How to Raise Free Range Backyard Chickens

Have you been dreaming about raising free range backyard chickens but weren’t sure where to start?

If so, then you are in the right place!

Having beautiful, fresh eggs for breakfast is possible with just a few well-laid plans and a little know-how.

Keeping chickens, when done right, is a rewarding experience that the whole family can get involved with.

Whether you have an urban backyard or are homesteading, raising free range backyard chickens will make for happier chickens and humans!

free-range backyard chickens

What Does Free-Range Actually Mean?

Your chickens are free-range if they have the freedom to move around in an outdoor space. 

You may want your chickens to be free range ‘full-time,’ but it is a good idea to consider a part-time arrangement for your feathered friends.

Allowing them to roam freely before being tucked away safely in a coop at night means they get the best of both worlds; free access to outdoor space but a nutritious meal and a safe spot to sleep each night.

Pros to Raising Free-Range Backyard Chickens

Giving your girls the chance to roam freely can have excellent benefits for them and you. Here are some of the pros to having free range chickens.

  • It’s just good for them. Your chickens will love being able to exercise and access different areas of your backyard. This is also great for their nails and keeps them healthy, strong, and trimmed.
  • They will get rid of bugs. Not only will your chickens keep the bug population in your backyard down, but the added protein to their diet will also make for better eggs.
  • They will fertilize your lawn. Allowing your chickens to roam will mean they disperse their poop around your backyard, providing an organic fertilizer for your yard.
  • They have space to scratch. Chickens like to scratch, and while this will be good for the weeds in your backyard, it can be disastrous for your coop. Free range chickens have the space to scratch and peck, and they won’t feel the need to do it in the coop.
  • Less chance of lice and mites. Chickens love a good dust bath, and having the space to indulge will keep the lice and mites at bay.

Cons

Unfortunately, raising free range chickens has some disadvantages, and you should prepare for them. Here are some of the cons to having free range backyard chickens.

  • They will scratch anywhere. And everywhere! Your garden beds won’t be safe from your free-range chickens, so you will need to consider fencing them off or picking a different spot for your chickens to roam in.
  • Predators are a genuine concern. Allowing your chickens to wander freely means they are more at risk of predation. Birds of prey, snakes, opossums, red foxes, and raccoons are all common enemies to your feathered ladies.
  • You will have to hunt for your eggs every morning. Unless you have trained your chickens to lay in their boxes, free-range chickens will lay their eggs all over your backyard. Although this might be a real irritation for some, it might also be a great way to keep the kids busy while you enjoy a quiet cup of coffee in the morning.
  • You might have more fertilizer than you need. Your free-range chickens will poop a lot! And they will poop everywhere. So be prepared for some creative uses for your chicken manure.
  • Your ladies may become less friendly. Chickens are usually social creatures, but free-range chickens often become less social after being given a lot of freedom.

How Much Space Do You Need to Raise Free-Range Backyard Chickens?

free-range backyard chickens

There a quite a few factors that determine how much space you will need for your free-range chickens. These include the size of your flock and the breed of chicken you have, but the general rule is 250-300 square feet per chicken.

Why You Need a Chicken Coop

For your part-time free range chickens, a coop will be necessary for roosting at night. You will need about 2 square feet per chicken inside the coop and space for 1-3 nesting boxes.

A coop also means they are safe from predators at night and provides them with a warm spot in winter.

Getting Fancy

There are some fantastic chicken coop options available that will allow your feathered friends to sleep in style. 

This article from The Spruce lists the 7 best chicken coops of 2021, and they offer beauty and practicality. 

You want a chicken coop that will look good in your backyard while providing your flock with shade, shelter, and security.

Other Options

For those of you who can’t fully embrace the free-range life for your chickens, there are a few other compromises. 

You could build or buy a chicken tractor

What the heck is that you ask?

It’s essentially a mobile home for your ladies. It has everything they need in a chicken coop, but it is on wheels.

This allows you to move it around and provide your chickens with new areas for pecking, scratching, and foraging.

Safety Factors

Not all chicken coops are created equal, and you need to do your research to find the one that will best suit your backyard and your chickens.

  • It needs to be secure and sturdy to keep out predators.
  • Ventilation is key.
  • But it should be warm for the colder months. Extra hay or even a heat lamp can help here.
  • It needs to have enough space.

How to Feed Your Free Range Chickens

But aren’t they eating while they are out and about?

Well, yes, they are, but most of what they eat while foraging will be protein.

While this is great for their eggs, your chickens will need a more balanced diet.

Having a consistent feeding schedule is essential and will also help you get them home in the evening. 

If you don’t have a rooster in your flock, you will need to feed your ladies layer feed to help them produce eggs.

Pro-Tip: Remove poisonous plants from your backyard before letting your chickens roam free. Poison Ivy, Boxwood, and Honeysuckle are just a few that can make your chickens sick.

A Few Other Things to Consider

free range backyard chickens

So we have covered the basics, but there are a few more things to consider when raising free-range backyard chickens.

Climate

If you live in warm climate, shade, ventilation, and water will be necessary for your chickens. 

If you live in a zone with cold winters and snow, you will need to take extra care with your chickens. Here are some things to look out for in winter:

  • Chickens won’t scratch through deep snow, so you will need to adjust their feeds accordingly. 
  • Chickens can get frostbite, so make sure they have a warm place to roost.
  • Chickens get bored, and then they get nasty. To avoid destructive behavior, add a hale bale to their coop to give them more opportunity for scratching. Some people even install chicken swings in their coops to keep their chickens occupied.

Urban Chickens

Yes, you can have free-range chickens in your backyard if you live in a city, but make sure you check your city ordinances. Some cities don’t allow it, while others have strict rules in place. Be sure to see what is permitted in your area before you fill your backyard with feathered friends.

Are All Chickens Created Equal?

So you have the coop, the nesting boxes, the feed, but now you need the chickens.

Choosing your chickens is a process, and you want to get it right. Here are a few things to consider before choosing your breed of chicken:

  • What do you want your chickens for? Meat? Eggs? Pets?
  • What is your climate like?
  • How much time do you have to spend on chicken care?

By choosing the right breed, you will set yourself up for success and have much happier free-range chickens.

Final Thoughts on How to Raise Free-Range Backyard Chickens

It might seem daunting, but raising free-range backyard chickens is a rewarding experience worth the work.

It can be challenging, but putting in the work early on will pay off when you have happy birds producing delicious baskets of eggs.

If you are serious about keeping free-range backyard chickens, then check out chickenpedia. Here you will find a selection of online courses and resources to help you get the most out of your chicken-rearing journey.