I posted a few videos on chickens recently and discussed how nature LOVES to eat chicken and why free-ranging chickens does not work for us.
In response to one of them, commenter Florida Bullfrog wrote:
“No no no David. I’m going to issue you a challenge. I assert my chicken videos prove you wrong. If you’ve lost all or most of your chickens free ranging in a high predator environment, you’re raising defective chickens. There are plenty of predator resistant chicken breeds. Its just that the internet permi/homesteading culture is ignorant of them. You’re a victim of a limited knowledge base because many of the Youtube chicken people aren’t coming from a deep south, poor, backwoods culture that raised free range chickens for generations and lived off of them when it mattered. Don’t look to a hipster to teach you chickens. Look to some old man who comes from a backwoods farm. You already have this mentality with your gardening. Why not your livestock?”
Well now. When you get a comment like that, what are you supposed to do?
I took it as an interesting challenge, and asked him to share resources with me. He replied:
“If you want something to read, you’ll have to gleam snippets from old books that reference wild game chickens on southern farms, as I am not aware of any modern chicken books not related to cockfighting that reference the free range keeping of game or certain heritage breeds (as I said the knowledge is lost on the current generation of chicken celebrities). For example, the Florida author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings referenced her flock of wild Florida game chickens very briefly. She shot them for the table just as one might shoot a wild turkey, just as my grandmother hunted our wild game chickens around the farm to feed her family. I won’t post a link lest the link be flagged, but google Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ chickens and the reference will come up. What I know about how chickens were kept this way doesn’t come from anything I read, but from what I saw, having been raised by my grandparents and also being around others who all took for granted that it was normal to raise game chickens free range in the woods with no major human intervention. When I moved to my current woods farm in north Florida I knew I would need game chickens like I grew up with to survive here. It was only then that as I started looking for a flock that I realized the knowledge that bankavoid game chickens live feral on their own hasn’t translated to the current generation of chicken gurus. That, or there’s fear of the stigma associated with raising game breeds and cockfighting. It took me a year and a half of searching to find a flock that was mostly like what I grew up with. 100 years ago most rural Southern farms kept game chickens as their primary producing chickens. There is a free book on Google Books from the late 1800s that offers a history and care of the Old English gamefowl, the progenitor the American gamefowl, and throughout it takes for granted the ease by which they survive free range.”
Here is one of Florida Bullfrog’s intriguing videos:
He emailed me a lot more information as well:
Extreme Free-Range Chicken Resources
Florida Bullfrog continues with more resources on extreme free-ranging:
The Old English Game Fowl: Its History, Description, Management, Breeding, and Feeding
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ Cross Creek Cookery
Other Feral Chicken Links
Meanwhile, I am still raising meat and egg chickens the hard way:
Free-Range Chickens in Alabama Story #1: Greg’s Fighting Chickens
That said, I have a couple of interesting stories of free-range or even feral populations of birds here in Lower Alabama. My friend Greg has a small flock of chickens that he started from a feral population nearby. He told me they were “fighting chickens,” and that there was a man raising cocks for cockfighting who got in trouble and his wife let all his birds go. Now they wander the woods and take care of themselves. When Greg decided to put a little flock of birds in his backyard, his brother helped him by capturing some of these fighting chickens, both hens and a rooster. Once they laid enough eggs in his backyard pen, Greg incubated a bunch of the eggs and hatched out a mess of them. He says they lay “two eggs a day,” and aren’t mean.
Free-Range Chickens in Alabama Story #2:
On Halloween a man and his wife with a couple of young children came trick-or-treating at my front door. Since we are quite rural and didn’t get any visitors last Halloween, we were unprepared for trick-or-treaters.
“I don’t have any candy,” I said, “but I do have a mulberry tree I can give you.”
With that, I sent my daughter out back to get a mulberry. The children seemed a bit confused about it, but the parents just laughed and said they’d be happy to grow a mulberry. I asked if they wanted some farm eggs, too.
I knew I was running a risk here, since I (a), did not give these poor people any candy, and (b), was now offering to give them ammo.
The dad said, “Aww no, we got plenty of farm eggs.”
“What birds are you raising?” I asked.
“My dad has a mixed flock.”
“Do you keep them in a barn?” I asked.
“Naw, they just wander,” he said.
Having just been talking with Florida Bullfrog, I was now intrigued. We’ve lost LOTS of chickens to predators over the years, yet here was a guy with chickens that were living in the wild and apparently producing eggs as well.
“Can I come see them?” I asked, sharing further that I’d been in a conversation with a man who was talking about JUST what his dad was doing.
“Sure,” he said, and gave me his number.
This Saturday, I had some time, so I called him, then headed our to see the chickens. They lived maybe 15 minutes away from us at the end of a rural road. A red dirt driveway rolled up beside a country house with fences and outbuildings and little children playing. A fence beside the driveway held back an assortment of mixed beef cattle who were grazing contentedly on thick green pasture.
I was waved down by the man I’d met on Halloween. He stood with two other men in front of an open garage. All three had cans of beer in their hands.
“Park anywhere,” he said, so I did, pulling up onto the grass. I was met by a pit bull puppy and a grizzled bulldog along with a baby girl with golden curls. The man I’d met on Halloween shook my hand and introduced me to his dad…
…and I’ll share the rest of the story in part two!
Cool. Having them decimate certain crops sounds like a potentially large drawback.
Perhaps Mr Bullfrog could expand on which crops he can no longer grow?
Hi Al, which crops they ignore and which crops they hit hard varies from year to year. Most seasons I’ve been able to do Seminole pumpkins and tomatoes well around them. This year they decimated my Seminole pumpkins. I do not know if the Seminole pumpkins were giving them nutrients they were in particular need for this year or if they simply have learned to exploit them better as a food source. It is very clear to me that the chickens do learn and amass experience as a flock. So far I’ve been able to have several patches of sweet potatoes. They may focus heavily eating the vines of one patch but they may totally ignore another patch. They don’t seem to bother various peppers so far. I have noticed they’ll hit garden plants harder in the early spring because often volunteers from the previous season’s garden are the first greenery of the year that catches their eyes.
This reminds me of my father talking about Piney Woods cattle here in Baldwin county.
[…] Extreme Free-ranging Chickens: No Coop, No Fence, No Problem […]
One thing I have done since I was boy was to give my chickens enough space to roost high in a coop. At least 6 feet up and usually higher. I never had the mass slaughter that a lot of our chicken raisers around me experienced until I moved to a new area and a bear cleaned us out. That is why I now have electric fence protecting the coop………
Oviedo Chickens Documentary
Chickens of Downtown Oviedo, Florida
I couldn’t believe my dad when he said the free range chickens they had when he was growing up rarely got eaten, except by his family. He couldn’t say what the difference was between mine and theirs, though. The whole neighborhood’s chickens would roost in a couple of big trees in one man’s yard every night, range all over the place (open back country mountains, not dense at all) during the day, but always come back to their own homes to lay eggs! Sounds idyllic, like most everything that’s been ripped away from us. This is where I start berating the stinking Boomers, right?
A lot of good information was lost between our generation and that of our Great-Grandparents.
This is fascinating. I remember seeing feral chickens all over the place when I lived in Hawaii; common as pigeon in some parts. Will definitely be digging further into this.
Aww man, I can’t wait till tomorrow. I was wondering how I could raise chickens when we’re still struggling to grow enough food to eat ourselves. But I doubt in our urban setting if this would work out anyways. Game fowl might be too noisy for the neighbors. Even in the city, we’ve got predators like stray cats, dogs, hawks, and rats, (and neighbors) that has made us hesitate on raising fowl.
New post is up!
I live on the big island of Hawaii and have free range chickens with no coop. They have an open “coop” (pallets) with roof so they have a place at night to hang out. They live with our ducks who also have a few pallets with a roof and hay. They come and go, but always come in at night. As for predators, we have mongooses, but they go for eggs only because these birds don’t take any crap from them. I set traps for the mongoose, but noticed since I put 4-5 fake owls on their fence I have not had any mongoose. Maybe just coincidence, but there are really no issues with them here. Everyone free ranges their birds here. We do have owls and hawks, but still they do not go after the birds. Other than that, no other predators here. So, this is MY experience, may not be others. Great article!!!
When I had chickens up in the mid-atlantic, we lived in an area with no coyotes. Zero. The property was about ten acres, we shared a fence-less property line with a couple of small, aggressive, bite-y dogs, and frequently saw foxes and hawks in the neighborhood. Once they weren’t chicks anymore, my barnyard-mutt-breed chickens (You could tell there was some Delaware, some Rhode Island Red, some Americauna, and some kind of Polish type in their heritage, in varying amounts) free-ranged to their hearts’ content. We had a good rooster who looked out for them, constantly watched the sky for hawks and when he sounded the alarm, they’d all run under the nearest bush or tree. He liked to threaten the feral cats.
Unfortunately, he also liked to attack my inlaws, so we had to get rid of him. After our flock became rooster-less, I started losing hens. I’d walk out and find a bunch of feathers in the grass, and one by one they went, until we moved, and I gave away my last two hens.
So… my n=1 on the subject of free-ranging chickens: yeah, you can do it if you have a good rooster and enough birds (or low enough investment) that you can afford to lose one now and then.
Yeah, apparently the rooster is key.
I know this is not necessarily the point of this post but I must say that this is just another excellent reason to dwell in the deep south. We share a rich heritage of survival here with many of our crops and climate-adapted species thanks to our mild winters and extended growing season. It is truly a blessing to know that I always have something growing in the ground and that I always have something growing on the ground that will survive/thrive with little effort due to the South’s sunny clime. Yes, we have humidity and bugs, but those darn bugs provide many a meal for my family via the animals they sustain.
Here is an interesting thread about an experimental flock that was left to its own resources after hatching, started in 2020. https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/successful-100-forage-diet-experiment-long-post.1435544/
And here is a video of a neighborhood in Phoenix where there are feral chickens even though we absolutely have predators about. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bjnsycpzl5E I get the impression that some of the neighbors feed and provide some care for them, but to a certain degree they still have to survive.
The old quote (of questionable attribution) comes to mind: “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
I woke up this morning from my rooster crowing and my hens honking obnoxiously loud. Then I heard a bird start screaming and running very loudly. Then suddenly silence
There was a huge red fox that moved into the forest nearby recently and I’d seen her chasing around my chickens several times before. I figured she had once again chased a hen, it escaped easily, and this event had scared the flock into silence. I was grateful that the fox had bought me another 30 minutes of sleep
All of this happened naturally in the course of about 10 seconds. At no point did I worry about my hen’s safety and well-being. I’ve seen my American gamefowl fly over 200 feet before casually. They’re lightning fast and tough as nails
As a man from the deep south it was very odd to learn that my chicken style is called “extreme free-ranging” and that it’s considered highly unusual. My birds love sleeping as high as they can in the trees. No bird should live in a cage
I come back to this post as tonight we had a fox attack. I had 40 free range chickens, I was doing a landrace experiment with several breeds, some more “feral” and some other more Leghorn like. We’ve been doing okay for a year, some sick chicken and that was it. But yesterday, fox came and killed 36. Other 2 are seriously damaged, and 2 else are ok. So… I need Florida Bullfrog book.
I want this kind of chickens, cause I dont want to be spending 3000€ on the 0.16 eggs. But clearly something went wrong on the process