I hate free range chickens. There. I said it. Let the stoning begin.
But first, perhaps I should clarify.
Let's just say that I lived out in the middle of a seventy three acre pasture. In said pasture, there was nothing but native grasses, and perhaps one bovine. I lived in a hut with no surrounding neighbors, cars, roads, gardens, animals, or landscaping.
In that scenario, I probably wouldn't hate free range chickens. But, as these things go, that is not the scenario we're in.
And thus, I do.
Free ranging sounds pretty, doesn't it? Do you picture chickens grazing amongst the clover, in the sunshine – green meadow, blue sky- with rainbows shooting out of their wing tips? Ya. I know. I did too.
… but that ain't reality, my friend. Especially on a working farm. Thus, the chicken run.
See how she's turning away from me? The snob.
Reasons I Hate Free Range Chickens
1. They scratch up my gardens.
Sometimes this is good, sure, like those three weeks a year when I don't have anything planted in it. But broccoli starts that I've been patiently and lovingly growing since the middle of February, gently transplanted out at the ideal time, mulched to perfection, only to have a rogue chicken scratch them up in a matter of minutes with their big stupid feet? Fu-get-about-it.
Yes. This happened last weekend. And I wept (It was before Pocket's death… it seemed big at the time. Don't judge me).
But lest you think chickens only save themselves for broccoli, let me assure you, they are a promiscuous bunch and willingly give themselves to any available scratching-up.
Such as my twenty new lavender plants. Or that beautiful climbing rose that survived the attack by an escaped lamb, only to fall victim to the poultry gangsters. In fact, until I fenced in my chickens, I didn't realize just how much had to be fenced to keep them off and away: raspberries, strawberries, lambs ear, the flower garden, both vegetable gardens, the ivy, the trumphet vine, the porch…
…and speaking of the porch, that leads me to a very, very significant second point:
2. They POOP EVERYWHERE.
Porch. Greeting mat. Cars. Hay. Feed boxes. Children's shoes. Golf cart. Grills. Tables. Coats. Camera cases. Toys. Tractors.
No surface is sacred from their defecation. I realized this the morning we got in the car for church, only to realize that a car door had been left open and a Buff Oprington thought it her obligation to apparently mark her territory on my seat in some sort of sacred chicken ritual reserved only for the finest of circumstances. Like leaving a giant chicken poo smear on the back of my maxi dress.
Don't worry. I changed.
I thought about just wiping it off (I am a homesteader, after all) but thought the smell to be far too offensive to fellow congregants. And ya know. God.
And speaking of smells, let's just talk about the giant elephant in the room here. THE SMELL! Oh lawdy. It's bad. It's baaaaaad. I'm quite accustomed to the smell of poo around here: I've got rabbit poo, sheep poo, cow poo, pig poo, and three human being's that seem to never stop going.
And yet still, chicken poo tops them all – it takes the cake! (That is, the poo-smelling-cake that would cause instantaneous death upon an attempt to eat it) And frankly, I just got tired of cleaning it off from everywhere all the time. I've got better things to do… like drink mojitos and contemplate heirloom vegetable varieties and stuff.
3. They lay in naughty places.
Just for fun, let's take stock of all the places we've found loose eggs:
The trunk of the van, the bed of the truck, the grill, under the house, inside the house, in the neighbor's dog kennel… and in the neighbor's hedge, in the shop, in the haystack, in the shrubs, in the cow shelter, in the field, in buckets, in the tomatoes…
Shall I go on?
Now… I don't know about your farm… but we don't have any of those money trees growing around here. So that organic, local, non-GMO feed that I splurge on to feed the chickens? It better be putting food on my table in the form of eggs, man. If I'm only collecting 80% of what they're producing, that's just bad economics for the farm.
The Solution: A Chicken Run
I do love the idea of chickens scratching for their food. I think it's important and healthy for them (this standard is what got is into this mess in the first place). That being said, we came up with some middle ground that has served us well – a chicken run. And even though our chickens aren't completely free-range anymore (that is, they have boundaries), they still have a huge chunk of fresh land to scratch up as they'd please.
Decide On An Area For The Chicken Run
We first had to decide how much of our land we were willing to open up to these ladies. The hill behind the coop seemed to be an obvious choice for their chicken paradise. It gave them over 3000 square feet to roam free and eat other things besides my rosemary.
Fence The Chicken Run
We opted for round posts and 2×2 kennel fencing. It's not the cheapest option available, but since this is very visible from our house, the aesthetic aspect did matter to me. I know, I know, Joel Salatin says the aesthetics of an operation don't matter much. But I'm a woman who likes pretty things – I can't help myself. I love the way that the round posts and fencing look structured, but still natural.
Because the kennel fencing only came 4 ft tall (chicken fact: they can seriously fly pretty dang high), I simply strung some natural twine a few more feet up the round posts to help deter any hoppers.
We installed a gate so that we can easily enter and exit The Chicken Palace with a wheelbarrow or tractor.
And then I planted some clematis and hardy kiwi alongside that shall climb the fence and create a living barrier full of beautiful blossoms and fruit.
… unless I kill them. Which, let's face it, I've been known to do a time or two.
… but I still had to try. I love climbing plants and the look they give to spaces. Can't just picture this? A beautiful, flowing wall of clematis lining our driveway? Ahh… dreams…
Police The Area
We've had a few rebels. Chickens that are used to ranging over 10 acres don't take too well to confinement, at first. But luckily, I'm the boss. And what I say goes. And I say “Lay your danged eggs in the danged chicken coop and stay out of my danged broccoli, crazy poultry gangsters!”
They listen. Some of the time.
There are two white ones that are refusing to place by the rules and shall be re-homed to my Mama's coop shortly. Great chickens. But seriously hazardous to a spring garden full of sprouts.
Enjoy The Chicken Run In All Its Glory
Life is much more peaceful without the chickens causing chaos. After all, there are still those little humans and puppies that I have to contend with. And I love that I can still see them scratching, pecking, sunning, dust bathing, and frolicking from my windows. I love that they are still in an entirely open area, full of sunshine, soil, bugs, compost, and life.
Couple that with the fact that they're safer from the neighbor's dogs, and it's really a win-win situation.
Win-win because at this moment, there is no chicken poo on my house shoes AND I have eggs on my breakfast plate.
And that deserves an Amen.
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