There is a lot of discussion about whether or not you should free range your chickens. Personally, I think it is completely up to your personal preference and circumstances. There are good and bad things that go along with both free ranging as well as keeping your chickens locked in a coop and run.
I choose to free range. I have limited coop/run space, so it is more humane for me to let them out during the day and let them stretch their legs and forage for food. If you are going to keep your chickens in the coop you will need to provide a bigger coop and run so that your girls can stay happy and have enough room. The fact that they are out foraging all day also helps with the cost of feed. They eat much less store bought feed than they would if I had them in the coop all day. (This makes the my accountant husband much happier) I especially love the pest control aspect of free range chickens. We had a huge red ant problem until we started raising free range chickens, now that we have the chickens out all day there are almost no ants to be found! Chickens eat all kinds of bugs and pests and if you have enough chickens out foraging around they can make a serious difference! Most importantly, I think free range eggs taste better! The yolks are dark and pretty and the eggs have a more distinct taste because the chickens are getting a larger variety of foods to eat! Those are the main reasons that free ranging works for me.
There are some down sides to free ranging. Chickens poop A LOT and if they are out in your yard, pecking in the grass and roaming the property they are going to be pooping all over. Luckily we live on 6 acres so that isn’t much of a problem for us, but if you have a smaller homestead and you don’t like stepping in chicken poop when you are playing on the grass then that is something to consider when deciding what is best for you. Along those same lines, chickens peck and scratch and make a mess out of landscaping, so if you have a perfectly manicured yard and you want it to stay that way you might want to think twice about letting the chickens loose on it!
I also have to keep an eye out for predators, usually the girls are pretty safe during the day as they roam and free range, however there is the occasional neighbor’s dog that comes over and likes to mess with my girls. I do keep them locked up safely at night so that isn’t a problem when the real predators like coyotes come out to play.
I would love to hear in the comments what works for you and why you do it!