The Benefits of Raising Chickens on a Free-Range Diet
Beginner poultry farmers often have difficulty deciding between keeping their chickens in confined quarters or allowing them on the free range. Each option has its fair share of advantages and disadvantages.
Caged chickens require you to give them various commercial chicken feeds, depending on their age and the purpose of raising them. You get to determine what they eat and how much they can consume. You can easily monitor if your flock receives the proper nutrients for optimal growth and development.
In contrast, free-range chickens can roam your yard freely, foraging food for themselves. They get to feed on organic food, including insects, worms, bugs, larvae, grubs, greens, and berries. Besides, you don’t have to monitor what or how much they eat. You only need to provide supplemental food and fresh water to meet their nutritional requirements.
Raising free-range chickens has numerous benefits for poultry farmers and their flocks. The birds get to exercise more as they roam your acreage. They also enjoy the fresh air and have fewer issues with anxiety and aggression.
This guide explains the benefits of raising chickens on a free-range diet.
Chickens on a free-range diet are arguably healthier than their counterparts in closed quarters. After all, they exercise more, build muscles, and stay fit by roaming around your compound.
Even though a free-range diet has higher levels of vitamins, protein, iron, phosphorous, and magnesium, it is organic. The chickens can consume substantial amounts without getting overweight. Frequent roaming also helps them maintain the desired weight and size, even for larger chicken breeds.
A free-range diet is also rich in antioxidants and bioactive compounds that can help prevent diseases. Free-range chickens often feed on edible grasshoppers, worms, and black ants with high levels of polyphenols, helping boost your flock’s immunity and preventing illness.
Free-ranging also limits the spread of diseases compared to confined coop settings. You can pinpoint and quarantine a sick chicken in your flock since it won’t be as active as other birds. Isolating infected birds from the flock will help keep the rest of the chickens healthy and disease-free.
Improved Egg Quality
Egg quality depends on the age and breed of the chicken and the diet. Chickens on a free-range diet have lower egg production rates since they require more energy to roam around the homestead.
Even though egg production is comparatively lower, chickens on a free-range diet produce healthier, high-quality eggs. The broader natural diet comprising bugs, herbs, pasture, and insects translates to nutrient-dense eggs.
They have less cholesterol and saturated fat, making them healthier than ordinary eggs. Conversely, they have a rich content of omega fatty acids, beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin E, and other minerals. The high nutrient content results in eggs with yellow-orange or golden yolks.
The enriched eggs are different from store-bought or conventional eggs. They are bigger and have more rigid shells, making them hard to break. Besides, they taste better than regular eggs.
Another difference is that free-range eggs have a longer shelf-life than eggs from confined birds. They can last up to six months or even more when stored in a sealed container in freezing conditions. Even though the eggs may get runnier over time, you can still eat them without issues.
Natural Pest Control
Raising chickens requires high standards of hygiene. Depending on the sanitary conditions, you may experience a significant increase in pests and vermin in your home if you don’t keep their coop clean. The leftover chicken feed might attract flies, rats, mice, raccoons, and other rodents.
Fortunately, you don’t need to hire pest control services if you raise chickens on a free-range diet. After all, free-ranging birds feed on bugs, roaches, ants, and critters, keeping pesky pests at bay. They are also good at foraging and will likely scratch through animal manure to eat fly larvae and eggs.
Since free-range chickens spend more time roaming the yard, the coop stays cleaner with less mess concentrated in one location. The cleaner the pen, the fewer flies and pests in the compound.
That’s not all. Larger chicken breeds can hunt small snakes and mice, keeping your homestead safe from potentially dangerous animals. The only issue is that chickens don’t hunt at night and might have trouble dealing with nocturnal pests.
Raising chickens on a free-range diet has several environmental benefits. First, they feed on beetles, worms, grasshoppers, and insects that can destroy growing crops and stored food, helping save farmlands from invasion and destruction.
Chicken droppings are an excellent source of organic manure. Allowing your fowls to roam the yard freely can turn them into manure spreaders. They will excrete all over the garden when on the range, fertilizing the soil and improving crop yield.
Since the chickens excrete indiscriminately in your compound, you don’t have to worry about cleaning the chicken coop regularly. You only need to collect the droppings and add them to your compost to obtain manure.
Free-range chickens are also excellent foragers. They will scratch the ground in search of food while aerating the soil, making it less compact. Besides, researchers believe free-range animals have a lower carbon footprint than confinement operations, reducing emissions by over 22%.
Reduced Feed Costs
One of the biggest obstacles to raising chickens is feed costs. Chicken feed can sometimes be expensive for beginner poultry keepers, especially if you have many chickens in your yard.
Chicks and pullets might require plenty of food to meet their growth and developmental needs. Egg-laying hens and broilers also have unique nutritional requirements for egg and meat production. Given the costs, commercial chicken feed can be out of reach for many new poultry farmers.
Opting for a free-range diet can help reduce feed costs significantly. Free-roaming birds eat what is already available in your yard. They will forage and search for grubs, bugs, insects, greens, berries, grains, and worms. They will also consume small stones, sand, and pebbles to help break down the food they’ve eaten all day, so you don’t have to purchase oyster-shell grit.
You only need to set up water stations strategically throughout the yard and provide clean water. Ensure you change the water several times during the day to avoid contamination.
All living creatures deserve the freedom to move around, explore, and interact with their peers. Raising your chickens in confinement can heighten their stress and aggression levels, leading to unnecessary fights and feather pecking. This is not the case with free-range chickens.
Free-roaming chickens are happier and have a better quality of life. The chickens have numerous options and can choose their consumption from a broader diet. If your hens are happy, they produce more eggs because they have lower stress levels.
They can forage and explore the yard without restrictions, helping reduce their anxiety and aggression levels. Since the birds are less territorial, you will likely witness fewer fights in a free-range setting. Besides, free-roaming fowls have adequate space to escape from bullies.
They also get ample time to bask in the sun and enjoy sand baths. Permitting the flock to dust helps reduce pest infestations and improve plumage health.
Raising free-range chickens supports the principles of sustainable living. It ensures effective land use and the protection of the ecosystem since you don’t have to leave your yard or arable land idle.
Besides, free-roaming fowls consume what they find in the ground. They do not produce substantial amounts of greenhouse emissions and methane during digestion compared to grazing animals.
Chickens have a less adverse impact on the environment than other farm animals. They are easy to control and won’t destroy your plants when the range is well-fenced. Instead, they will fertilize the grass and soil by spreading manure throughout the farm.
Most importantly, chickens get along well with other domestic animals. You can keep them with turkeys, rabbits, ducks, and cattle for a more sustainable farm.
Boosting Local Economy
Raising free-range chickens might have economic benefits for the local community. Restaurants, schools, hospitals, and shops have high customer demand for free-range eggs and meat.
Since many people prefer free-range chicken for meat and eggs, poultry farming can significantly increase the farmer’s income. The farmer will have a ready market for their produce.
Free-range poultry farming can also create employment opportunities for community members. After finishing school, young adults can join their parents or neighbors in the business and earn money as they wait to pursue other ventures.
Raising chickens on a free-range diet has numerous benefits for the farmer and the chickens. Free-range chickens require less coop space since they roam the yard most of the day. That’s not all. Since the chickens are on the range most of the time, the pen and the run stay cleaner, saving you time as you don’t have to clean as frequently. You only need to install perches and levels where they can rest at night.
You’ll also save lots of money on chicken feed costs. A free-range diet comprises natural, organic foods, such as bugs, roaches, grasshoppers, beetles, weeds, and herbs, which the fowls will forage and search for themselves.