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Do Free Range Chickens Need A Coop?

Have you ever thought do free range chickens need a coop? You’re not alone! A lot of people are interested in this topic, and for good reason. After all, you want to make sure your chickens are safe and happy, and giving them plenty of space to roam is a big part of that.

The answer is, that it depends. If you’re planning on letting your chickens roam free around your backyard, then they won’t need a traditional coop. However, you will still need to provide them with a safe place to sleep and lay eggs. This could be something as simple as a small shed or a covered pen. 

 In this article, we’ll discuss whether or not a coop is necessary, and if so, what kind of coop you should choose. By the end of this article, you’ll have all the information you need to make the best decision for your flock!

Do Free Range Chickens Need A Coop?

A coop shouldn’t be seen as a confining space but instead, as a secure space for your chickens. While it’s true that chickens can survive without a coop, there are several benefits to providing one:

  1. Protection from predators: This is one of the most important reasons to have a coop. A coop will protect your chickens from predators, both four-legged and two-legged.
  2. Keeps them dry and warm: Chickens are susceptible to cold weather, so a coop will help them stay warm and dry when the weather is bad.
  3. Egg laying: Chickens like to lay their eggs in a dark, private place. A coop will give them the perfect spot to lay their eggs.
  4. A place to roost: Chickens like to roost (sleep) off the ground. A coop will provide them with a safe place to do this.
  5. Coops help deter pests like rats and snakes: A well-built coop will deter pests like rats and snakes from taking up residence in your yard.

Ultimately, while free-range chickens don’t technically need a coop, it’s certainly beneficial to provide one.

Do Free Range Chickens Need A Coop? Free range chickens in a field

Do free-range chickens need a run?

Most people know that chickens need a coop to sleep in at night, but what about during the day? Do free-range chickens need a run?

While it is true that backyard chickens are perfectly capable of roaming around your yard without a run, there are several benefits to providing one.

  1. A chicken run helps to keep your chickens safe from predators.
  2. It can also provide some much-needed shade on hot days and protection from the elements on cold or rainy days.
  3. Can help to keep your lawn looking neat and tidy by preventing your chickens from scratching up the grass or digging in the dirt.

If you have a lot of predators in your area, then it is definitely important to give your chickens a run so that they can be safe. However, if you live in a relatively safe area, your chickens may be able to get by without a run. It really depends on your individual situation.

Side Note: What Defines A Free Range Chicken?

What exactly is a free-range chicken? Most people would describe a free-range chicken as one not kept in a restricted area but can move around the yard or farm at will, choosing what to eat and not being fed any artificial substances such as antibiotics.

However, this is very often not the case. The United States Department of Agriculture defines a free-range chicken as one which has access to the outdoors. The problem is that “outdoors” is not defined, nor is “access.” In theory, then, a chicken that is allowed out to a small concrete courtyard for a few minutes a day can legally be described as “free-range.”   

It’s not just a theory – many of the chickens described as free-range are kept in enclosed batteries for most of the day, fed with hormones and other growth stimulants, and allowed out into an enclosed concrete-floored yard for a minimum period each day.

Certified Humane Free Range And Pasture-Raised Chickens

The Humane Farm Animal Care organization {HFAC) provides precise requirements for chickens they certify:

Certified Humane Free Range chickens spend at least six hours a day in the open, with a minimum space of 2 square feet per bird.  

Certified Humane Pasture-Raised birds must have free access to the outdoors all year round, with either fixed or mobile sheltered housing for protection against weather or predators.

So for our purposes in this discussion, we will use the term “free-range” to mean chickens reared to the standards set down by the HFAC. As an aside, we suggest that when shopping for free-range chicken, you should buy only those with the Certified Humane label or those from a farm or breeder you know to be selling the real thing.

Alternatives To A Traditional Coop

There are several options to consider between the two extremes of total free-ranging and total coop living:

Chicken Tractors

Chicken tractors are small mobile coops that can be placed in a different area every few days or every evening to give the chickens a new place to forage for food, stay protected at night, and keep out of your garden flower beds and lawns. They come in various sizes and designs, with or without floors, and often on wheels for mobility.  

Moveable Fencing

Movable fencing can be erected in different sections of your land every few days to give the chickens new sources of food, control where they lay eggs, and keep predators at bay. You can combine movable fencing with portable laying boxes so that eggs are easy to find on a daily basis.  

Open Sheds

Open sheds walled on only three sides will give your chickens the choice of staying under cover or continuing to roam freely.

Using our accepted definition of a free-range chicken (see side note below), it is clear that a coop is not an essential piece of free-range chicken-raising equipment. Still, you should carefully consider the pros and cons of allowing total free-range freedom without any shelter at all.

Free Range Chickens Need some type of shelter but it does not have to be a coop

Disadvantages Of Raising Chickens Without A Coop

Even the HFAC, which is very much in favor of total freedom for chickens, stipulates that pasture-reared chickens should have access to a shelter that will provide them with the means to escape from adverse weather and allow the bird to decide whether or not to utilize it.

  • Chickens can withstand a certain amount of winter cold but are susceptible to frostbite and also cannot handle too much summer heat. For this reason, leaving them outside without any shelter may not be advantageous.
  • Predators are going to have easy prey if there is no protection for the chickens. Fences are not totally effective, and lockable coops are the best shelter.
  • When chickens are free to roam, you must expect to find poop everywhere. You will also find eggs everywhere if there is no incentive for the chicken to use a particular location in a quiet corner of the coop.
  • Chickens need dust baths, and they’ll happily use your prize flower beds for the purpose if they are handy.      

Can You Keep A Chicken In A Coop All The Time?

In our accepted definition, you can’t keep a free-range chicken in a coop all day and all night. But in certain circumstances, a chicken will live in a coop without being allowed to spend time outdoors, and in certain commercial chicken farms, this is precisely what happens.

Coops Will Work If They Are Designed To Provide The Chicken’s Needs

For a chicken to be productive, it needs to be content. And because chooks are curious, inquisitive birds, they need to be provided with toys, treats, and various forms of entertainment, as well as light. There’s no question that chickens prefer the outdoor life, scratching for bugs and worms, but they will survive being in a coop all day if you prepare it correctly.

When Is The Best Time To Let Chickens Out Of The Coop

Ideally, even free-range chickens should be encouraged to return to the coop at the end of the day when temperatures drop, and they are ready to rest. Most predators will attack after dark, so this is also a good reason for chickens to shelter in a secure place.

It’s also a fact that some predators, like foxes, will attack around dawn, so there’s no reason to let your chickens out of the coop before the sun is well and truly up. Ideally, your free-range chickens will then have a full day to enjoy the great outdoors.

Conclusion

We’ve hopefully persuaded you that, while some free-range chickens are left outside all day and night, there are several good reasons why even they would benefit from having a coop to call home and a safe, secure place to retreat to when and if they choose to.

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