General Husbandry


Housing your


Feeding your




Husbandry: Free Range

The definition of free-range is for hens to have access to ground covered in vegetation (normally grass) during daylight hours. They will need a minimum of a 1m x 1m each. This can be achieved by letting the birds out at times when you are at home.

As well as having a secure house to go into at night, your chickens will need to have access to an open area of grass known as a run which they can use in safety from predators when you are not at home. Chickens will eat grass and then scratch up the roots, effectively killing it all in a very short space of time leading to poor welfare. If only a small area is allowed for the run, placing a mesh (2.5cm) grid over the grass in the beginning will allow the hens to walk on it, eat the grass, but not scratch the roots up. They will appreciate a separate dustbath if this method is used as the netting will prevent this natural activity which helps to repel external parasites. An old drawer filled with ashes or dry soil or sand makes a good dustbath.

Only bare soil and nettles in a run is poor welfare especially in wet conditions, so a new substrate should be added. The best type is pea gravel as it can be hosed clean. Avoid bark as it harbours the aspergillus mould.

An ark-type hut that is moved every day is an alternative as then the hens get fresh ground and the grass is trimmed and fertilized without being destroyed.

Field ark First class free-range

Chickens are at their happiest scratching in the grass and soil, looking for things to eat. If you are doing some gardening, then the hens will love to help you find worms and insects, but they are best let out under supervision as they have a tendency to try and re-plant everything. The very small bantams do least damage. Free-range in a domestic situation usually means daylight access to grass, not necessarily total freedom. Likewise, there is something very pleasing and relaxing about watching your chickens behaving naturally. You may wish to limit their access to the more established areas of grass and plant life using plastic fencing — but remember they can fly or jump over low fencing with ease.

If you have areas intended for planting, your chickens will help prepare the soil, keep harmful bugs at bay and fertilize it at the same time.

Beware poisonous plants such as laburnum, laurel, nightshade, but if you have children you probably won’t have these in your garden anyway. Daffodil bulbs are toxic, so be careful of these, too, although most poisonous plants taste horrible to hens. Unless the covered run is a large area, don’t attempt to plant shrubs inside it as the hens will soon dig these up. Clematis, honeysuckle, berberis, pyracantha or firs can be grown on the outside of the run both for shelter and to enhance the area.