The free range breeding system is one in which chickens are able to roam freely outdoors for a certain period of time. Instead of complete confinement of poultry, they are let out during the day to move freely and explore. In this system, chickens are able to explore their natural behaviour whilst being protected from predators at night. Free range chickens are therefore hardier compared to their counterparts. They are also able search for food by themselves.
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The Best Free Range Chickens Characteristics
The most popular free range chickens share similar characteristic which include wariness to predictors. They tend to be wary, high strung and flighty thus are able to effectively evade predators. Another shared characteristic is a clear vision which allows them to easily spot danger. These are usually breeds with less plumage hair that can block clear vision. Some farmers trim plumage hair in a bid to facilitate clear vision, however, crested breeds tend to be rather docile making them unsuitable for the free ranging system. The best free range chickens are also those with a superior foraging ability. Lazy birds that are too large with white plumage are usually not ideal as they may starve and are easily noticeable by predators. Their cumbersome size can also be a hindrance to rapid escape. As such, when considering free range chickens, farmers should be able to select ideal breeds else they risk harm from predators. This article therefore discusses the best free range chickens to keep.
Rhode Island Red chicken
Rhode Island Red chickens, as the name suggests are dark-red birds that ordinated in Rhode Island. They have relatively long bodies that eight about 2.5 to 3.9kg depending on chicken variety. Roosters weigh in at 3.9kg while cockerels weigh about 3.4kg and hens approximately 2.5kg. Rhode Island Red chickens are characterised by their red-orange eyes, reddish brown beak and yellow feet and legs which often are a little reddish. Their feathers are usually rust coloured although some have a darker shade with marron bordering on black. Chicks are between light red to tan in colour. These birds are known for their hardy, active nature and their foraging abilities. They can be quite aggressive and can handle marginal diets without limiting productivity. These characteristics places them amongst the best free range chickens. Rhode Island Red chickens are often kept as layers or for both eggs and meat production. Some farmers keep them for exhibition. They lay roughly 200 to 280 large eggs per year hence their popularity as layers. In addition, their large stature makes them ideal for meat production.
These type of birds are known for their stunning nature; having a speckled colouration pattern which blends with the background and camouflages them from predators. Sussex chickens are curious, hardy and highly resourceful making them some of the best free range chickens. However, they are usually subjected to bullying when among larger more assertive birds. Their feathers have a rich dark mahogany; each feather is white tipped and separated from the mahogany by a black with iridescent overtones of green. The patterns get more pronounced as they age. Their legs and feet are white in colour, short with stout muscular thighs. Sussex chickens are kept as both layers and meat producers. Birds kept for meat can grow up to 3.2kg. Roosters can reach 4kg. They also mature faster, usually in about 20 weeks. Speckled Sussex chickens can however take slightly longer to mature. Furthermore, they possess exceptional laying abilities averaging between 180 to 240 large eggs per year. They are able to produce during winter seasons. Speckled Sussex can be quite broody, they set well and make good mothers.
Egyptian Fayoumis chickens
These birds are highly famed for their incredible resistance to diseases, early maturity and unparalleled foraging skills. Egyptian Fayoumis chickens are quite busy lively birds that are very flighty and have flying abilities superior to most breeds. For these reasons, they are considered to be some of best free range chickens. Egyptian Fayoumis are quite small in stature; they have a silvery head, large single comb with big dark eyes. Their bodies are relatively slim and they have black speckles. Hens have silver-white hue on their necks and heads with the rest of their body barred. Fayoumi roosters have plumage with silver-white on the head, neck, saddle and back, with the rest in a white and black barring. They have a single comb, bright red wattles, white spot in their ear lobes and slate blue skin. Egyptian Fayoumis mature faster, at about 5 to 6 weeks weighing somewhere between 1.3 to 2kg. Due to their small stature, Egyptian Fayoumis are often bred as layers instead of meat. Their laying ability averages around 150 to 180 small to medium tinted white eggs.
Welsummer chicken are considered to be best free range chickens due to their superior foraging ability. Welsummer are large, upright, active birds that love to roam freely and forage for food. They are quite colourful and have a strong short beak, broad back, full breast and large full tail. Their wattles are medium sized and they have a small single comb. Welsummer are yellow skinned birds with red shaped almond shaped earlobes; eyes are reddish bay. Roosters are mostly golden brown, their wings are usually bright reddish brown. Their wattles are medium sized and they have a small single comb. Welsummers are large sized dual purpose chicken breeds. They are quite fast growing and roosters weigh anywhere between 2.75 to 3.25kg; hens weigh about 2 to 2.5kg. Welsummer hens are good layers. They lay approximately 200 to 280 large eggs yearly. The eggs vary in tints of dark brown eggs and most of the eggs have a dark speckled pigment in the eggshell.
The leghorn breed is amongst the best free range chickens. Leghorns are very active birds. They are considered as highly athletic and are efficient foragers. They also tend to be nervous and flighty making them ideal for the free ranging system. Leghorn hens weigh approximately 2kg; roosters about 2.8kg whereas cockerels weigh around 2.3kg. This type of bird generally matures quickly and is considered to be an unviable meat producer. They are however excellent at producing very large eggs in increased quantities, hence are usually kept as layers. They lay an average of 280 eggs per year; they can however lay up to 320 large eggs. These birds are non-settlers. Their poor broodiness and excellent laying capacity makes them well suited for organic free range chicken eggs.