First Observations On Free Ranging Chickens

Are you raising chickens as part of you long term SHTF / TEOTWAWKI survival plan? If so, have you put much thought into how well your chickens are able to forage, and what type of land is available to the chickens?

During a collapse of society it will be critical for livestock to forage.

How do we know what chicken breeds are good at foraging and which ones should be avoided? I hope to do a series of articles on how well different chicken breeds cope with free ranging.

Free ranging Dominique chicken

My wife and I recently moved to a rural area of southeast Texas. One of the first things we did after the move was let the chickens out to free range. The area directly behind the chicken yard is around 1 acre of cleared land, and then another 2 acres of timber.

When the 13 hens were being fed commercial laying pellets my wife and I were getting 8 – 12 eggs a day. Some of the hens are molting, so that may contribute to the fluctuation in laying patterns. We are also in the hottest part of the year with daytime temps reaching 100 degrees here in southeast Texas.

After laying pellets were removed from the feeder and the chickens had to forage, egg production plummeted. Over the course of a week and a half, we went from a maximum of 12 eggs in a single day, to a single egg in one day.

The hens have a wide range of grasses, weeds and bugs to eat. I do not think it is a matter of the chickens not getting enough to eat, but rather then hens are having to expel energy looking for food. Rather that having food in the feeder, and just walking into the chicken house to get it, the chickens are now having to work for their food.

I hope over the course of a couple of weeks the chickens will adjust to foraging and egg production will pick back up.

Raising chickens for SHTF

What I would really like to do is weigh the hens while on commercial feed, then remove the feed. Once the hens start free ranging weigh every breed every few days. I will probably do the weighing and make a chart after the new chicken house is built.

My 13 hens are comprised of:

  • 4 – Rhode Island Reds
  • 2 – Silver Laced Wyandotte
  • 2 – Barred Rocks
  • 2 – Australorps
  • 2 – Black Jersey Giants
  • 1 – Speckled Sussex

The Jersey Giants seem to be a little on the lazy side on foraging as they stay right around the chicken yard. Maybe its because of the color, but the Australorps and the Black Jersey Giants hang together quit often.

The Speckled Sussex, Barred Rocks, Silver Laced Wyandottes and a couple of the Rhode Island Reds seem more adventurous then the Jersey Giants. It did not take long before the Barred Rocks and Speckled Sussex were seeking out places to feed. Right there with the Speckled Sussex and Barred Rocks were the two Silver Laced Wyandottes.

I hope to add some Buff Orpingtons and Dominiques (Dominicker) to the flock, and then do a more scientific study as to which chicken breeds do well at free ranging. Right now I am just observing the chickens and how they behave when given the chance to free range.

Buff Orpington Chick

What I would like to do is feed the chicken commercial feed for about a month, weigh each breed, then take away the feed and allow them to free range. Then chart which breeds lose the most weight over the course of a couple of weeks.

Due to the extreme heat right now I am going to end the experiment and keep the feeders full of laying pellets and hen scratch.

The current chicken house design does not make it very easy for me to grab the hens.  The next house will be a walk in type.  The plan is to go into the chicken house at night with a red headlight, gently take the chicken, weigh it on a scale, record the weight and breed, then return the chicken to the roost.

With a side-by-side comparison of 8 different chicken breeds we should be able to get some kind of idea of which chicken breeds would be best for a long term SHTF event.

On free ranging and egg production

With free ranging the hens are free to lay their eggs anywhere they want. Why walk 50 yards back to the chicken house to lay an egg when the chicken can drop that egg anywhere?

Over the next few days I am going to look around for hidden eggs.