What's Is The Best Way To Raise Your Chickens? by Liz Greene
Categories: On The Farm
When it comes to housing your chickens, nothing is set in stone. Much depends on your specific situation — location, space available, weather patterns, etc. Some keepers swear by their tractors, while others prefer to let their chickens roam free. If you’re trying to suss out what form of habitat will work best for your chickens, consider the following pros and cons.
There are some great benefits to free ranging your flock. Roaming chickens search out much of their own food, such as insects (many of which are garden pests), berries, and greens. This saves you a considerable amount of money on commercial chicken feed. Furthermore, when a chicken’s diet includes naturally foraged items, some of the nutrients are transferred to their eggs. All this abundant food seems concerning in regards to their fluffy figures, but worry not. Free ranging chickens are less likely to become overweight — the more room they have to wander, the more exercise they get.
However, free ranging chickens can often get into trouble. If they’re allowed to freely scratch, they might end up doing so in places you don’t want — like your newly planted garden.
And then there’s the poop. When chickens aren’t contained, neither are their droppings, so be prepared to ruin some shoes.
If you have trouble with wild predators such as foxes, raccoons, or hawks, free ranging carries serious risk. In these cases, it’s best to confine your flock to a fenced-in yard. Just remember that fences won’t keep birds of prey from getting to your chickens. Even if you choose to free range, you will still need to provide an indoor space where your chickens can roost at night.
A chicken tractor is a mobile, enclosed chicken coop that does not have a floor. They usually come equipped with closed-in sides at one end that include nesting boxes and roosts. Chicken tractors allow your birds to reap the benefits of foraging without giving them access to the garden or living spaces. Since tractors are moved daily, the chickens don’t overwork one piece of land. Plus, you never have to replace bedding or clean out the coop!
As fantastic as tractors can be, they also have some downsides. In order to be mobile, chicken tractors must be small, and light. This means that there is only room for a few chickens. If you have a large flock, you’ll have to make another choice. In climates with cold and snowy winters, they can only be used seasonally, as there efficient way to keep them heated. Finally, although tractors are enclosed, they’re not completely predator proof. Raccoons in particular don’t find them to be much of a barrier.
Permanent coops are small shed-like structures, often with a fenced-in run. You can build a chicken coop, or buy one pre made. The biggest advantage of a permanent coop is...it’s permanent. No matter what weather extremes you may face, the flock, nests, and roosts are safe from the elements. What’s more, you can plumb and wire permanent coops to provide heating, cooling, and running water. A securely built permanent coop is also nearly impervious to predators.
Permanent coops come with their own unique disadvantages. Since chickens remain in the same area, any ground they have access to soon becomes bare dirt. The coop has to be cleaned at least a few times per year. All the old bedding and manure have to come out and be disposed of — a chore that is less than enjoyable. Finally, the coop itself can be expensive to build. Even if you buy one pre-built, they tend to be significantly higher priced than smaller, lighter chicken tractors.
Ultimately you have to consider what’s best for both you and your birds. Consider what predators inhabit your area, the climate, and how much maintenance you’re willing to handle. No matter what you choose, enjoy the time you spend with your chickens — they’re wonderful creatures.
Liz Greene is a dog loving, beard envying, pop culture geek from the beautiful city of trees, Boise, Idaho. You can catch up with her latest misadventures on Instant Lo or follow her on Twitter @LizVGreene.