It’s hard to believe it’s been almost two years since we acquired our first set of cute little fluffy cheeps and set off to build a chicken coop that ended up costing us an arm and a leg (how many eggs do we have to sell again?) and a lot of lessons learned.
Since then we’ve raised three batches of chicks, built them a chicken swing to keep them entertained, created grazing boxes so they could have fresh greens, built an enclosed chicken run made out of pallets to give them more space, enjoyed the excitement of the “first egg” many times, and a whole lot more. We’ve learned the best way not to have a brooder box, what to look for when buying chicks, and how quickly they can become beloved pets (even if that was not the intention).
Up until about 9 months ago, all of our chickens stayed in our enclosed run and palleted area.
We never had any issues of them flying over our pallet area because the enclosed run was all they knew. That is, until my husband decided to let them out in the yard for the first time.
I would be lying if I said it wasn’t awesome to see them so happy scratching around in the dirt, clucking, running across the yard. Having them out in the yard provided us with cheap entertainment and made our hearts full to see them doing their chicken thing (and not having to worry about keeping up the grazing boxes or growing sprouts as treats for them).
I mean seriously, what’s better than watching your kid run around the yard with a flock of chickens chasing after him?
Things were going great until the ring leader of our youngest flock decided she was going to break all the rules and fly up to the top of the pallet area. One by one, her patrons followed her and started a whole new set of problems. Isn’t it funny how it only takes ONE chicken (or person) to go against the grain and then the others start following, creating problems for everyone else?
Every time I would let them out in the pallet area and turn my back to head into the house, that damn ring leader would jump up onto the top of the pallet, and again, her three bandit sisters would hop up and they’d all fly down into the garden bed.
The ring leader was a rebel (pictured below). That is for sure. Unfortunately (sorta), she got attacked by something and was completely eaten when we forgot to close them up for the night. I would by lying if I said I wasn’t kind of glad. She created some bad habits in the group and I was growing tired of it.
If you have chickens in an enclosed run and are considering free-ranging them in your yard, or if you are about to get chicks and are wondering if free-ranging them is what you’ll do, consider these pros and cons I have personally experienced.
Pros of Free-Ranging Backyard Chickens
- Fresh grass and bugs means a lower feed bill (and insect control!)
- It also means healthier, happier chickens (when they were cooped up and we had really bad weather for weeks on end, one of our chickens developed an egg-eating habit. Once we let them out in the yard, the egg-eating stopped)
- Less maintenance when it comes to pulling weeds, buying old lettuce, and maintaining the grazing boxes to feed them fresh greens
- Cheap entertainment (see video above)
- You can make slow-mo videos of your chickens chasing after your kid
- Natural fertilizer in the yard
Cons of Free-Ranging Backyard Chickens
- Chicken poop. All. Over. The. Yard.
- They have tasted freedom so now every time you open up the door to the enclosed run, they turn into cockroaches and try to get out of the run
- They destroy everything; including the freshly planted flower beds and your garden you worked so hard on. Now you have to figure out a way to chicken-proof your garden, aka time and money.
- If you have predators that can get to your chickens, you’ll have to supervise them while they’re out in the yard.
In the end it really depends on your personal situation, how many chickens you intend on keeping, and how “hands on” you want to be. For us, the pros outweigh the cons, but it is a little annoying that we’re going to have to reconfigure our garden area so the chickens don’t destroy it.
We’re also considering buying a light weight fencing system to keep the chickens to one part of the yard when they’re out instead of them being able to go wherever they want. Doing this will eliminate poop being everywhere.