The theory behind keeping free-range poultry—chickens that are allowed to roam the garden at their will—is wonderful, but the practice is not always quite so simple. While many people’s ideal is to have chickens scratching at the back door, picking at scraps and living a contented life, in reality things can be very different.
Although free-ranging poultry will eradicate insect pests and slugs in the garden, some of their habits are less welcome. Chickens and bantams love nothing more than a good dust bath to help rid themselves of parasites. They consider a well-prepared seed bed ideal for the purpose. To their minds, bark mulch that has been carefully placed around plants is scratching heaven. For these reasons alone, you may prefer to keep your chickens confined to a run. A run will also prevent your hens from laying their eggs in the shrubbery where you can’t find them. If well constructed, the run will protect them from neighborhood dogs and wild predators.
The amount of space needed in the run depends on whether your chickens can be given some free range. Generally it should be as big as is practical.
Note: This text is excerpted from Keeping Chickens by Jeremy Hobson & Celia Lewis (David & Charles, 2007).
Build your own chicken coop by following any of the 16 plans in Backyard Chickens Guide to Coops & Tractors. It also includes plans for 3 tractors, or portable chicken coops.
Learn all about raising chickens for eggs or meat with the beautifully photographed, comprehensive The Joy of Keeping Chickens: The Ultimate Guide to Raising Poultry for Fun or Profit, which was written by an organic gardener.
Think you need a lot of space in a rural zone to go back to basics and become self-sufficient? Not true. Check out Little House in the Suburbs, a guide to incorporating homesteading principles into your life in suburbia.