Raising Your Own Free-Range Chickents
Does the thought of a fresh organic egg sizzling in the frying pan whet your appetite and make you want to rush straight to a hatchery to buy a brood of chicks? If so, here are a few things to consider before you go: where will the flock live, roam, and eat? By definition, free range means not confined or fenced, barrier free; so plan for your flock. Let’s examine how to raise chickens for eggs by letting them free range.
How to Start
Buy starter stock in spring from experienced breeders who deal in certified organic poultry. Experts agree the best chickens for beginners are Barred Rocks, as they are docile and easy to work with; Leghorns are the most challenging due to their nervous temperaments.
Organically raised, free range laying hens need shelter from the elements, a safe place to sleep, a place to nest and hatch eggs, and plenty of fresh food, water, exercise, and sunlight. As you learn how to raise free range chickens for eggs, it becomes clear the flock should go out early every morning to forage for natural food and be confined to the coop at night to protect them from free range chicken predators like: hawks, owls, raccoons, and coyotes.
Stationary coops provide protection from draft, wind, rain, and freezing weather but cause sanitation issues such as foul smells and bacteria breeding if manure and ammonia deposits are allowed to build-up. Standing and scratching in this environment is unsanitary; poultry may become diseased and die. This kind of hen house is very labor-intensive to clean and maintain.
Free range chicken coops, or chicken tractors, are low maintenance and easy to keep clean and sanitary, since they move from location to location. Manure and ammonia do not build-up, and poultry stays healthy and productive. A well-constructed chicken tractor provides good shelter and a place to nest and rest while preventing disease. Chicken tractors let free roaming chickens forage pasturage to full advantage by continually moving the flock to a different segment of the pasture and not overgrazing the land.
Another component of learning how to raise free range chickens for eggs is planning for balanced nutrition to ensure consistent egg production. At least half the nutrients of free range chickens should come from foraging for grass, bugs and insects, and worms. The balance of their diet comes from organic poultry feed, supplemented with free food like table scraps and stale bread and baked goods.
Whether you purchase feed or make your own, a balanced diet is the difference between successful egg production and failure. Provide your free range laying hens with all the necessities of life: pasturage, food and water, and shelter and they will reward you with eggs and baby chicks to sell or breed.