When you choose to keep your chickens safe and secure from predators by providing them with their own hen house or chicken coop, the confinement can alter everything from the nutritional benefit of their eggs to their ability to ward off mites by dusting themselves off in dirt.
The provision of a covered chicken run adjacent to the coop resolves some of the common issues with keeping chickens ‘cooped up’ but not all.
Advantages of the free-range method of chicken keeping are many. Perhaps the most significant is the amount of money it can save on purchase of commercial chicken feed. Of course, you will need to ‘hunt and peck’ to find their eggs around the garden and may miss a few from time to time or scavenge an old egg without realization that it is not fit to eat. But the added benefits of their prowess at finding their own dining delights cannot be overlooked.
The middle ground between free range and cooping chicken keeping is the use of a chicken tractor and/or fencing an area for their safety.
The chicken tractor has become increasingly popular as a viable option for homesteading on a small or large property.
The efficiency of chickens to ‘grub around’ and mitigate pesky insects and bugs notwithstanding, the undeniable fact is that a free-range chicken is at risk for becoming dinner or even worse, entertainment, for fauna further up the food chain.
There are advocates on both side of the chicken wire fence on this topic, and if you are confused as to what method is the best choice it is smart to look at your own individual nature rather than that of the birds.
While certain breeds of chickens may lend themselves better to ownership by the neophyte backyard chicken-keeper than others due to their friendliness and overall egg production quality and quantity, it is you, the owner, who will need to examine yourself as to which chicken-keeping preference you should favor.
Questions to ask yourself may include:
- Do I have kids or other family members that will be upset by the loss of a bird or part of the flock over time?
- How much time do I have to search for eggs?
- Does my garden mean the world to me with flower beds and shrubs or will digging, foraging and dirt patches on the lawn cause no concern?
- Do I have room to move the chicken tractor about and the inclination and equipment to do it?
- How cleanable is a coop and what should I do to make sure if I choose a coop for housing the hens that it requires minimal labor?
- Do I have dogs or other pets that will trouble the chickens?
- Do I care what my chickens eat outside of commercial feed?
- How much do bugs in the backyard bother me?
- Will my kids be collecting eggs? An easy exterior collect coop can be a boon for busy families where you don’t want to walk inside the messy coop in your work shoes.
- What wildlife is in my environment, and will predation be a major headache?
- Can I lessen coop workload by using smart technology like coop doors on automatic timers? Can I afford these upgrades?
- Does your garden offer natural shade options for hot weather and natural shelter in adverse or inclement weather?
Well, you get the idea. There are options but only you can choose the ones that will work best for your individual lifestyle.
Chores can quickly become onerous after the initial excitement of growing chicks up into adults that lay eggs for use in the home kitchen passes, despite the benefits of the ample egg supply of known provenance.
There is a litany of resources on the pros and cons of different chicken keeping methods so no need to repeat them here. But the choice of which to pick will become clear once you examine the realities of the options. Get informed before you start! It’s a lot easier than figuring it out as you go along.