Letting Your Chickens Free-Range?
First, I will go into the pros of letting chickens free-range. Free-ranging can provide a lot of health and wellness benefits to your birds, here are just a few.
1. You Will Get Better-Tasting, Nutrient-Dense Eggs
Free-range chickens are known to produce a much darker egg yolk than chickens that are not able to forage for their food. Although this alone does not necessarily mean that the eggs are better for you, many people (myself included) swear that the darker yolks taste better.
The reason that the eggs will be more nutritious is that your hens will be out all day foraging and getting nutrients that they can't get from just eating chicken feed. To get the best quality of eggs, your chickens should be getting a combination of laying pellets, greens, and insects.
Rooster Booster vitamins are what I give to my chickens to ensure they are getting all the nutrients they need.
2. You Will Save Money on Chicken Feed
This one is pretty simple. If your chickens are out foraging all day, they are not going to consume as much chicken feed. Saving money while getting higher quality eggs is a huge plus when considering letting chickens free-range. This can be mimicked if your chickens are in a run by giving them lots of scraps and healthy treats, but it is not as easy as letting them run around the yard.
3. It Will Keep Your Chickens Busy and Healthy
Foraging is a great activity for chickens. If they are in a small space all the time they can get bored. Chickens that are cooped up can sometimes start picking on each other if they don't have enough to do. Free-ranging also gives them exercise, which helps to prevent obesity.
Obesity can be a huge problem for backyard chickens' health. If you are in a position to let your chickens free-roam, it can be incredibly rewarding to watch them get some exercise and interact with the world around them.
Cons: What Are the Risks of Letting Chickens Free-Range in the Backyard?
Next, I will go into the cons of letting chickens free-range. There are many reasons why keeping chickens in a run is a better option for some people.
1. You Need to Protect Them From Predators
This is by far the biggest con to letting chickens free-range. This is something that keeps me and so many others from letting their chickens roam freely. Hens can become a huge part of your family and it is heartbreaking to lose them in such a traumatic way. If you are unable to have a rooster, then your hens are left defenseless against the predators they may come across.
There are so many animals that can be a threat to your hens, like coyotes, raccoons, snakes, hawks, owls, and even dogs. Keeping your chickens in a run does not automatically keep them safe from predators, either. Care needs to be taken to predator-proof your chicken coop and your fencing.
2. Neighbors Might Not Appreciate "Trespassing"
Chickens are fun, curious creatures, which can sometimes lead them on to other people's property. This isn't always a big deal, but if your neighbors are not so friendly, this could cause some tension.
If your neighbors are not friendly and you can't keep your chickens on your own property, then you may have no other option than to keep them in a chicken run. Also, free-ranging could risk your chickens' safety if your neighbors have dogs that are not trained around chickens.
3. You Might Lose Your Eggs
Compared with the other cons, this one is not too big of a deal, but sometimes chickens will decide to lay eggs in strange places. I have heard of several people wondering why they are not seeing eggs in the egg box, only to find a huge stash later. For some people, this is just something that comes with the territory, but if you are keeping chickens solely for the eggs, this might be something to take into consideration.
Ways to Keep a Chicken Run Exciting
Although free-ranging is many people's first choice it might not work for everyone. If you decide to keep your chickens in a run there are things you can do to make it more enjoyable for them:
- Make sure to give them plenty of food scraps to peck at throughout the day. There are great chicken swings and toys that you can buy online to keep them entertained. Even simple things like hanging mirrors for them to play with can make a huge difference. I like to hang different types of treats from the top of their run to give them something more challenging to peck at. I have this toy in my chicken run. It is so fun and all the colors give them something interesting to look at.
- Make sure that they have an area to dust bathe, and that they are getting plenty of sunlight. One thing I like to do for my chickens is to give them vitamins. This ensures that even though they can't go out and forage for nutrients they are still getting everything they need.
Keeping chickens in a run is a little more work, but if you give your chickens everything they need and plenty of space they should live a happy life.
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