We all know that keeping chickens free-range provides them with the best living conditions – they can roam freely, pick the best natural food, and display all their natural behaviors.
Free-range chickens have other benefits, too. Eggs from free-range operations are potentially more nutritious than the regularly farmed eggs because chickens have access to more food items and are less stressed out. (They can also exercise freely!)
However, is there such thing as too much free-ranging?
Surprisingly, it turns out that there is!
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One of the drawbacks of keeping chickens unbound is that not only the good natural stuff happens – but the negative stuff does, also.
Here’s what I mean!
What Bad Things Can Happen to Free-Range Chickens?
The main reason for asking how to keep chickens from leaving your yard – is because nearby predators love to eat your chickens! Predation is one of the main issues!
If your chickens are constantly out in the open, there is no way to outsmart or outrun the predators. They will get their share.
And it’s not just the physical (and for many of us – emotional!) loss of poultry.
After the first couple of attacks, your hens will know hungry predator eyes are stalking them. Stalked and hunted birds are stressed birds – and excessive stress is the very thing you’ve wanted to protect them from in the first place!
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Will Chickens Leave My Yard?
Yes! But – it’s not that simple.
Let me explain!
The issue of full free-ranging is not just with the clever foxes and coyotes, the wiggly minks and weasels, and roaming dogs.
When given an opportunity, your chickens will inevitably roam far and wide.
Loose chickens in non-secured areas can cause all sorts of trouble for themselves and others. They can dig through your neighbor’s garden and cause havoc by running into the street!
Some chooks with a more adventurous spirit may take off, never to return; others will get broody and hide their eggs so you can’t get to them in time.
The truth is that raising chickens doesn’t have to mean choosing one extreme (loose all the time) or the other (enclosed all the time). A compromise is highly beneficial.
The good news is that you can still let your gals be free-range, harvest delicious and nutritious free-range eggs – while introducing safe boundaries for their feathery adventures.
Moderation helps keep your chickens safe while offering them an excellent lifestyle!
Read on to find out how.
How Do You Keep Chickens in a Designated Area?
When it comes to truly sustainable and safe free-ranging, the question of all questions is – how can you let chickens free-range without them leaving?
I guess the saying “when chickens fly” has occurred only after people have discovered wing clipping as a flight prevention tactic.
Here’s what I mean.
Wing clipping is one of the most common techniques of decreasing chicken mobility and preventing them from flying over the fences and roosting in high places!
Proper and gentle wing clipping is pain-free and doesn’t cause severe stress for chickens – except for some disappointment if they’ve already learned how to use their flying skills.
However, there is one significant disadvantage to wing clipping. No fence is predator-proof.
If a predator finds its way into your chicken yard, or if your hens run into a predator while foraging – you can guess what will happen – a chicken with clipped wings will hot have even the slightest chance to escape.
(I can’t think of a more traumatic ending for your beloved flock members!)
We can conclude that wing clipping is a personal choice of the farmer. It has its pros and cons! But, I never advise wing clipping by default before considering the whole picture.
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Some farmers use the curfew technique – they release their chickens at the very end of the day. As soon as it starts to get dark, their fear of the dark plus roosting instincts will kick in, and they will rush back to the coop.
This technique requires no materials and no expenses. However, it doesn’t let the birds genuinely experience all the perks of roaming because they’re out only for such a short time.
You will also lose some benefits, such as pest control by the hungry poultry horde.
Another issue is that the local predators, such as foxes, will remember that your chooks are out at a particular time of the day and may ambush them before they manage to get to safety.
I would always prefer recommending what I consider a safer, wiser, and more adaptable approach – selective fencing.
Fencing Free-Range Chickens
Consider mobile or stationary fencing that will help keep your chickens within a specific part of the property. There are several ways to go about fencing in your free-range chickens.
Read More – Can Chickens Eat Banana Peels?
The chicken run is a critical extension of any humane chicken coop. Your chickens will be able to get out, stretch, preen at will, doing all the stuff the happy hens do – and they’ll be safe.
Also, with light and portable setups, you can set up a chicken run anywhere in your yard and move it around regardless of where the coop is.
You can opt to buy a safe, weather-proof chicken run or build your own. While the commercial runs are pretty straightforward, a DIY approach lets you express your creative side – and who knows, maybe the hens will appreciate your good taste!
To find out all (and I mean, all) the details about the perfect chicken fence, check out the article on how high should a chicken fence be to keep the chickens in and predators out.
For this article, I’ll provide just a short overview.
A key aspect to keeping the chickens in and the predators out is fence height and design.
A 2-meter high fence (roughly six feet) with a 30 cm overhang installed at a 45° angle to the primary part of the fence and projecting forward is sufficient protection against land predators – including those skillful at climbing fences.
Also, I advise digging in the bottom of the mesh! That way – you prevent predators from digging their way into your (and their) poultry haven.
As for hole size, a mesh with 50 mm is sufficient for deterring foxes. However, mink will still be able to climb and, in some cases, even wiggle through these holes, so additional caution or smaller openings will be required if you have mink in your area.
Electrifying your fence – or getting electric fencing from the start is also an option.
Modern electric poultry fences are easy to install. The fact that they’re also very lightweight means that you can move them around your yard without stress, creating the best experience for your chicks.
Also – remember that rats want to take a bite out of your chicken eggs. No doubt! Most homesteaders only look for foxes, possum, wolves, and dogs. But – sometimes your chicken (and chick/egg) predators are much smaller!
Free-Range Chicken Friendly Property
Suppose free-range chicken farming is one of your homestead’s primary functions.
In that case, the most common setup is to have an external (perimeter) fencing to keep out predators and prevent chickens from wandering off, and an internal or pasture fence to control the movement and foraging of the chickens on the property.
In this case, all the rules about predator-proof fencing apply to the external fencing, while the internal fencing can be more straightforward.
However, not all people will be happy with this kind of setup. Permaculturists and other nature-inclined farmers don’t want to disturb natural wildlife paths and want wildlife to wander into their property.
The good news is that keeping free-range chickens is possible even without heavy fencing and predator-proofing.
Chicken yard design ideas would require an article of their own. For now, here are some tips on how to achieve peaceful free-ranging with only light intervention.
- Create partial fencing to discourage hens from wandering into designated areas.
- Adopt a guardian dog and train him to watch over chickens from early on – or, adopt a trained dog!
- Create a foraging range in a place where you or your guardian dog watch over it.
- Don’t keep chickens in high densities, as it will encourage chickens to run away or fly away.
- Keep the grass mown around the chicken range, and especially around fencing if you have it; tall grass is a perfect hiding place for predators.
- Have a cozy chicken coop with nesting boxes; providing an appropriate and safe place to lay eggs is a way to discourage wandering and broody behavior in hens.
This guide covers everything you need to know to build great housing for your animals, with dozens of plans for coops, hutches, shade structures, barns, and much more.
Your animals will be proud to call these home!
How to Keep Chickens From Leaving Your Yard – For Good?
If you have been wondering how to keep chickens from leaving your yard while still adhering to the free-range principles, I hope this article has helped you.
To sum it up – although the purely free-range principle might sound romantic, it comes with numerous problems and poultry loss due to predation, running away, traffic, and other factors.
Creating some variety of fencing is the best way to encourage your chickens to stay put. You have many options – partial or full-fencing, metal or plastic, electric or plain.
Whatever your final choice is, a clever design will go a long way in creating a harmonious habitat for your chickens and all your desirable garden inhabitants – and keeping the ones you’d prefer loving at a distance at bay.
If you have further questions about how to keep your chickens safe – and in your yard – please let us know.
And, if you have tips that can help keep our flocks safe, we ask that you share.
We’re all in this together, and we want to protect our stablemates – feathery friends included!
Thanks again for reading!