Whenever possible, we allow our chickens to roam freely around our three-acre parcel. They seem to enjoy their freedom and seek out favorite spots to forage and scratch. Chickens have a strong homing instinct, so there’s no need to wrangle them—they make their way back to the coop at dusk and settle in without any prodding. Interestingly, they seem to know their boundaries and don’t stray beyond our yard unless rattled by a predator. A few times well-meaning neighbors have knocked on our door, concerned about the birds at the curb. We assure them we are aware, and they walk away shaking their heads.
Research and casual conversation with other tenders suggest that there are many benefits to free-ranging. The question is whether those benefits outweigh the potential downsides.
Free-range chickens will forage more and eat less commercial feed
Free-range chickens are less likely to get into territorial skirmishes
The chickens will be fit and trim from all the exercise
Free-range chickens are more vulnerable to predators
Chickens dig holes—everywhere
The decision to free range backyard chickens is obviously personal. We put up with the mess and accept the risk of carnage because the chickens seem more joyful when allowed to roam free. Our observation is that chickens kept cooped up become bored, and that’s when the hen-pecking begins.