Which Will It Be: Free-Range or Caged Chickens?

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Survival Diva here to discuss one of the best ways to generate a steady source of protein whether you live in the city or the country.  Due to a renewed interest in a back-to-basics lifestyles, many city dwellers are being allowed to keep chickens within city limits. You will likely need a permit if you live in the city, and it’s almost a certainty you won’t be allowed to have a rooster—they tend to tick off the neighbors with their pre-sunrise crowing—but hens will lay with or without a rooster, and if you’re looking for a steady source of protein then chickens are the perfect answer.

But, before we get started, a little discussed factoid needs to be pointed out. Chickens do their best egg laying in the first year or two of life. After that, you’re probably going to want to add them to a stew pot to ensure that they’re not costing you more in feed than they’re producing in eggs.

Free Range Chickens

There are several definitions of “Free Range”, but in general, it means that the chickens are allowed enough space to run around and hunt and peck for food.

You will need an acre or two of land to provide forging for a flock of free-rangers. In some cases, even rural conditions will not provide the bugs, seed and wild grasses necessary for free-range chickens to thrive. Look around. Do those living close by keep free-rangers? Are there turkeys, or quail foraging in your area? If so, it’s safe to assume your chickens will thrive, but you will want to watch the situation closely at first.

There are reasons other than financial to choose free rangers. Their eggs contain 1/3 less cholesterol, ¼ less fat, 2/3 more vitamin A, 2 times more omega-3 fatty acids, three times more vitamin E, and 7 times more beta-carotene. Free-range chickens can forage for around half of their supper until winter months, particularly true in northern climates when foraging beneath snow is impossible. Whether you decide on free-range or caged chickens, you’ll need to buy…you guessed it; a couple of books on raising them: One on their care and feeding, specific to either free range or caged chickens, and the other a veterinary manual, such as the Merck Veterinary Manual. It has an in-depth section on chicken diseases and gives detailed information on how to care for injured birds. Doctoring your flock will save you vet bills now, and prepare you for the future, when it may not be possible to reach a vet. Be sure to put aside the medicines recommended for disease control for your flock.

As with every decision we make regarding self-sufficiency, thinking smart means preparing for a future that may not offer the conveniences we enjoy now. You will need to decide if growing your own feed has the return you will benefit from later on. This will take research, as feed recipes vary and there is not one “right” grain or grain mix to use. If you don’t have the land to pasture your flock, where they will have a diet of bugs and seed, you might consider setting aside feed. However the nutritional value of commercial feed degrades over time. Our forefathers raised chickens by letting them forage for their meals and by giving them table scraps as a supplement.

During these relatively good times, and if your flock is big enough, you may decide to sell extra eggs, which can cover your expenses while still providing plentiful eggs for your own table.

If you can’t find a 4Her headed to college or a new chicken farmer who’s giving up early who want to get rid of their flocks, it’s best to get day-old chicks from a hatchery that has been recommended to you. Ask neighbors who keep chickens; they’ll be able to provide sound advice that may save you the frustration of choosing the wrong source or breed of chicks. It’s advisable to choose a scrappy breed that hasn’t had the instinct for survival of living off the land bred out of them. They should also be a breed that thrives in your climate zone. If you plan on using your flock for meat as well as eggs, then you’ll want to investigate a meat breed.

Predators cannot be completely avoided and the loss of a flock’s only rooster would mean replenishing your flock with chicks might not be possible. For this reason, it is wise to subscribe to an heir and a spare, so that if a rooster ends up being a coyote’s dinner, your flock will continue to thrive. Because roosters can be aggressive, many homesteaders shy away from keeping more than one, but when planning for survival it’s worth considering the added challenge in exchange for a thriving flock.

Chicks are best raised by keeping them in heated stock tanks, or when on a tight budget, raising them in a draft-free location in your home. Timing is important. If you get your chicks in summer, they will have time to grow large enough to roost, producing smaller eggs at first, but larger ones by the next spring. As the chicks get older, and no longer require a heat source, they can be moved to small outdoor cages. Although some keep free-range chickens out in the open, it’s safest to provide a wire enclosure for times when they aren’t foraging. This better protects them from predators. Those that keep their free-rangers more exposed typically depend upon a watchdog to drive off predators. Such a dog needs to be trained or they, too, may develop a craving for chicken.

The chicken coop can be kept simple, but must have brooding boxes. Typically 4 hens will share a 2’ X 2’ brooding box. Make certain you have provided enough brooding space for the number of hens you plan to keep, or they may begin to lay out in the field, which will draw predators to your property. The brood boxes should be mounted off the floor, allowing room beneath them for chickens to move about. Build a ramp running from the ground to the box(s) so your hens can reach them with ease. Brooding box(s) should be installed in a dark location away from drafts.

They should be enclosed on three sides with the front left open for hens to get in and out of with ease. The roof of your coop and brooding area must have a sound roof, so your flock can stay out of the rain. You will need to provide plentiful water in freeze-proof containers (think solar) and a feeder that is protected from vermin.

The ground of the enclosure itself will need to provide at least one square feet, preferably two, of space per chicken to roam.

Although the mother hen is the best way to hatch eggs without electricity, if there will be a large numbers of eggs, kerosene-powered incubators are available at Lehman’s.

For the first month, chicks are fed chick feed, which is slightly medicated to stave off disease. As they get a little older, it’s time to begin training them to go out in the field in the daytime, and return to the coop at night. Once the birds are fully-grown, feed them once a day at dusk for 1 to 1 ½ hours and then take away the feed. This will encourage them to forage for their own food of bugs, seeds and grasses. As mentioned, there must always be a source of fresh water kept in a freeze-proof container.

You will want to water your flock out in the field if you don’t have a natural water source. Otherwise, they may decide to spend the day lazing around the coop, expecting you to supply their feed.

Training your flock takes patience and time, but once you’re successful, plan on spending around 1 hour a week on maintenance.

Expect around a 10% natural attrition of your flock. When you see anything worrisome with your one of your chickens, like bloody stool or lethargy, it’s time to reefer to a veterinary manual such as the Merck Veterinary Manual.

Note: Free Range chickens can be as heartless as deer with regards to a garden! To avoid their decimating your crop, hang poultry netting, hung loosely between stakes surrounding the garden.

Caged Chickens

Caged chickens require more food and plenty of room to roam, as they will not have the benefit of exploring out in the field. Caged chickens aren’t as exposed to the dangers of predators as long as care is taken when building their coop. Caged chickens should be given 2 square feet of coop space pr. chicken. This will prevent egg eating and cannibalism. As with free-range chickens, brood boxes are best built up off the floor around 2 feet from the ground with sufficient room for hens to lay their eggs. The coop must have good insulation to avoid the buildup of toxic fumes and should be well insulated against the elements. Flooring must be kept clean and is best made of concrete to help keep vermin away that will eat your flock’s feed and may carry disease. Give your chickens somewhere to roost, as chickens prefer to sleep off the ground. Make sure there are sufficient feeders and waterers to provide for your flock. Adding a chicken run will lead to happy chickens but be sure the wire enclosure is sturdy enough to keep predators out.

That concludes the basics of raising chickens, but there’s still more to the story. For those of you with experience raising chickens, please share by commenting below! Have any great tips on chicken coops or questions? Don’t be shy. Your comments are valuable!

And remember, if you are looking for preparedness gifts for loved ones, check out my NEW physical and digital combo FastestWayToPrepare.com package.  Order today for Christmas delivery by clicking >HERE< or, for the text only page, click >HERE<.

God Bless and Stay Safe,

David Morris and Survival Diva





  1. As far as doubling the value of your feed, if you buy organic barley seed for chickens, throw a cup in water to soak overnight, then spread it out in a tray by a window inside, it will start to root. The root mat will then start to grow barley grass. Just as it does, take that mat of seed and root out to the chickens. You just turned one pound of seed into two pounds of feed, and the root mat is much higher in vitamins than the seed is. Also, buy dietomacious earth, FOOD GRADE, and mix about a half cup with a pound of chicken pellets and feed it to them for about a week. It kills internal parasites and keeps the eggs being laid, a lot cleaner. You can dust the chickens with DE as well and it will kill mites. You can dust the inside of their coop, too, and it will keep flies and parasites down in the coop. Look up dietomacious earth FOOD GRADE and see how it is used in humans, horses, and live stock. Keep sprinkling your lawn with it and it will kill the grubs in the lawn which send the moles looking somewhere else for food.

  2. People making chicken keeping so complicated these days. They are no trouble at all. We can have 6 hens in the city where I live. City chickens are not free range, but when raised in a coop with a fenced run they are fine as that’s all they’ve ever known. Chickens have been living for hundreds of years without a heated coop. Have the litter in your coop at least 6″ deep and they will settle into it if they’re cold. My 7 month old girls just went through their first near zero night and were out waiting for their morning treat as usual. I always tell people that you’ll never have garbage in your trash and there isn’t anything a chicken won’t eat. Avoid giving them onions or garlic as they can flavor the eggs. My only concession to modern convenience is a heated waterer as I don’t want to have to hassle with frozen water every morning if I don’t have to.

    • Hello my name is steve. I recently have purchased some land and am wanting to get a flock going. I had some questions for you if you dont mind. I kind of want some advice through this whole process. What kind of material did you use to build your coop and how big was it. thank you for your help!

  3. Our problem is hawks. We have birds of prey constantly cruising the neighborhood. Sometimes there are raccoons and foxes snooping around too but mostly its those persistent hawks.

  4. I have chickens on my list of need-to-get. I love to get lots of information about raising them. I have read books and talked to others that have raised them. We had them as children. Now it is time to stop thinking and start doing. Thanks for all the good information. I will DEFINITELY keep my dogs away from the chickens, although I worry more about the 3 Shih Tzu’s than I do the chickens! The chickens could give them a run for their money!

  5. If you live in a cold climate,you might not want Chickens. I had 6 when I went to Bed one night.
    They lived freely in the barn,A storn in the night,temp dropped to 30 below,and in the AM I had
    6 Frozen Chickens. I felt terrible for them. I suppose a person could heat the Hen House to keep
    this from happening. Trying to live the old way nowdays seems a lot more expensive then it use to’

    • My flock is comfortable at 20 below. There are several places they can go (open doors). One of them is a shelter that has a straw floor, one door that does not go to the ground, and narrow openings near the top. Chickens nestle together in the straw when it’s cold. Not all of them, I think.

  6. If you are considering chickens, also look into ducks as an option. They lay all year around, unlike chickens, and they are much easier on a garden. Also, you don’t have the “rooster” problem with males. Their eggs are also larger.

  7. All good points! I would like to add that in nearly all urban living it’s illegal to have chickens in your yard, so, you might be best to team up with someone who has space outside of the legal boundaries. In rural areas, as you mentiioned and in country living, predators are quite a problem. Mostly coyotes and hawks. Racoons & opossums love to rob the eggs as well as larger snakes. It’s important to have a dog or two which will help keep most predators away.
    Should you decide on caged hens you must beaware that all commercial feed is GMO. This is one of the primary reasons the yolks look pale and the nutritonal value of the egg is weak. Also, GMO feed shortens the life of the hen. The primary source of grain in commercial feed is GMO soy. This is the absolute worse type of feed to provide animals. Remember, whatever the animal eats, you eat! We feed our our hens GMO free, wheat free and soy free grain. We raise our own bugs, crickets, roaches and worms. Depending upon the species of chickens you have will determine the optimum grain formula. We had to create our own blend and we’re receiving the dividends. Our hens are extremely healthy, disease free and lay eggs well into their third year. We have about 300 hens and not only are the eggs great, the meat is out of this world!

    • Hi Steven;
      What breed of chickens do you raise? Also what are your environmental conditions? I live on Whidbey Island, WA, so winter is somewhat wet, but rarely very cold.
      Cheers! Stu.

      • Rhode Island Reds are good, what I have the most of. Boxes: Buy plastic storage containers. Cut a hole in the side. Fill with straw. Put lid on. Change straw occasionally, and do NOT use hay; it molds.
        Echinacea powder and (non alcohol) extract will cure the sickest chicks or ducklings, or any bird. That’s my discovery. I used massive doses (fifty percent of feed and 1/3 of water) and chicks from bloody infected eggs all survived. Any vet will tell you that’s impossible.
        I have a Great Pyrenees who protects ducks and chickens from all predators, including eagles.
        Free range is the way to go, with those nest boxes wherever they prefer to lay. My chickens stick to about an acre and a half mostly. They stay near that dog, too.
        Chickens will choose your porch as their preferred place to stay. You either fence it off or live with poop.
        Speaking of which, it’s great fertilizer. Peafowl poop is incredible for fruit trees … made a mature crabapple tree more than a third larger.
        Chickens will clear grass from around trees, and weed everywhere. Ducks will dethatch, fertilize, eat bugs and moisturize your grass all in one operation. Ducks need a pond, and don’t get mites. Ducks are incredible watch animals, and so are peafowl. Chickens, no.

      • Hello Stuart,

        We have Golden Coments and Easter Eggers. Golden Coments are high production and lay huge eggs, Jumbo XX. This is 2 sizes up from jumbo, based upon weight. Our Easter eggers are Ameraucanas and Araucanas. They are called Easter Eggers because they lay pink, blue, green and olive colored eggs. They do not produce as many eggs, however, the nutritional profile is considered to be higher than most and the flavor is superior. We live in N.KY and the winters occassionally get long and well into the 20’s and teens. We keep the hen house at 40 F during the winter months to maintain optimum conditions for the hens. We rarely have issuses with temps affecting these birds. Rhode Island Reds, Golden Comets and Barred Plymouth Rocks tolerate cold well and are nice pets with good personalities. I hope this helps!

  8. Sue the Frugal Survivalist says:

    We raised five chickens from eggs in a borrowed incubator. Anyone who loves pets can do so successfully. We protected the chicks until they were grown, then turned them loose in the backyard. They lived happily in our fenced, suburban yard for years. We made sure they always had clean water ( which they shared with the family cats/dogs and free-range pet rabbits ). We provided a chicken house, which they never used, and once during a flood warning we housed them in the garage where they roosted on top of the water heater. After years of happy pet co-existance in the backyard, our Irish wolfhound-like mutt, finally full-grown, decided to play with them. We lost all five rabbits and four chickens before we realized our dog was the culprit. There wasn’t a mark on the dead animals and we had never seen the dog bother them, so it took us a few days to figure out what was happening. Without that dog, the chickens and rabbits would have lived contentedly in the yard with minimal care for many more years. Both rabbits and chickens foraged for food in our yard and we supplemented with table scraps and fruits and vegetables from our garden. I think raising chickens and rabbits is much easier if they are cage free once they are adults as long as you have a good fence and a green yard with trees for shade and bushes to hide under, access to water and shelter from rain ( even if they don’t use it ! ). The chickens were very friendly, and liked to sit on our shoulders. The neighborhood children loved them.

  9. Bhealthy- it’s about 10x easier than a dog. They just need a solid shelter is the hardest part. One gallon water jug and 3lb food holder is good for 3-4 days for 3-4 hens, longer if free ranging. We open our coup door every morning and they come back in every evening at dusk to roost on their own. We have always kept food and water inside the coup and have never seen them not want out in the morning. 50lb bag of laying pellet food is like $13 and lasts 4-6months for us (free ranging 1/2acre suburban yard). Do be careful of garden!

  10. Wow! We were actually thinking about doing this but It’s much harder than I thought it would be. Thanks for the ‘heads up’.

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