Can You Keep Free Range Chickens In Your Backyard?
If you don’t live on a farm or large property, but you still like the idea of having freshly laid eggs, you might be wondering, can you keep free range chickens in your backyard?
Yes, you can keep free range chickens in your backyard, but it would be wise to check with your local council rules and regulations and/or your body corporate or homeowners association first. If you have a fully fenced yard then you shouldn’t have any trouble keeping some chickens in it.
While it is certainly possible to keep some free range chickens in your backyard, there are a lot of things to consider before you take the plunge and get yourself some hens. For instance, how many chickens will be able to live comfortably within the space you have? How do you keep them safe? And what will you feed them?
How Much Space Do Free Range Chickens Need?
Backyards come in all different shapes and sizes, so just how many chickens will your backyard be able to cope with? Below is a rough guide to how many chickens can be kept per square meter and also per acre if you’re lucky enough to have that much land at your disposal.
How Many Free Range Chickens Per Square Meter?
Firstly, there’s commercially grown ‘free range’ chickens, bred and grown on poultry farms and then there’s the backyard free range chickens we’re talking about here.
As far as commercial ventures are concerned, 6 birds per square meter is allowed.
As for our backyard free range chickens, the advice is varied, some say you will need 1 square meter per hen while others state that 2 square meters per hen is preferable to give the birds some space.
If you prefer to measure in square feet, the advice varies from 10 square feet to 15 square feet for each hen. Some will even go as far as to say that to be truly ‘free range’ each chicken should have 25 square feet of space.
So it would be fair to say that you can fit ½ to 1 chicken per square meter of space you have available in your backyard. But keep in mind, the more space you can provide, the happier your chickens will be.
How Many Free Range Chickens Per Acre?
If you’re lucky enough to have an acreage with a spare acre to keep your chickens, it is recommended to fill each acre with a maximum of 50 chickens. This allows enough space for them to be truly ‘free range’.
How Far Will Free Range Chickens Roam?
Free range chickens are clever enough to know where there is food, water and shelter for them and so they don’t tend to roam too far away from their chicken coops.
Free range chickens might roam anywhere from 100-400 yards (90-365 meters) away from their coop if their free range space allows it. But they will usually always return home to roost each evening.
Keeping Free Range Chickens Safe
Where Do Free Range Chickens Sleep?
First of all we need to clarify something – there are two different types of free range chickens. The first type is completely free range.
These birds do not have a chicken coop or special shelter made for them by their humans. They are left to their own devices, to roam free and fend for themselves. This type of free range chicken will often sleep at night in a tree or some other place they have found to roost.
The second type of free range chicken is more common. This type of chicken is allowed out into a (usually fenced) yard to ‘free range’ each day, but will then return to its shelter or coop to sleep each night.
Why Don’t Free Range Chickens Run Away?
Free range chickens don’t usually run away because they are provided with shelter, food and water by their owners so they like to stay close to the area where they feel protected and safe.
If a chicken is completely free range with no shelter provided, they might wander away if they get frightened by something (like a dog or a fox) as they will look for a safer place to be.
Free Range Chickens in Winter
Historically chickens were always free range, no matter what the season or the weather. So, yes, you can continue to free range your chickens during the winter months, but you might not want to!
Depending on where you live, how cold it gets and whether or not you get snow, some people prefer to keep their chickens in their coop for the coldest part of winter.
That’s why the best kind of chicken coop will also incorporate a chicken run, or a large fenced-in area where the chickens can move about a bit more than inside their coop.
You’ll also want to equip your chicken coop with some special equipment like a heated chicken waterer so their water supply doesn’t freeze during those cold temperatures.
Best Chicken Coop for Free Range Chickens
The best type of chicken coop for your free range chickens will incorporate an indoor space where the hens feel safe to roost as well as an outdoor space or chicken run where they can ‘spread their wings’, so to speak, a bit more.
Having the chicken run also provides a better environment for your hens in the winter months if you don’t want to let them out free ranging during the day.
There are plenty of chicken coops available, here’s an example of one that offers both the indoor and outdoor space:
You can find out more about chicken coops and other chicken farming equipment you might need here.
Will Free Range Chickens Lay Eggs?
One of the main reasons people like to take on some backyard chickens is so that they can enjoy some lovely free range eggs.
There’s nothing nicer than collecting eggs from your hen house or your garden and then taking them straight to your kitchen for a lovely home cooked meal! If you’re new to backyard chickens, you probably have some questions about free range chickens and their laying habits.
When Do Free Range Chickens Lay Eggs?
Your chickens should start laying eggs at around the age of 18 weeks. It might be a bit hit and miss for a while and you might find irregularly shaped eggs or eggs with a very thin shell. But as your hens mature, their eggs will improve, with their peak laying performance being at around 30 weeks of age.
Chickens will commonly lay their eggs in the morning, just in time for your morning omelet! But they can lay any time between 2 and 6 hours after the sun rises.
Chickens will often slow down their egg production, or stop laying at all, during the long, cold, dark winter months.
If it’s not winter and your chickens have stopped laying, you might need to look for other reasons why your chickens have stopped laying.
Where Do Free Range Chickens Lay Their Eggs?
Free range chickens can lay their eggs pretty much anywhere so, if they’re completely free range, be on the lookout for eggs in your garden.
If your hens have a coop/hen house or nesting box, you can train them to lay their eggs where you would like them to. Keep their nesting boxes filled with clean, dry straw.
Once your hens are of a laying age, put some golf balls or other, egg-like objects in the nesting boxes or where you would like the eggs to be laid. This will help to teach the hens where to lay their eggs.
How Often Do Free Range Chickens Lay Eggs?
How often your free range chickens lay eggs will depend completely on the breed of chickens you have. Some breeds will lay once a day while others are more like once a week. If you’re not getting any eggs from your chickens, check our guide about why your chickens might have stopped laying eggs.
Feeding Free Range Chickens
Even truly free range chickens that are left to fend for themselves for shelter will normally be provided with some sort of food by their owners.
Meanwhile, partially free range chickens, who are sheltered in the coop overnight, are often enticed back to the coop with some chicken feed. Here’s what you need to know about feeding free range chickens.
How Often Should I Feed Free Range Chickens?
Chickens, especially free range chickens, are great at foraging for food. They’ll happily spend their days poking about for insects and greenery. However, if you want a good supply of eggs, you’ll want to keep your chickens healthy, and the best way to do that is to feed them.
Your free range chickens should always have access to food. It’s a good idea to have two feeders, one inside the coop and one outside that they can access during the day while they are free ranging. Keep an eye on both feeders and top them up when necessary.
Most people tend to their chickens at least twice a day – in the morning to collect the eggs and let them out to free range and in the afternoon/evening to put them safely to bed. Check their feeders each time and top them up when necessary.
What’s The Best Food For Free Range Chickens?
Your free range chickens can enjoy scraps from your kitchen, but you’ll also want to keep them well supplied with chicken feed.
Up to about 5 weeks of age, your baby chicks can feed on ‘chick crumbs’ which will provide them with plenty of protein for growth.
During their next growth phase of 6-18 weeks, your chickens should be having ‘growers pellets’ or ‘growers mash’ which is also a good source of protein to help with growth.
Once your chickens have reached laying age, 18 weeks and older, they can graduate to ‘layers pellets’ or ‘layers mash’ which will provide them with the nutrients they need to provide you with some lovely free range eggs.
What Chickens Are Best For Free Range?
There are many different chicken breeds but which ones are the best for free range? To be a ‘good’ free range chicken, you’ll want birds that are good at foraging, can camouflage well into their surroundings (for safety) and, presumably, ones that are good at laying eggs.
Here are a few breeds that fit this category well:
- Rhode Island Red
- Plymouth Rock
- Golden Buff
- White Leghorn
- Silver Spangled Hamburg
- Egyptian Fayoumi
If you do a quick bit of research into each breed of chicken, you’re sure to find the breed that you like the look of best and one that will suit you and your backyard needs.
Keeping free range chickens in your backyard can be done and it’s a fun way to get your own ‘homemade’ free range eggs. Backyard chickens make great pets as they are fun to watch as they forage around and are easy to keep and look after once you have the right equipment in place. And they give you eggs!
If you’re thinking about taking on some free range backyard chickens, or even if you already have some and just want to know more about how to look after them, we’d highly recommend Chickenpedia!
Everything you need to know about raising chickens all in one place, it truly is the ultimate resource for every chicken owner – check it out now!