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free range chickens
fresh eggs
weed seeds
dogs and cats
fleas
Industrious Free Range Chickens
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Industrious Free Range Chickens

I decided from the time I bought my first chicks that I would allow them to free range. There's something very peaceful about watching them chatter back and forth while they hunt and peck for their favorite tidbits. Their contentment is infectious and even on bad days watching them improves my mood. While there's some controversy about whether eggs from free range hens are healthier than eggs from caged hens, free range chickens are happy chickens and definitely earn their keep in other ways.

In between dust baths and hanging out under the fir trees they can be found munching on weed seeds. They'll scratch in the a bit and then I'll see them pecking at the dirt. When I look at that little spot, there doesn't appear to be much there, but they obviously see things I don't. A few minutes later I'll find them in one of the fields eating the seeds found on the top of weed grasses. Given a chance, they'll eat lettuce and other vegetables in the garden so we have to put a fence around it, but we do plant a few of their favorites outside the fence. It's the least we can do for their weed killing service.

If they're good weed eaters, they're even better bug and grub hunters. And they can be quite aggressive and determined. When we plow the soil to prepare it for the garden, they'll follow right behind the tractor eating the grubs that are turned over with the soil. Grubs are an especially favored treat. Small slugs and worms are also hunted with gusto. They find ticks and fleas delightful, which is a tremendous relief to our dogs and cats. Fly and flea larvae, grasshoppers and even fire ants are no match for these feathered hunters. In the evening young chickens will run around chasing flies and moths, which is very entertaining.

Of course their main job is laying eggs and there's nothing like farm fresh eggs for breakfast or an omelet for dinner! Each hen seems to have her own egg laying style. Some sit quietly and lay their eggs. You wouldn't even know they laid that day if there wasn't an egg there as proof. Others seem to want the entire barnyard to know and cackle loudly until they have both roosters and hens are cackling along with them. Every day there is at least one hen who serves as a kind of labor nurse. She'll hang out around the coop clucking or being part of the chorus for the noisier ones!

There is, however, one disadvantage to allowing chickens to free range. Inevitably there are a few hens, especially in the summer when the weather is nice, who will find some obscure shrub or grassy nook to lay eggs in. Naturally others will follow suit and next thing I know there aren't as many eggs is their nesting boxes. But, I figure it's a small price to pay for the benefits I get. They're tremendously entertaining and helpful. And the dogs are convinced these hidden treasures are left just for them since they're the ones who usually find the hidden egg stash. So, I guess we all gain from having such industrious, happy birds roaming around the yard.


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