Free Ranging: The Pros & Cons

Lindsay Holmwood / Flickr (Creative Commons)

When I brought my first animals home to the farm there was no question in my mind as to whether they would live the life of free range animals. I wanted my animals to be just as free as I was, free to explore, roam, hunt for food, and live their own life while coexisting with the humans.

pigs eating
Photo by Green Mountain Girls Farm via Flickr/Creative Commons

The pros of free-ranging outweigh the cons. If you can’t be home to free range the feather and fur babies full-time you can do partial free ranging.

The Pros Of Free Ranging

Happier Animals

For me, happy animals are what farming is all about. They enjoy running, playing, and, more than anything, foraging for their own food and sustenance. Freedom to roam and explore makes them happy. Without it, they can become sad and depressed just like humans do.

I volunteered at a Wild Cat Animal Sanctuary several years back in Ohio where we rescued abused and neglected animals like lions, tigers, and bears. To see them get out and free range was incredible.

Saves Money

Whether your animals are fully free ranged or partially free ranged you can save a lot of money on their animal feed.

Running even a small organic farm with a few animals can become expensive when your sole food supply is buying through an organic feed seller.

It’s Healthier

Animals aren’t supposed to be constantly consuming tiny condensed pellets of food. When your animal can get out and forage for the food it needs, it will eat exactly what it should be eating.

chickens pecking about the yard
Lindsay Holmwood / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Animals usually know what is good for them. Dogs and cats, for example, will eat grass—but only when they have an upset stomach. It’s the same with farm animals. (With the exception of goats—they’ll eat just about anything.)

It’s more than just the food they’re eating that is healthier—it’s the exercise, fresh air, and calm feelings that help them be healthy.

Fewer Insects

When you have chickens, duck, geese, or other insect-eating birds free ranging around the homestead, the amount of insects will decrease greatly.

Different birds prefer different insects but it can really help keep down ticks, mosquitos, and other pesky critters.

Better Production

Free ranged chickens, goats, ducks, and any other animal that produce something for the farm will often have better quality eggs, milk, etc.

Chickens egg amounts seem to increase and become a little larger, and the same is true with ducks. Goat’s milk seems to be a little sweeter too!

Increased production is also good news for nursing mama goats and cattle. Animals know what they need. They’ve been caring for themselves for much longer than we have been.

The Cons Of Free Ranging

Supervision Is Important

Animals can be very much like a toddler no matter what age they are. If you have neighbors or a busy road nearby you will need to keep an eye on the critters or they might just go have a day on the town.
They are curious by nature and need an extra eye.

Free Ranging Animals Will Eat Your Garden

Chickens, goats, rabbits, and many other animals will flock to your garden and feast.

What they don’t feast on they usually leave dangling by a thread. So if you do free range it’s best to keep the garden fenced in or train them to stay out. Good luck! It is possible with a little time and patience.

Dusty Bird Baths

Chickens and other birds like to scratch the grass away to get to the dusty dirt which they then roll and bathe in. It is a pro/con in itself because the dusting helps them stay clean—as strange as that sounds.

chicken dust bath
A free range chicken enjoying a dust bath. hardworkinghippy / Flickr (Creative Commons)

Hiding Eggs

Any bird that free ranges, especially a broody mama bird, will make a nest away from home so she can keep her eggs to herself.

Again this reverts back to the first con of keeping a close eye on your feathered babies.

Manure

Your free-range animal will poop wherever it feels like. It will likely do so in places you may prefer to keep poop-free, like your deck chairs. This adds clean-up time for you and also makes manure collection harder. It’s a little harder to keep the manure for composting when it’s everywhere.

Predation

The further your animals roam around the perimeter of your property the further their scent will carry allowing predators to pick up their scent.

Without shelter or cover they are more prone to predator attacks. Bigger birds like hawks will scoop a chicken up without a problem—unless the chicken fights them off.

The Happy Medium

You can use a chicken tractor to let the chickens have more space to run about freely yet under cover. They will have freedom but protection at the same time. It also makes it a little easier to keep the manure for the gardens.

Not only is there the option of the tractor but you could also designate a run for them just like we do with dogs. Allow them to have a penned in area to roam about allowing them freedom to graze and enjoy the outdoors, while remaining in a fenced area. It’s a win-win.

Elaina Garcia lives on a tiny homestead in a tiny house in Arkansas. She lives as close to an organic lifestyle as possible and loves raising animals and growing food. Elaina is originally a New York native who traveled the US looking for the right place to call home.

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