How to Care for Free Range Chickens: Tips for Raising Happy and Healthy Chickens

Chickens and sheep grazing on organic farm

Having free range chickens in your yard can be relaxing and it’s always fun to watch them forage and socialize with each other. But, there are some serious dangers to be wary of if you’re taking care of a free range flock.

Housing and Shelter for Free Range Chickens

Free Range Chickens on Grassed Area

Free range chickens need shelter and protection from the weather. There should be one or more coops for the flock in different areas to give the birds some variety. A chicken that roams through a garden or pasture area must be moving through a safely maintained space.

Any toxic or dangerous plants should be removed and the perimeter fences need to be secure to deter potential predators. The use of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers should be minimized or a switch to organic products can be made.

In sensitive areas such as delicate flower beds, herb gardens, and soft fruit plants, you may want to restrict access with wire covers or fencing.

Free range chickens like to forage and their beaks and talons can tear apart delicate plants easily. Consider adding foraging friendly grasses, clovers, flowers, shrubs, and trees to the roaming areas. These plants improve the nutritional base of the flock and they give the birds some extra stimulation to keep them calm and happy.

Feeding Free-Range Chickens 

Even free range chickens in winter like to forage for their own food, but supplemental feed should be provided to further boost their nutrition intake. Using feed as a reward is a great way to train chickens to return to their coop(s) when night falls to keep them safe from predators.

Chickens need plenty of clean water to drink and a ½ cup of whole grain to produce and lay an egg that contains 5g, or protein and 50 calories. Adding an extra ½ cup of grain should be sufficient to sustain the hen as she goes about her day.

Free range chickens can find a lot of fluid and food during foraging including berries, seeds, bugs, and plants. But, chickens cannot be supported entirely by nature everywhere and this is why it’s important to supplement their food intake with 1 cup of whole grain and plenty of clean drinking water each day.

Maintaining the Health of Free Range Chickens 

Free Range Chickens having a dust bath

A free range chicken is likely to encounter a wide variety of insects, ticks, and other wildlife that may transmit an infection to them. So, it’s important to keep the flock up-to-date with their wormers and vaccinations to protect the birds.

The presence of a predator such as foxes, raccoons, weasels, stray dogs, stray cats, and other animals is a significant threat to the flock. These animals can kill all the birds in next to no time and they must be protected with strong fences, secure coops, and any other deterrents that are effective in your local area.

Free range chickens also need mental stimulation to keep them happy and healthy, such as plants, perches, toys, and more. Chickens with access to stimulation will be more alert, have better reflexes and be healthier. A roaming chicken may be less sociable than birds with more restricted movement. So, it’s important to interact with the flock regularly with your voice and gestures to ensure that they are at ease in your presence. Again, feed is a great way to make friends with your free range chickens.

Encouraging Free Range Chickens to Lay Eggs 

Chicken in Nesting Box laying fresh eggs

Most people keep chickens for fresh eggs every day, but it can be a real challenge if the flock is not trained on where they should be laying their eggs. Simply observing the free range chickens and looking for likely laying spots will be ineffective. If they are not trained, they can lay eggs anywhere and this can become very confusing.

An effective strategy is to encourage the chickens to lay in highly desirable locations. They may even follow their natural instinct to clutch up their eggs and you can then collect more than one egg at a time.

Some eggs can be sacrificed in these key locations to encourage the hen to return and lay again. Mark these older eggs with a sharpie to ensure that you don’t eat them later because they will be rotten.

Five Tips to help you encourage your chickens to lay eggs that are easier to find:

1.    Training Eggs

Use a ceramic egg or a golf ball as a training aid for your free range chickens. Place it in a nest box to give the hens a bright idea that this is the perfect spot to lay their own eggs.

2.    Provide Nesting Boxes

The general rule is to have one nesting box for every four chickens in the coop. This should give the hens ample opportunities to lay without disturbances. Resist the temptation to add too many nesting boxes because the birds need space to roam comfortably.

3.    Secure the Nesting Boxes

The nesting boxes should be located in quieter areas of the coop with dim lights. The hen has a natural instinct to lay eggs in safe places and locating the box a few inches above ground is ideal.

4.    Practice Releases

Most hens lay early in the morning and this natural instinct can be used as an effective training tactic. Simply keep the hens confined until mid-morning and they will be more likely to lay their eggs in the nesting boxes before they leave to roam and forage.

organic free range chicken

5.    Maintain Cleanliness

People tend to be happiest when they are living in a clean home and chickens have the same needs. If the nesting boxes are dirty the hen is less likely to lay an egg there and the hunt is back on to find the eggs elsewhere on your property. Keep the nesting boxes clean and change the bedding regularly to ensure that the hens are happy and relaxed.

Free Range Chickens In Conclusion 

Keeping free range chickens can be a fun and rewarding experience. But, every flock is a little different and it can take some time to learn what works with your flock. Keeping them safe, happy, and interested in their surroundings is a great way to encourage exploration. Maintaining health with regular vaccinations and worming and securing their habitat against potential predators is essential. With time and patience, you can use the information in this article to help your free range chickens reach their potential.

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