Hey folks! Today's post ties in a bit to last week's Farm Fridays post. If you missed it, you can find it HERE. It's all about the costs that go into raising chickens, so definitely be sure to check that out if you're considering them in the future!
I know there have to be some of you out there reading this that are like me and both want to makes things as easy AND cheap as possible. In the chicken world, you get both when you let your flock free range. Let's talk a little about what free ranging is.
It's probably exactly what you have envisioned: Basically, you're letting your chickens roam around wherever they want. It does have its drawbacks, such as worrying more about predators picking off members of your flock and having to keep them out of your gardens somehow, but it has a lot of benefits too, one of the main ones being saving you a ton of money on feed!
Depending on the size of the area they're allowed to graze upon and what kind of grasses, plants, weeds, bugs, etc. you have, you can drastically cut your feed costs. Don't get me wrong: Chicken feed doesn't cost all that much. We buy some cheaper stuff and it is about $10 for a 50lb bag and we go through one about every 2-3 weeks for 16 birds altogether. But, that is largely due to how much they forage during the day.
Borrowing this pic from another post, but the big girls seem to enjoy drinking from the puddles much more than their waterer in the coop.
According to the Abundant Permaculture guy, one chicken should only be eating about 1/3 lb of feed per day if they are free ranging/pasture raised. This got us curious about how much ours were eating and we figured it up that they are actually eating less than this per day. That's amazing! That means they're getting the vast majority of their food intake for free! If we kept them locked in their coop all the time, they would be going through at least three 50lb bags per month...And that is rationing them to the 1/3lb/day/chicken mentioned above. If we were allowing them “free choice” (basically letting the chickens eat however much they want) and keeping them cooped up, they would easily be going through 5 bags per month. Again, we're only going through one per month. If that doesn't convince you to free range, I'm not sure what will!
The chickens LOVE the berries from our giant honeysuckle bush! That's also what Victoria, the Silver-Laced Wyandotte, was after in the first picture.
Now that we got my main point out of the way, let's talk about some other benefits of free ranging. First of all, you will still have to “coop train” your birds. Whenever the word “training” is involved, it sounds like something difficult but I assure you coop training is not. It's a fancier way of saying “keeping your chickens locked up for at least several weeks so they know where home and a constant source of food is”.
Once that's taken care of, they will never wander too far from home. Honestly. Sounds too good to be true, but it is. Since they are wandering around all happy at their will, this provides the perfect opportunity for varying their diet too, thus having healthier chickens as well. Chickens don't just eat weeds and grasses (though they are excellent weed eaters!), but berries, wild grains, and bugs as well. (They're also great natural insecticides!) They'll even eat snakes! So, not only do they have a healthier, varied diet by free ranging, but they help keep your lawn fertilized, weeded, and the pest population down too.
I find that they are also less work because they free range during the day. I don't have to fill their feeder every day nor their water. They actually seem to prefer drinking from outside sources that have collected rain water better than their waterers in the coop. I don't have to clean their coop out frequently. (Truth be told, I have yet to clean their coop because we're doing the deep litter method with the wood chip bedding “fluff”.) It's pretty nice. Most days I just have to let them out in the morning and lock them up at night. I only need to fill their food and water every 2-3 days and I really don't need to then. Both their feeder and waterers are usually half full by then and I just like to keep them topped up because I'm OCD like that.
Do you have free ranging chickens or would you consider it? Why or why not? Don't forget to link up with us at this week's Farm Fridays! (Click on the Farm Fridays image below.) Until next time...