Raising Free Range Chicken 101: Benefits and Practical Tips
The current economic downturn in the U.S. doesn’t seem to see any visible relief, so people across the country are looking for ways to live cheaper, save some money, and go green. One of the more popular methods is to raise free range chicken.
This article plans to talk about the reasons why people are choosing to raise free range chickens and the benefits that can come out of it. Chickens, especially free range ones, can give their owners an endless supply of high-quality food. They are easy to raise and do not require much room.
What Does Free Range Chicken Mean?
Before we can talk about the benefits of raising free range chickens, we need to answer the most basic question: What does free range chicken mean? There can be two definitions of free range chickens, depending on who you ask.
The first answer pertains to the world of commercial chicken raising, where the standards are set by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). For a chicken to be sold as free range, it must have access to some outdoor space. Many imagine free range chicken just scratching through the grass of an open field, but the USDA says that even a few minutes spent outside makes a chicken a free range bird.
However, to any members of the homesteading community – the backyard chicken keepers – the term “free range chicken” has another meaning. To them, it means the flock stays outside of the confined area for all or at least part of the day.
The chickens may roam within a fenced pasture, in a backyard, or out in the open fields. But the important thing is that the flock moves around in nature at will. For our discussion today, we will refer to the second understanding of the term.
Tips for First Time Chicken Owners
So you decided you want to start raising your own chicks but you don’t know where to start. Below are a few practical tips to help you on your green adventure. Do not worry: Chickens are a lot less complicated than you might think!
- Start with chicks. It might sound like fun to incubate and hatch your first batch of chickens from eggs, but do yourself a favor and start with a bunch of chicks. Hatching your own birds may become more of a possibility in the future. For now, try to become accustomed to the needs of a chicken. Sometimes, the world of egg incubation can be quite frustrating.
- Do not go all-out with the coop. There are some crazy chicken coops out there, that’s for sure! Some of them have become fancier than an actual house, to the point that you can’t tell if they were intended for human or bird occupants. Do not let a fancy coop hold you back from raising a flock of your own. Chickens require much less than a 5-star resort to be healthy and happy. Your coop needs to be a place to roost and provide protection from predators.
- Keep things clean. Establish a routine that will help you keep your chicks and their coops clean. Dirty nesting boxes will make for some dirty eggs; they can also get the chickens sick, so keep an eye out.
- Stay natural. As your interest in chicken keeping grows, so will the tendency to complicate it. While it is up to you to design your chicken adventure, here are a few ways to keep your chickens as natural as possible:
- Let them free range when possible; it cuts down on your feed bill and provides them with a natural diet.
- Do not use chemicals to disinfect the coop; a natural, homemade solution should do the trick while also keeping the chicks healthy.
- Supplement their calcium intake by feeding them crushed egg shells.
- Do not force them into laying eggs with lights; chickens are made to take breaks from laying, so allow them to lay on their own schedule.
- Go homemade as much as possible. Avoid buying expensive chicken equipment by creating your own chick waterers and feeders out of repurposed items.
Benefits of Raising Free Range Chicken
Small farming comes with a plethora of benefits, not only for the farm owner, but also for the people participating in the process. The same is true for chicken farming; here are some of the benefits that come with buying and raising your own chicks.
• Higher Meat Quality. The very first health benefit of free range chicken is provided by the quality of meat. The prime cause is the fact that these hens feed on various insects and organisms rich in protein and other minerals. All of the poultry farming researchers believe the meat quality is positively affected by the insects consumed by the chicken.
• Lower Feed Cost. When the chickens roam free in an open air setting, the feed cost is sure to drop. Moreover, raising free range chickens also has a number of benefits for the environment, as they eat a lot of the insects in the area where they live.
• More Flavorful. This benefit is of special importance if you plan to eat the meat of your chick. Unsurprisingly, the chickens raised in a healthy setting give a deeper and more pleasant flavor. Furthermore, the chick’s bones are stronger as they always move around the area provided to them.
• No Antibiotics. Free range poultry has the benefit of lacking any kind of antibiotics that usually come with lab-grown chicken. Unlike the chicks you can grow in your backyard, the chicken raised in industrial settings is fed various forms of antibiotics.
• Higher Egg Quality. The quality of eggs is the most important aspect if you do not want to eat the meat of your chicken. Free range chickens yield higher levels of egg quality. Their eggs contain high amounts of protein and amino acid, as well as omega-3.
It might seem like a daunting prospect, but raising free range chickens comes with minimum responsibility and maximum benefits. All you need is a bit of determination, an open land (or a backyard) and the chicks themselves. Happy farming!