Free-ranging urban chickens is a great way for your city flock to get some much needed exercise, take dust baths, find tasty plants and bugs to eat, and entertain themselves.
We truly can’t speak highly enough about the benefits of free-ranged hens.
With that said, free ranging in the city comes with its own specific challenges.
The smaller yard space means you’ll have to get creative to ensure the hens don’t destroy your yard. If you grow gardens, you’ll have to take it a step further, as chickens love to devour and scratch up plants.
Although it may take a few extra steps to let your flock free range, it’s well worth the effort. There’s nothing so entertaining as watching free birds run and frolic in the yard.
Free-Ranging Urban Chickens
City living tends to come with a lot more litter blowing into the yard, and that litter can, and will, be eaten by your flock.
Chickens aren’t particular about what they eat, and you’ll see them sampling every bit of trash that’s blown into your yard, picking at tin foil and snack wrappers, trying to gobble down plastic bags, devouring styrofoam and sampling cigarette butts.
If you’re free-ranging urban chickens, make sure the yard is completely and totally clear of trash first.
Lead in the soil
Another thing to think about when free-ranging urban chickens is lead paint. Older homes in many areas of the United States were painted with lead based paint, which is now chipping off into yards and entering the soil. Lead might be found on older sheds and garages as well.
Chickens are very likely to sample, if not eat lead paint chips, and that will not only lead to problems with their health but yours as well.
Eating the eggs or meat from chickens who swallowed lead laden paint chips could transmit some of the heavy metals into your body as well. Before letting chickens free range in your yard, it’s a good idea to look into whether lead paint is something to worry about in your city.
It would be smart to conduct a lead test on the soil surrounding your home if you suspect lead paint has been used anywhere. Also, make sure there isn’t any paint chipping off the house into the surrounding yard. Checking for lead is not only good for your chickens, but for your family as well!
One of the big downsides to raising chickens in the city is the fact that there isn’t much space for them to free-range. Most city yards are small, which doesn’t give your chickens a lot of exercise.
The first summer that we had chickens, we let the birds out all day, every day. By the end of the summer the only survivors in our garden were the toughest, woodiest plants, and even they weren’t looking too good.
Chickens scratch at everything, and if they only have a small space to range in, they will destroy it. We learned the hard way that there are plenty of ways to keep the chickens from tearing apart the yard.
Most chickens don’t mind being contained by a fence, and won’t make the effort to cross it. Occasionally, however, you’ll get the one bird that truly believes the grass is always greener on the other side. Little do they know, it’s quite the opposite.
Be it neighborhood dogs, heavy traffic, nosy neighbors, or hungry predators, the other side of the fence is no safe haven for your flock.
Chicken tractor for Free-Ranging Urban Chickens
A chicken tractor is a small and moveable fenced in area for chickens to range in. It can be as simple as a ring of chicken wire, or as complex as an A-frame structure on wheels. These structures are great for keeping the chickens out of trouble while still affording them some fun.
Supervised Free-Range Time
If you spend a lot of time in the backyard, you can keep an eye on the flock while they’re out free ranging.
This has the added benefit of getting to watch what we call “chicken TV.”
There’s always something new on the chicken channel!
Shortened free time
We recommend only letting the chickens out for a few hours each day. It’s easiest to let the chickens free range for an hour or two before dusk. This way they’ll all go back into the coop on their own.
Trust me, we’ve been through it, this is the easiest way.
If you’re concerned about the risk to your gardens even with supervised and shortened free range time, read on!
How to Keep Free-Ranging Urban Chickens out of the Garden:
Chicken tunnels can be a great solution to allowing your chickens out, but keeping them contained.
Fencing off the garden
Fences are very effective at keeping chickens out of the garden. You can easily put up a fence using chicken wire and poles.
This is not to say that your chickens won’t on occasion accidentally fly right into the garden by mistake. This is why it’s a good idea to check on your free ranging flock frequently.
Another good trick to keep chickens on the right side of the fence is to use flexible fencing. Chickens love to fly to the top rail of a sturdy fence and jump down to the other side. However, they’ll almost never try to land on a flexible plastic or chicken wire fence that will bend underneath them.
We found this simple trick to be just the ticket to keep chickens out of the garden.
Chicken tractors are not only good to keep the hens from destroying your yard, they’ll keep them out of the garden too!
Letting the chickens help in the garden
Chickens and gardens really go hand in hand. Letting your chickens help in the garden can cut down on weeds and pests, till the soil, and provide fertilizer.
We let our flock into the fenced garden several times throughout the growing season.
We let the chickens into the garden prior to planting to eat bugs and weed seeds to their heart’s delight. While they scratch and dig in the soil, they’re effectively tilling the soil and getting it ready for planting.
They also deposit nitrogen rich fertilizer into the beds, which provides good food for our future plants. We let them back into the garden at the end of the season to help out with clean up!
They absolutely adore the chance to work in the garden, and their efforts are beneficial to all parties.