Have you ever wanted to provide your chickens with the benefits of free-ranging while keeping them safe from predators? That is precisely how I felt when I started keeping chickens. I wanted to provide my girls with a healthy free-range lifestyle, but I didn’t want them to be in predatorial danger.
Free-ranging had benefits, but was it worth risking my flock’s safety? Was there a way to provide chickens with the nutrition they needed to lay healthy eggs for my family in an enclosed run? With those thoughts in mind, I began my flock’s journey of faux free-ranging.
What is Faux Free-Ranging?
Faux free-ranging uses a chicken tractor or another moveable run to give chickens and other poultry daily access to fresh greens and bugs while keeping them safe from predators. You can purchase a chicken tractor from a manufacturer or go online to find some neat plans and build your own.
Whether you construct your own or buy an already-assembled chicken tractor, there are several things you should include.
- 10 to 15 square feet of room for each chicken (if you can allow it, more space is better)
- Nesting boxes for laying hens
- Protection from aerial predators, ground-dwelling predators and digging predators
- Easily moveable (Preferably, your chicken tractor should have wheels and a handle to push or pull your run to the next pasture.)
- An attached predator-proof coop if you are housing chickens in a chicken tractor overnight.
Now that you know what your chicken tractor should include, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of predator-proofing.
There is no point in faux free-ranging if predators can still gain access to your flock. If a predator enters the chicken tractor, there is no way for your trapped chickens to escape their deadly fate. Take all necessary precautions to prevent your flock from all predator attacks to ensure your and your flock’s peace of mind.
There are several ways to prevent predators from attacking your flock. Overhead protection, heavy-gage wire and predator skirts are some of the best ways to protect your chickens.
16-gauge half-inch hardware cloth is one of the best ways to deter climbing and aerial predators from accessing your chicken tractor through the roof.
Securing the top of the run with a weatherproof, heavy-duty tarp provides an out-of-sight, out-of-mind barrier so aerial predators can’t see the chickens. It will also offer protection from the hot summer sun.
Heavy Gauge Wiring
Even though chicken wire is known as the all-purpose wire to keep chickens in and predators out, the truth is chicken wire does little to protect your flock. Chicken wire is so flimsy that foxes and raccoons have no problems chewing right through it.
To completely keep predators out, use a PVC-coated 16-gauge half-inch hardware cloth.
Attaching predator skirts to the bottom outside perimeter of your chicken tractor will prevent digging predators from accessing your run. To do this, you will need three tools.
- PVC-coated 16-gauge 3/4-inch hardware cloth
- Heavy-duty zip ties
- Metal stakes
Attach 18 inches of hardware cloth to the bottom outside perimeter of the run. Secure in place by driving the stakes through the hardware cloth into the ground.
Are you still in? Let’s examine the health benefits faux-free-ranging can provide you and your flock.
Daily access to pasture is crucial to keeping your flock healthy by providing chickens access to the fresh greens and bugs they need to stay healthy.
Faux-free-ranging reduces stress and anxiety while lessening your flock’s chances of contracting coccidiosis, internal parasites and other poultry-related diseases.
A Healthier You
Have you ever checked out the comparison between pasture-raised or free-range eggs and meat versus non-free-range? Free-range eggs contain a quarter less saturated fat, three times more vitamin E, twice the amount of omega-3 fatty acids, a quarter less cholesterol, seven times more beta carotene, and two-thirds more vitamin A.
Free-ranging chickens also produce higher-quality meat containing more iron, omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants than non-pastured chickens. To learn more about the benefits of consuming pastured-raised chickens, click here.
Throw in how much better your eggs and meat will taste, and it’s a win-win.
So yes, with faux-free-ranging, it is possible to keep your chickens safe from predators and provide your flock with the health benefits of a free-range diet while providing you with healthier eggs and meat.