If you asked any old time farmer about free range chickens, they wouldn’t have a clue as to what you were talking about. Traditionally, chickens were all free range. They roamed across the barnyard and the front yard, merrily snatching up bugs and seeds as they went. The factory style method of raising poultry was virtually unknown.
Free range chickens are making a comeback, which is good news for the chicken and good economic practice for those who raise them. If you have the room and conditions appropriate for letting your chickens roam free, this is probably the most efficient and healthy way to go. During the day, chickens roam around pecking and eating at will, and return to their chicken coop at night, or in inclement weather. If you are lucky, they will return to their roost to lay their eggs, which is one of the reasons you are raising them in the first place.
Of course, not everyone has the proper environment for free range techniques. Obviously, if you live on a busy road or highway, you may occasionally lose one or two, as they sometimes tend to get a little too close to cars. Also, if your rural area has a population of foxes, coyotes, or stray dogs, your livestock may face entirely different dangers. Hawks, and other birds of prey may also pose a problem. In days gone by, the family dog, trained to avoid eating livestock, was the protector of these, and other farm animals.
Devotees of free range chicken raising swear that both the chickens and eggs are better because of this method. Left to their own devices, chickens will eat healthier, and stay healthier by being out in the open air. Certainly old timers will tell you that chickens, “back in the day”, tasted better than the supermarket fare, that are virtually all raised in factory farm environments, in enclosed areas, where they are raised from birth until they are butchered and sold.
On the other hand, those that promote free range ranching for humanitarian reasons are often criticized for being hypocritical, since, in the long run, some of these chickens are destined for the dinner table anyway.
Whether it’s better for the chicken or not, there is a certain classic, nostalgic atmosphere to the family farm where chickens are allowed to roam, and it is a method that is easier and less expensive to maintain.