Free-range chicken farming is a traditional system of rearing chickens. Prior to the advent of different technological aids, that have greatly improved poultry production; chickens were finished on pastures in a free-range system.
One thing you must understand as a poultry farmer is; chickens thrive best in their natural environment. The quality of products gotten under free-range chicken farming is better than any other system. In the US, free-range products attract premium prices.
Chicken raised in a free-range system produce more nutritious and tastier meat and egg; their laying period in a free-range layers farm is extended than the caged chickens. The chickens raised under free-range have good growth and have access to a better diet.
What is a free-range farming system?
The free-range farming system is the type of system whereby livestock (chicken, cattle, goat and sheep, etc.) are allowed to fend for themselves in a controlled and predetermined environment.
The environment is very crucial here, it must be controlled to accommodate the livestock and all the entities in the environment must be predetermined. Free-range farming is a model for the semi-intensive system of raising livestock.
Chickens breeds that can be raised in the free-range are Rhode Island red chickens, Kuroiler and Noiler. Kuroiler and Noiler are the best free-range chicken breeds. Kuroiler will perform awesomely well in a large scale free-range chicken farming.
Most farmers think the free-range chickens farming is obsolete and only suitable for rearing local chicken, therefore, it cannot be practiced in this modern-day poultry farming; this is not true.
To run a successful free-range chicken farm, there are some conditions you must put in place when preparing a free-range chicken farming business plan. They are:
- Provision of a conducive environment and a comfortable resting area.
- Access to freshwater and diet.
- Freedom from predator and discomfort.
- Ability to express innate behaviors.
These conditions play a remarkable role in the success of free-range poultry farming; they are basic conditions that facilitate the rearing of chickens in the modern system and organic poultry farming.
Now let us see how best to put these conditions into practice when setting up a free-range chicken farm:
Provision of a conducive environment and a comfortable resting area
The domestic chicken is a sub-species of the jungle fowl, whose natural habitat is a woody shrub. This implies that the best habitat for chicken, where their highest productivity is enhanced in a woody environment, hence, you can have a free-range with trees making up the environment.
I once buttressed the importance of planting trees around your farm on this blog; trees play an important role in the welfare of chickens and other livestock animals.
Planting trees in a free-range chicken commercial farm help to mimic the natural conditions that facilitate inherent behaviors such as foraging, dust bathing, and scratching. These are compulsory to have high efficiency in free-range poultry farming.
Trees provide a conducive environment by protecting the chickens from harsh weather conditions. Also, it provides a comfortable resting area in form of cover, free-range poultry sheds and chicken run for the chickens. Chicken run allows the chickens to exercise their body.
It is not as if chickens do not have shelter in a free-range system, they do have. Commercial free-range poultry housing is made up of simple poultry house designs, where you make use of local materials only. This also reduces the cost of housing in the free-range chicken commercial farm, thus, greatly improving free-range chicken farming profitability.
Access to fresh water and diet:
Recently, I posted some mistakes that make poultry farms fail, wherein I discussed extensively 7 mistakes. One of them is inadequate feeding and drinking equipment.
Feed is very important in chicken farming; the advantage free-range chicken production is; in chicken range, chickens have access to natural food, they have the ability to select the type of feed they need. One of the crucial ideas you should have about chickens is that they eat to meet their energy requirements. Once this is reached, they are satisfied.
One of the advantages of raising chickens on a chicken range is that you determine the kind of feed you want your chicken to feed on. In commercial free-range chicken farming, greens and herbs are what to feed free-range chickens.
Fodder and pasture are the major feedstuff in a free-range chicken diet. This is a cheap way to reduce the cost of feeding; also, you have the ability to rotate the greens considering prevailing conditions.
Let us take fodder as an example.
Fodder has become a major substitute for commercial chicken feed. If you are not feeding your chicken with fodder, I am sorry; you are missing out.
Fodder is highly nutritious and rich in protein, essential vitamins and minerals needed for the healthy growth of chicken. Prudent poultry farmers now reduce their cost of feeding by serving their chicken fodder.
Pasture is also a great feed for chicken; they have the ability to browse around and select the best parts of feed. Feeding should not be a problem in free-range poultry farming; because you are required to provide the best of greens.
In free-range chicken production, free-range laying hens produce a high-quality egg with high hatchability percentage; the yolk of egg produced is brilliant yellow in color and of good shell thickness.
Although the eggs may not be of a larger size as seen in the commercial poultry farms, they are of appreciable size with excellent quality. Free-range laying chickens are the best egg-laying chickens.
Water is very important in raising free-range chickens; clean one indeed. Because you raise your chickens in free-range does not mean they should drink from waste. Chickens are well adapted and domesticated; you can prepare a clean bowl of water in strategic places in your range such that after feeding, they access water easily.
Freedom from Predator and Discomfort
I am sure you do not want your chickens to be preyed by unruly predators of any kind. Commercial free-range chicken farming is a confined environment; where adequate security is provided.
Commercial free-range chicken farming is a confined environment; where adequate security is provided. Free-range is different from an extensive system; the only difference between free-range and the commercial system of raising chicken is “freedom of expression”; chickens have to chance to feed and the experience their natural environment. Predators in form of a snake and other deleterious reptiles should be prevented from accessing the range.
Ability to express Innate Behaviors
This is one of the disadvantages of the battery cage system of poultry production. Free-range chickens are cage-free chicken. Chicken needs to express their innate behaviors; it is only through this they can attain their maximum yield potential.
When chickens express their innate behaviors, they grow better and healthier; this is why you see chickens in a battery cage system of poultry production, fall sick fervently.
Apart from making the chickens healthy, natural behaviors also improve the quality of their products and boost free-range chicken farming profitability.
Advantages and disadvantages of free-range chicken farming
- Chicken in the free-range are healthier and grow better compare to chickens in other systems.
- Free-range products are more nutritious and tasty than chicken under other systems
- The spread of diseases is very insignificant in a free-range chicken production system compare to other systems.
- The cost of feeding and housing is drastically reduced in free-range chickens farming.
- Keeping free-range chickens is easy and less time-consuming as seen in other systems of raising chickens.
- The free-range chicken farming system produces high quality but low quantity products.
- Free-range chicken farming enhances the study of chickens in their natural environment.
- The free-range system helps to cushion the effects of the weather extremes.
Free-range poultry production is a sustainable chicken farming system that enables chickens to explore their genetic potentials; Chickens raised under a free-range system unarguably produce quality products (Egg and Meat) than chickens raised under the battery cage or deep litter system.