There is nothing like having your own chickens and watching them scratching outside on the lawn or in the barnyard. The taste of fresh eggs is far superior to that of store bought eggs. When I first got chickens I was also amazed at the amount of work that they do around the farm. I can dump a pile of compost or dirt in an area and they almost instantly appear to scratch away at the pile and distribute it around the area, eating bugs along the way. They dig up manure and hay waste in the barnyard, looking for any bugs and tidbits of grain that the goats might have dropped. Cleaning the pens is always easier after the chickens have gone through and dug it up.
Housing my pastured chickens
I consider our chickens to be free-range because they are not usually confined to any space most of the time. There are times however that I pen them up for their own good. When they are young , I keep them separated and confined to a triangular shaped “tractor”. The shape uses less space and makes it lightweight, but still has a covered end for shelter. Once the chicks are big enough to start joining the regular flock, I will open the door during the day and let them mingle. This is a great way to acclimate new older hens to the flock also. They get used to their new surroundings and don’t run away too far.
My husband built a chicken house for me several years ago. It is where they roost at night and where they lay their eggs. He also put in a built in feeder and a wire floor for easy cleaning. I close the ramp up at night for their safety.
The necessity of a pen for my free range chickens
We have a small homestead, just over 2 acres, and 2 sides of our lot is road frontage. I don’t usually have a problem with the chickens wandering into the road because they have enough other areas to scratch around. There have been times in the past that I have caught them going into the road and I know they need a reminder where they belong. We also have lost several chickens in the last year to a very wily fox. She hunts during the day and picks them off one by one, very quietly so our dog doesn’t even know. For these reasons, last year my husband put up a fence around our chicken house.
We used 6 foot tall wire fencing (not poultry netting) to enclose an area for them to roam around in. We have a door that can open at any time to let them out. For right not, I lock them up only when I know there is a predator in the area or if we are going away on a vacation. They don’t like being confined and some of them will attempt to fly out. We should have made the height of the pen greater than 6′ because one of the girls has been successful. The only way she can escape is by standing on the ramp to the chicken house and working very hard at flying over the gate.
Future plans for my chickens
We are planning on building a new barn that is all inclusive for my animals. I haven’t decided yet how the chickens will be housed. But I definitely want to keep them as free range as possible. They will always need a safe area to escape during trouble and to roost in at night so that will be inside the barn for sure. I also want to add to my flock so our barn plans need to include plenty of roosting and nesting boxes.
Owning chickens is a win-win situation for us. We provide them food, plenty of opportunity to scratch around outside in the woods and barnyard, and housing to keep them safe. They provide us with fresh eggs, clean land, and endless entertainment! Chickens can be kept on very small properties, don’t discount them if you only have a small area. As long as your zoning allows, try keeping some of your own!