Raising free range chickens can be a challenge, but it can be well worthwhile for a more robust, healthier, more productive flock. But what makes free range chickens so desirable, and what special needs do they have for their care?
When chickens or other livestock are “free range” they are allowed to roam at will, with free access to outdoor areas and fewer restrictions on their overall movements and habitat. These animals are not restricted to a small coop, barn, or pen, but instead have a much larger, more enriching space to explore. There is a wide range of interpretation for free range definitions, however, and because there are few legal regulations about what can be officially labeled as free range for chickens, different farmers, commercial agricultural operations, or urban homesteaders may consider their poultry free range in different ways. Depending on the degree of ranging the birds may do or what spaces are available to them, they may also be considered “pastured” “old-fashioned” “open-raised” or other, similar terms, but the challenges and needs for their care are the same.
Raising free range chickens has many benefits. Because the birds are not confined to small areas, they get greater amounts of exercise, building up more muscles and more protein in their meat than birds with restricted habitats. Free range chickens generally have lower fat content and fewer calories in their meat and eggs as well, and many consumers believe free range chickens and their eggs to have a better, richer taste. The birds’ better health helps them be more resistant to pests and disease, though they can be more susceptible to predators such as foxes and raccoons. With more room to roam, free range chickens tend to have fewer issues with anxiety, aggression, and territoriality, even with larger flocks.
照顾自由放养的鸡的成本so be lower than confined flocks. Because the birds forage naturally for a wide range of foods, there is less need for expensive feed or supplemental pellets. Free range chickens will also provide natural pest control for a garden or landscape as they snap up all types of bugs and munch on weeds and seeds, and their natural pecking, scratching, and digging will aerate and till soil while their droppings become excellent fertilizer. A large flock can lead to a messy or damaged garden area, however, so be aware of that consequence before setting the birds free.
Chickens cannot simply be left alone completely to their own devices, even if they are intended to be a free range flock. Responsible husbandry requires staying alert to the birds’ needs and providing adequate resources for them, and there are several steps that every potential chicken breeder or raiser will need to take to make the most of their free range chickens.
Every free range chicken flock is different, and it may take time to determine exactly what works best for your birds. By keeping their best interests in mind and providing a safe, suitable habitat for them to explore, however, your chickens will be free to reach their peak potential even while they’re free to roam.