Today’s guest post is from Kylie of Green and Growing, a blog dedicated to green news and green living. Kylie shares with us today some handy information about a topic I’ve had to do research on over the past couple of years myself: the raising and care of chickens, specifically chickens that are allowed to free range. In this article, Kylie shares with us some handy tips and information to consider when deciding to raise chickens of your own! Thanks Kylie!
Helpful Tips for Raising Free Range Chickens
Raising free-range chickens can be a rewarding experience that the whole family can get involved in. There are numerous benefits to raising free-range chickens. The birds have a better quality of life that is reflected in their overall health and egg production. When choosing to free range your chickens, it’s important to remember that it’s your responsibility to see to their safety and well-being. Listed below are some helpful tips on raising healthy birds in a more productive, natural way.
What are Free Range Chickens?
Free-range chickens are allowed to enjoy the benefits of a large chicken yard or field where they can forage free from confinement for the majority of the day. The opportunity for the chickens to roam about provides them with needed exercise, and their ability to forage cuts down on the cost of feeding. The varied diet is beneficial to the birds, and overall they are healthier than chickens that are enclosed 24 hours a day.
Most people who choose to raise free-range chickens still keep a coop to house their birds at night. This offers protection from the elements as well as predators, and a coop equipped with nesting boxes makes it easier to collect eggs.
You can keep free-range chickens all year round. During the colder months, chickens have a tendency to stay close to their coop, and they typically won’t forage if there is snow on the ground. During the winter it’s a good idea to increase the amount of feed that you offer your chickens, and they also appreciate the occasional treat of hot oatmeal during the colder months. You might also consider scattering straw near the coop with a bit of feed mixed in to give your chickens the opportunity to forage when it’s snowy. Installing a heat lamp in the coop is also an option, especially if you only have a few chickens that won’t be able to produce sufficient body heat to sustain them overnight.
Start with Chicks
If you are new to raising chickens it’s best to start out with chicks. Hatching your own eggs may seem like fun, but there is a lot involved in the process of hatching eggs. Instead, purchase chicks from a reputable hatchery. It may be tempting to buy chicks from a hobby breeder to save money, but you run the risk of purchasing chicks that are not healthy and nutritionally sound. If there isn’t a hatchery readily available, you can always order your chicks online from reputable hatcheries. Two such hatcheries are Murray McMurray and Hoovers Hatchery.
It’s also important to consider the best chicken breed for free ranging. All chickens can be raised for free-ranging, but some are more suited than others. You want to choose a breed with feather colors that will provide suitable camouflage to protect your birds from predators, and you also want birds that are considered to be good foragers. Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, and Welsummers are all excellent choices for free range birds. They’re all excellent layers with good feather colors, and all three breeds are sound foragers with good personalities, making them easier to handle.
Keep Your Coop Simple
There is no need for a big fancy coop unless you have your heart set on one. Most sustainable farmers and free rangers put together simple sturdy coops, often from repurposed materials. A coop is intended to be a safe place for your chickens to roost, lay their eggs, and protect them from the weather and predators.
An ideal coop will be a well ventilated, sturdy structure and will include one or more nest boxes for hens to retreat to for laying. Providing nest boxes for your chickens makes egg collecting a lot easier. It also helps cut down on the attraction of raccoons, foxes and other predators that will be drawn to any eggs the chickens have deposited in the field if they’re not provided with nest boxes.
When dealing with a new flock, coop your birds for a couple of days in order to establish the coop as their home. When you feel that they are sufficiently settled, release them onto the field or yard that you intend for them to use, and then tempt them back to the coop in the evening with chicken feed.
From the very beginning, you should establish a good routine that will help to keep your chickens and their coop clean and healthy. Begin by training your flock to vacate the coop early in the morning, going to their designated area to forage for the day. Try and choose an area for your free rangers that’s not prone to foot traffic to avoid tracking chicken droppings all over your house and property. You may want to consider fencing off areas that you want to be chicken-free, otherwise, your flock is likely to roam about wreaking havoc in your garden and taking over the food dishes of any pets you might have.
After your flock has left the coop for the day, take a few minutes to tidy up. Cleaning out nesting boxes and turning the straw or litter on the floor of the coop only takes a few minutes if you do these things daily. Not only will this cut down on dirty eggs, it will also keep your chickens healthy and less prone to feather loss and illness.
Whenever possible, go natural or homemade when tending to your chickens or acquiring equipment for them. Try to avoid chemicals that can be potentially harmful to your birds when cleaning and disinfecting your coop. A simple cleaning solution of equal parts water and white vinegar will do the trick when cleaning the coop. It’s not harmful to your birds and it’s a lot cheaper than the commercial cleaners on the market.
As often as you can, repurpose items to create tools and equipment for your chickens. Chick waterers and feeders can be made from things you already have on hand. This saves you money and it’s environmentally responsible.
Chickens need calcium to help them produce eggs. Instead of buying calcium supplements, feed your chickens crushed eggshells to give them the calcium they need. You can also include kitchen scraps in your chicken’s diet to give them additional nutrients as well.
Don’t try to force your chickens to lay eggs by leaving lights on them all of the time. Chickens periodically need a break from laying, and forcing them to always produce can actually shorten their lifespan and result in low-quality eggs. Let them lay on their own schedule instead. This supports a healthy lifestyle for your chickens, and it reduces your electric bill.
Raising free-range chickens might take a little effort when getting started, but the end product makes it well worth it. Not only will you have a source of eggs and poultry that is clean and chemical free, but you will also be giving your chickens a better life that allows them to live in a natural, healthy way.
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Kylie is the editor at Green & Growing. She enjoys the outdoors, especially when she can go on a fun hike or adventure. She likes to focus on the perks of green living. She feels it is so important to take care of our earth and hopes to spread more awareness as she edits and writes.