What Is Free Range?
In many ways, chickens are like us – we need our space, and so do they. Everybody enjoys the company of certain people more than others, and we all know of somebody who is difficult to get on with. Well, chickens are exactly the same and their needs are not just physical; they are extraordinarily sociable and inquisitive creatures who prefer to live in small groups and form strong social structures.
Each bird enjoys its own favourite place in the garden, whether it be for shade and relaxation, a dust bath, or a meeting point for a chat with freinds. If you want healthy, happy hens which lay the best eggs, you must give them plenty of space with an interesting environment.
Freedom of Expression
The feral chicken spends most of her waking hours ranging as she forages for food. She will observe, peck and scratch the surface leaves and superficial roots of vegetation in search of seeds and insects. She will often stalk through the grass with careful, measured steps, stopping and listening with tilted head and hawk-like gaze at the ground beneath. From a standing start, she takes a quick sprint for a passing moth, followed by a slow, sometimes crooked, amble as if she is planning how to best fill her action packed day. She enjoys sunbathing in the open, but will also seek refuge in the stillnesss and security of dense undergrowth.
A daily dust bath is enjoyed, to cleanse and maintain the skin and plumage. Her improvisation skills are best seen in her nest which is made in a sheltered and secluded place, using whatever materials are at hand, and with great skill. She always roosts in an elevated position, away from predators, sometimes as high as twelve to fifteen feet from the ground.
A good poultry keeper should allow and encourage this natural behaviour, and the rewards will be well worth the effort. Happy healthy hens – and the most amazing eggs.