Free Range Ducks Pros and Cons

Free Range DucksMy ducks are very happy. Free range ducks are happy ducks! When we first started raising ducks, we didn’t let the ducks roam the farm. We didn’t feel that the property was set up for free range ducks.  The poultry area backs up to woods. Woods, where raccoon, fox and an occasional coyote make their homes. Eventually we gradually began letting the ducks and chickens out of their pens for free ranging. Other property modifications were made to add safety to the free range. 

 Free Range Ducks

I started raising ducks a few years back, for eggs and to hopefully hatch some ducklings! We have been fairly successful on both goals. The hens are very reliable layers and although our broody hen failed to set long enough to hatch out the ducklings, we did hatch four in the incubator. Ducks get along pretty well together even though I do notice some inner cliques among the ducks we had first.

Free Range Ducks

Our ducks live in a rather large duck complex with a large building with two attached covered runs, two pools and all you can eat buffet of duck food and bugs. I would bring in grass, weeds, vegetables and meal worms regularly to supplement. All was well, but after visiting a friend’s home and seeing her ducks free ranging during the day, I had a strong urge to let the ducks taste some freedom.

Free Range Ducks


Free Range Ducks

Three of the four ducklings hatched in the incubator


Free Range Ducks

Psst. that’s not the way out!

Being surrounded by woods and woodland creatures, I was still hesitant to let them roam too freely. I set up a large perimeter using a mesh poultry fence. It’s a pretty classy set up, but they were just having too much fun in the fall leaves to notice the boundaries. At first, our dog was concerned that I may have lost my mind. He tried to tell me that the ducks were out roaming around!

Our Free Range Ducks Today

So, yes, the ducks have had the opportunity to free range the poultry area.The area is large and the ducks respected the mesh fencing. The mesh fencing won’t keep out predators but it will slow the predator down, giving us more time to react.  In addition, when I leave the farm, the ducks must return to their duck house and duck runs.  I don’t think I will ever become comfortable with them free ranging the property while I am not watching out for predators.

Free Range Ducks

Why Let Them Be Free Range Ducks?

There’s no arguing with the evidence that free range ducks are happy ducks. What other benefits are there in free ranging ducks? 

Ducks need protein

Bugs and grasses are the ideal food for ducks. Duck pellets are a nutritiously balanced diet. However, ducks allowed to free range, choose the balance of protein, minerals,and vitamins. Free range ducks have low incidence of abnormal wing and bone development such as Angel Wing. 

Ducks need exercise  

Letting the ducks out to roam lets them move around more than they will in the pen. Doing so will decrease duck obesity. Did you even know that was an issue? Domestic breeds of ducks were intended to be used for meat. They gain weight quickly which is optimal if you are raising meat for your family or market. However, many of us also keep domestic ducks for pets and for egg production. Obesity will lead to other health problems in your duck. Foraging and free ranging for food is a healthy option. Calories are burned as the duck enjoys the found morsels. Always supplement with a high quality duck ration when the ducks are in their coop and pen. Ducks that are laying will need the extra nutrition and calcium. 

Insect Control

Ducks are great at clearing out pesky larvae, grubs and beetles. Insects are a protein packed snack and apparently very tasty. Letting the ducks free range around the garden will  help with the pesky insect damage.  of course they will also help themselves to your tasty vegetables if you don’t take precautions or supervise the free ranging in the garden.

Damage to lawn and grass is much less

There is less lawn damage when the ducks are free ranging.  When we put up the pens around the duck house, the area was grassy. Not long after, the area was a mud pit when it rained. Having no where to roam, the ducks just continued to dig for insects in the same spot and eat every bit of green vegetation. Since we started letting them free range for a good portion of the day, they rarely make a mess except close to the swimming pools. 


Free Range Ducks


Free Range Ducks

Not a bad life!

When I leave the farm, the ducks must go back into the enclosed runs. We just have too many hawks, racoons and foxes around to leave them out in the open. For now they will have to be content with this step. It may be all I can bring myself to do in our setting. I realize a lot of people have totally free range ducks but I think its important to remember that everyone has a different comfort level on the topic of free ranging poultry. Each farm or homestead has a different set up, too. For now, I am happy that the ducks can have some free ranging time.


free range ducks


free range ducks

When Can Chicks Go Outside?

when can chicks go outsideOne of the top questions I am asked is when can chicks go outside. The need for warmth is key to a growing chick. The growing period is important and making adjustments at the right time is crucial to their future health and well being. The answer really depends on you providing the need for warmth, safety, food and water, where ever you house the brooder.

The first weeks of life you are dealing with rather fragile beings. They require a very warm environment. Even if you have a shed, garage or coop with electric, the heat source will be needed 24/7.  As the chicks grow, you will see them venture away from the heat source more and more. The chick’s downy covering will give way to new feathers. You can start to reduce the heat level gradually. Starting with the brooder near 100 degrees F, gradually reduce the heat by 5 degrees each week.

when can chicks go outside

If the chicks are mostly feathered and the weather is warm enough at night, you can gradually begin to wean them from the heat. This won’t happen for the first few weeks of life, however. Chilling is one of the leading causes of chick death. Once a chick gets chilled, it is hard to bring them back. The first few days are critical in giving your new chicks the best start. 

when can chicks go outside


When Can Chicks Go Outside?

As the chicks begin to grow, the mess becomes messier. You may begin to wonder if they will do just as well, outside of the brooder, in the coop. I want to encourage you to wait as long as possible before doing this. Not only can the chicks become chilled and suffer illness from being moved too early, but you set them up to become ill from bacteria and parasites.

Chicks are growing rapidly and need free access to food and water. Moving them to a coop situation where they will come in contact with staph, e-coli, coccidia, and Mareks disease is risky. Chicks need good nutrition, and time to build a strong immune system before being moved outside.

when can chicks go outside

I hedge a little on my answer, because each breed feathers out at a slightly different rate. And each area of the world has different weather patterns.  Sometime between 6 and 10 weeks of age, depending on the weather, the chicks may be able to begin living in the coop. 

Some people are successful with leaving the chicks in the coop and run during the warmer daytime, and bringing them into the garage or home at night. The answer to when can chicks go outside is a variable situation!

This does not mean that the chicks are ready to be integrated with the big chickens. You will want to take that slow and easy, when they are a little bigger.  

when can chicks go outside

When Can Chicks Join the Flock

If you watch a mother hen take care of her babies you will see that she protects them from other flock members. It takes a bold chicken to mess with a mama hen. In the case of chicks raised by humans, we have removed this protective barrier. We must use safe practices to integrate the new young pullets to the flock. Gradual and slow are the terms to keep in mind. 

My usual time line for introducing the new chicks to the flock is around 10 weeks. The chicks must be fully feathered, and on their way to similar size of the chickens they are joining. Adding small bantams to large breed, more aggressive hens is not always going to end well. A sharp hard peck on the head can damage a tiny bantam pullet. In addition, a full size rooster trying to mate with a small bantam pullet can damage or hurt the little one. I have had some bad outcomes from integrating small breeds into large breeds so I don’t recommend it. On the other hand if they are raised together, I  have had no such issues.

when can chicks go outside

When chicks are losing the baby appearance, feather growth has come in, get some sort of enclosure to put them in as they begin to experience the big kids area. I do not recommend just tossing the chicks into the big chicken’s area. Let them both get used to each other through a fence, dog crate, or some other wire enclosure. The chicks will still have their own food and water so they are sure to get plenty to eat and drink. You may need to keep the food and water in the middle of the pen so they big chickens can’t reach in for a snack. 

when can chicks go outside

Fully Integrated Flock

Once the chicks don’t seem to be getting much attention through the fence, from the flock, you can try some short intervals of letting them out.  I try to keep an eye on this and I do rescue anyone who seems to be picked on. Placing some hiding spots around the run.  One year four of our pullets liked to hide out behind the coop door. I have also leaned a piece of plywood against the fence for a lean-to. A fallen tree limb with leaves can provide cover, too.

when can chicks go outside

Is There a Right Answer?

When can chicks go outside and when can chicks join the flock are important points to consider when raising chickens. I think that the answer depends on a lot of factors. Weather, coop set up, and breeds of chickens, are some of the variables involved. What tips would you add about when can chicks go outside? How did you introduce your chicks to your flock? I’d love to keep the discussion going in the comments.

Recycled Nest Boxes – DIY Makeover

recycled nest boxes Other items can be recycled nest boxes too. Dresser draws, vegetable bins, wooden crates, and even vintage suitcases. Instead of searching just for standard farm nesting boxes, think outside the box. Here are some criteria I use to make sure an item will make a safe, sturdy nest box for my hensRecycled nest boxes can come from the flea market!  If you spy a good sturdy box or shelf. with some DIY makeover magic it can become a recycled nest box! I make no secret of the fact that I am a flea market addict. The love for picking through the stalls set up with other people’s treasures gets creative thoughts flowing. I am always on the lookout for things we can use around our farm and have found many used dog crates, rabbit hutches and other animal enclosures for just a few dollars each. These have come in handy when animals need to be quarantined or transported. That’s not the time to be looking for a crate!

I also am addicted to farmhouse kitchen tools and decor. I particularly love things from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. So, that is where my mind was when I spotted this little beauty. Ugly? Why yes, I agree. At this point I think it was rather hideous. A light purple paint covered this storage bin/shelf. I imagine it was used to hold a little girl’s toys or stuffed animals. It probably looked quite cute in her room, too. But now it sat here, in a field, at a tractor show and looked forlorn. So I took it home. I had an idea of what I could use it for.

recycled nest boxes

Old Book Shelf Transforms to New Recycled Nest Boxes

First, it needed a good cleaning. It was obvious that this shelf had been sitting in a dusty garage for some time. I let the shelf dry in the sun for a bit while I grabbed the paint.


I knew I wanted it to complement the rustic look of our Chicken coop. Soft colors and earth tones were in my mind. I am drawn to soft yellows and cream colors and as soon as I walked into the hardware store I saw these spray paints by Rust Oleum 280699 American Accents Ultra Cover 2X Spray Paint, Gloss Sun Yellow, 12-Ounce“>Rustoleum, the American Accents collection. I am glad that I chose this paint because it really did only need one coat of paint.

Recycled Nest Boxes

Recycled Nest Boxes

Recycled Nest Boxes

The Cream colored paint went on first. After it dried, it was time for the fun stuff. Have you heard of Frog Tape? It is painters tape but with a better grip for painting. It comes off clean and no paint seeping lines.

recycled nest boxes

How to Use Chevron Frog Tape

I chose the chevron shape of Frog Tape because I want my chickens to have a current decor style!

After the Chevron Frog Tape was put on the bookshelf, I sprayed the shelf top and sides with the yellow paint, leaving the inside of the chicken nest boxes openings the cream color.

After fifteen minutes, the paint was dry enough to remove the tape and see the chevrons! Perfect!

Recycled Nest Boxes

Recycled Nest Boxes

The bookshelf sat for a full 24 hours to allow the paint to completely dry and for the paint fumes to dissipate.


Recycled Nest Boxes

For the final touch I added some scrap book letters to the top board, so the hens would know what this fine piece of furniture was to be used for.

Recycled Nest Boxes

A crowd begins to come in to see what is happening.


Recycled Nest Boxes

I’ll let you know how they like the new nest boxes once I find an egg in there! It being molting season, eggs are scarce right now. Hope this gives the hens a little incentive to get back to the job.

** I placed a cinder block in front of the shelf to keep it from tipping over. I thought about screwing it into the wall but I wanted to be able to remove it easily for cleaning, so I chose to place the block in front to stabilize the shelf.**

Other Types of Recycled Nest Boxes

Other items can be recycled nest boxes too. Dresser draws, vegetable bins, wooden crates, and even vintage suitcases. Instead of searching just for standard farm nesting boxes, think outside the box. Here are some criteria I use to make sure an item will make a safe, sturdy nest box for my hens.

1.Is it heavy weight enough to not tip if the hen stands on the side.

2. Can it be cleaned easily

3. Are there any toxic paints or small parts that could be a hazard.

4. Does it smell musty and gross? I sure don’t need any additional bad smells added to the coop!

recycled nest boxes

Buying an old wooden crate can be a good deal and the crate can be given a quick coating of spray paint to repel mites from living in the old wood. Wire baskets may be a good choice if they can be secured to the wall or somehow prevented from tipping. 

recycled nest boxes

Wicker basket is wired to the back wall to ensure it doesn’t tip over

Use your imagination and think of safety. Then,your next trip to the flea market might find you bringing home a recycled nest box.

Pin this info for later!

Recycled nest boxes Other items can be recycled nest boxes too. Dresser draws, vegetable bins, wooden crates, and even vintage suitcases. Instead of searching just for standard farm nesting boxes, think outside the box. Here are some criteria I use to make sure an item will make a safe, sturdy nest box for my hens

Want to see even more photos of great recycled nest boxes?
Farmhouse 38

We’d love to see your hen house nesting boxes too. Please share with us in the comments.

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Common Kitchen Products for the Barn and Coop

kitchen products for the barnUsing common kitchen products for the barn yard residents can not only save you money, it can also work better than the retail product you paid a lot more to obtain. Let’s face it, we can spend a lot of money on retail products aimed at barnyard animal care. Some of these are dollars well spent. There are also many common kitchen products for the barn and coop that can do the job well. And many times using kitchen products for the barn is a more natural and healing path than the retail product.


Olive oil  

Olive oil is a kitchen staple. Most of us are using it in some way or another for cooking. I also keep a bottle in my feed shed for first aid. 

Chickens can benefit from it if they have an impacted crop. Using a small syringe, carefully open the chicken’s beak, or if you are lucky, she will open it for you. Slowly push the syringe so the oil drips into the mouth. Don’t squirt forcefully because you could force some into her lungs by accident.  Massage the crop after the hen swallows the oil. This will help break up the clump so the crop can pass the material through to the gizzard.  

Another use for olive oil happens at the other end of the chicken. Occasionally a hen will strain to pass an egg. It might be an extra large egg or she could be older and not as elastic as she once was. Coating the vent with a thin smear of olive oil can assist her in passing the egg.

kitchen products for the barn

Olive oil is a good way to add calories in an animal that has been undernourished. Do not over do this! Fats should still be the smaller nutritional component of the diet.  We used to add a tablespoon to the older pony’s food to help with their coat. 

For the livestock guardian dog, adding olive oil to the food will aid digestion, add antioxidants, improve taste, and add energy.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt is a good source of magnesium.  Soaking in a bath of warm epsom salt and water, relaxes muscles in an egg bound hen.  It is also good for soaking bruised legs or hooves in livestock, horses and pets.  Chickens with bumblefoot abscesses can have a soak in epsom salt and water too. 

Bleeding can be Stopped with Kitchen Products for the Barn

Blood Stop Products

Not many events are quite as scary as blood rushing from an animal’s wound. First you have an injured animal that may not want to be caught for treatment. Then you have the whole, possibly life threatening, blood loss to deal with. All the while trying to hold a towel or bandages on the wound, trying to not get bit or kicked.  Be prepared for this. Animals hurt themselves, each other, and sometimes they hurt you. It’s a part of barn life that shouldn’t happen often, but when it does, you will want to be prepared. Keeping some or all of the following products in a air tight bin in the barn storage room might save a life one day. All of these can act as a blood stopping treatment. Once the blood flow is staunched, you can treat and bandage the wound. 

Corn starch

Vinegar- it works but it might sting a little


Tea bags – moistened 


Yarrow herb crushed or chopped fine and placed on the wound will stop blood flow.

kitchen products for the barn

Kitchen Products for the Barn Use in Bloating and more

All ruminants are capable of bloating. Horses and dogs can suffer from bloat too. It’s a painful condition, sometimes caused by intestinal twisting but often caused by food intake, changes in diet, heat, or stress.

Mix baking soda with water. Add a table spoon of vegetable oil. Syringe into the mouth. 

Ann from A Farmgirl in the Making has a recipe for making electrolyte solution from baking soda and molasses

Infections /Wounds/ Internal Parasites

Oregano and other herbs offer natural pest repelling and natural antibiotic action. Many have shown some natural worm inhibitor properties. Herbs can be fed fresh, or dried. Add to food, sprinkle on the ground, in nest boxes, or mix into homemade treats.

Garlic adds many health benefits to your livestock and poultry. Garlic aids the gut in staying healthy and repelling parasites. Use it fresh, or dried in small quantities throughout the year.

Honey is an amazing healing ointment all by itself. The antibacterial action adds to it’s benefits.

Salt water paste- salt and water mixed to a paste

Coconut oil is one of the best treatments for skin irritations. Coconut oil has healing properties and coats and protects abrasions.

Teri Page from Homestead Honey website says “ I keep coconut oil in the barn to rub on chapped tears and udders. If I suspect pre-mastitis, I’ll add essential oils.”

Weakness, Energy Boost, Postpartum Supplement

Molasses adds calories and some nutrition to a weakened animal. It’s also what we use to treat the momas on the farm, after birthing. We put a few big glugs into the bucket with some warm water. They drink it right away Molasses is a good source of iron, and the sweetness provides energy for recovery.

Devon Young , from Nitty Gritty Life – “I always keep blackstrap molasses on hand during lambing season to give mamas and babies a boost if needed and also to entice a lamb to suckle a bottle nipple in event of bummer lamb…”

kitchen products for the barn

Apple Cider Vinegar

Added to the drinking water, apple cider vinegar with the “mother” or culture, provides a healthy dose of probiotics goodness. ACV keeps the pH of water at a healthy level that discourages bacteria growth. Adding ACV at a rate of one tablespoon per gallon of water, will keep the chicken’s digestive tract healthier and help the immune system. It is also good for humans!  Have you tried to make your own apple cider vinegar?

Don’t add vinegar to metal watering containers as it will contribute to increase rusting.

White vinegar is also helpful around the barn. It is a cheap cleaning substance. Fill a spray bottle and add some herbs for a pleasant, non-toxic cleaner. I also use it to clean the water tubs  and cut through that nasty scum that forms.

kitchen products for the barn

Other Items to Keep in the Barn Storage Room

rubber gloves

baby wipes

Duct tape

cable ties

Kris from Attainable Sustainable website has a list of items she keeps on hand in the chicken area. Not all are food or kitchen products, but they are all must have items. 

Angi Schneider, from Schneiderpeeps, had this to add. We’re harvesting honey right now and we’ve decided that chopsticks, mason jars and duct tape are the all purpose tools that we need for any project…..haha!”

And now it’s your turn. What would you add to the list. Do you have kitchen products for the barn that you wouldn’t be without and I left off of my list? Add it in the comments to keep the conversation going.


.kitchen products for the barn

Grow Sorrel for Chickens, Goats, Sheep and You!

grow sorrelI grow sorrel in my herb garden and usually give the leaves to the rabbits, or add to the dried herb mixtures. This year our sorrel pots are overflowing with the lush leaves. I have been adding it to salads, stir fry, and sauces.  The French cook in me is coming out! But, in reality, I knew very little about this plant that was doing so well for us. I had to know more. 

Why Grow Sorrel in Your Garden?

Sorrel, Rumex-acetosella,  is part of the buckwheat family. People grow sorrel for the leaves and roots. When you grow sorrel, you are cultivating a healthy herb with high levels of antioxidants. Most people describe sorrel as having a lemony taste. (A different sorrel – wood sorrel looks completely different. It has clover shaped leaves and is from the oxalis family of plants. )

Sorrel has reputedly some cancer inhibiting properties. The folk evidence points to it reducing or inhibiting cancer growth. Sorrel is added to Essiac tea to increase the antioxidant content. Unfortunately, Essaic tea is not approved or recognized yet by the US FDA as an aid in fighting cancer. For more information on the ingredients in Essaic tea and other natural anticancer and anti-inflammatory aids check this article.

grow sorrel

Sorrel is a spreading perennial plant that also does well cultivated in pots. The leaves are arrow shaped and a medium green color. I like to grow my herbs in containers and pots so I can protect them better from our dogs and other animals. Planting in full sun about 12 inches apart will keep your sorrel plants  happy. ( I have heard that it will grow in partial shade, too) The large leaf plant resembles spinach but in lighter green.  There is also a red veined variety that I grow also. Sorrel will want to put up flower stalks and the seeds will create new green leaves soon after they fall.

grow sorrel

Using Sorrel in Recipes

Many French cooking recipes call for sorrel as both the main ingredient and as flavoring for soups, salads and sauces.  A huge handful of sorrel leaves will cook down to almost nothing, in a short time. I use it much like spinach for the most part.  I love to make a big cast iron pan of stir fry and add in what ever we have at the moment. Sometimes some leftover chicken, mushrooms,squash, green or red pepper and onion with a clove or two of garlic cooked almost done, then I add the large handful of greens. Stir a few minutes until the greens are cooked, add a splash of balsamic vinegar and enjoy! Sorrel is great in this dish, and since it is still growing and my spinach has gone to seed, Sorrel and rainbow chard take their place.

grow sorrel

Other Uses

Variations of Aioli Sauce Using Sorrel

Mix an aioli sauce in a blender. Olive oil and sorrel leaves make a tasty sauce for grilled salmon. 

Add 2 or 3 garlic cloves to blender or food processor

one egg

Add 1 cup olive oil

1 tsp salt

pinch of pepper

two large handfuls of sorrel

Blend well season to taste if necessary


I plan to try this next, adding in a minced garlic clove because really, everything needs some garlic.

one cup mayonnaise -Use real mayonnaise or make your own fresh using this recipe
2 tsp grated lemon zest 
One cup fresh sorrel, chopped fine 
1 tsp Dijon mustard 
1 Tbsp lemon juice 
salt and pepper to taste 
1/8 tsp of sugar

Grow Sorrel for Your Livestock and Pets

Is sorrel safe for livestock? The short answer is yes. Sorrel grows wild in meadows, and beside roadways. It grows easily and freely. I wouldn’t harvest the plants from next to the road as they may have spray on them and other road dirt. You shouldn’t have any problem finding sorrel growing in untreated lawns, and in wooded areas. If you have a pasture it probably is already growing there. 

Chickens will enjoy a sorrel snack. It is similar to a lettuce in texture and most chickens love fresh greens. The caution with sorrel as with any green or herb high in oxalic acid, is to give in moderation. The antioxidant content is a huge health benefit to the flock.

grow sorrel

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Sheep and goats will eat sorrel as part of their foraging and grazing. Sorrel does have a high oxalic acid content which can cause kidney stress or damage.Animals will self limit themselves on plants when they have plenty of choices to eat. If you have a healthy varied pasture, there is no need to be concerned about them eating too much sorrel. The benefits of sorrel to ruminants include the high level of antioxidants. Sorrel has an astringent benefit and is cooling for fevers and inflammation. A pulp from the leaves can be made to help heal ulcers, and skin boils. 

Rabbits can eat sorrel too. Again, and as with spinach, the oxalic acid content should be considered.  Used sparingly, the health benefits are a good addition to the rabbits varied diet. The same concerns apply to chard spinach, mustard greens and radish greens.

grow sorrel

the sorrel leaves are shown bottom right of photo

Grow Sorrel for a Healthy Herb Garden

Learning more about why we should grow sorrel convinced me to continue cultivating it in my herb garden. It adds to the variety of herbal health we have available right outside the backdoor. Our human family and barnyard family benefit from the sage, oregano and other fresh herbs. Harvesting throughout the growing season, drying and storing the extra, gives us ready herbal treatments through the year. 

Do you grow sorrel? What herbs help you keep your animals and human family members healthy?