We have had week after week of near-zero temperatures during the day and considerably below-zero temperatures during the night. We have also had an unusually large number of snowstorms and the snow on the ground is very deep.

So it is incomprehensible to me that until one day last week, two families in this area were leaving their chickens outside in this cold and snow… day and night… without any access to shelter of any kind.

One group of chickens was confined in a large off-the-ground coop that had chicken wire sides and was completely open except for the roof and corner supports. The other group of chickens didn’t have even that much protection… this family proudly proclaimed that they were raising their chickens “free range” and that, like wild birds, the chickens were able to fend for themselves. By the time the authorities stepped in, several hens in both flocks had already died from hypothermia, and the survivors were in poor condition with frozen and infected combs and feet.


Our icy frozen trees

I find it hard to understand how anyone could be this cruel to a living, feeling creature, but the families involved still don’t think they did anything wrong. I would like to think that these people started with good intentions and were just incredibly ignorant of what free range really means. It probably doesn’t help that much of the “how to” information appears to be written by people who love the idea of “free range” but have never actually raised chickens themselves.

Raising free range chickens is not an automatic first step (often listed with recycling and composting) for everyone interested in simple or green living. No one should even think of getting chickens unless they are willing to make the commitment to care for them properly… and proper care means a whole lot more than just turning them loose into the great outdoors to “free range” and fend for themselves.

Anyone who has actually been around chickens for any length of time knows that they are not at all like wild birds. Although chickens can survive cold temperatures, they need a shelter to go to at night, they need protection from the cold and snow of winter, and they need protection from predators all year round. They need water that is not frozen and a readily available source of food. Providing less than these basic needs EVERY DAY is not only irresponsible, it is inhumane.

Free range is a popular idea these days, and most people think it is the best way to raise chickens. I’m in total agreement with the concept, and we have always given our chickens the opportunity to get out into the fresh air, scratch up the soil, eat the greenery, bugs and other tantalizing bits and lounge in the sun.

We have also known it was our obligation to protect them from the elements and from predators… and this necessary protection is what is missing from many free range scenarios.

Chickens are defenseless. At best they can run away, and at night they won’t even do that. I do not understand the rationale of leaving chickens unprotected and at the mercy of predators… or the easy acceptance of the resulting injuries or deaths as “just something that happens.”

It isn’t just something that happens… it’s neglect.

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Comments

molly

I’m with you Shirley, leaving them outside in snow is downright disgusting!

As we are supposedly the most intelligent species on the planet it is our duty, I believe, to properly and humanely care for those animals we utilise for our own purposes.

Thankfully we don’t get snow here, however, we do have extremely hot summer temps so ensuring they have shade, plenty of water and ventilation is important on the other end of the scale.

Hank

Great article! Great also that someone has finally said what I have been thinking. I am disgusted by the callous attitude some people have towards their animals and what a terrible example this is for children. I appreciate your sensible measured outlook on so many of these subjects.

Maggie

A family in our town is always loosing their animals to the heavily trafficked road in front of their house. i have stopped driving past there because there are so many dead rabbits, chickens, even once a baby goat in the road or beside the road. It is just sad that all the animals aren’t protected.

Leslie

I want to think, like you, that the people that did this to their chickens were uneducated about chickens and their needs. It is hard to believe that many people who like the “free range” concept would define it as the chicken fending for itself day and night, even those who have never owned chickens. I believe that free ranging is for the benefit of the chicken (and it therefore benefits us as consumers of their eggs/meat). It should be done with care and with the safety of the chicken in mind or it completely defeats it’s purpose. Sad to hear that the chickens suffered because of ignorance.

jules

We have a neighbor who does their dog like that. We finally found an igloo doghouse and took it down there. Even though we live in the South, we still had over 12″ of rain in December (a lot) and poor Paco was on the end of a 8′ chain tied to a tree lying in the dirt.

Lauren

Hi Shirley,

I appreciate your article. Our chickens are allowed to roam free all day but roost in their hen house. Hen house has food and water so chickens can stay in when they want. Our large dog protects them against the coyotes during the day.

Most of the “wild” has been bred out of modern chickens. Most hens won’t brood their own eggs, thanks to aggressive breeding and unnatural settings for hens in the industrial ag business. And they have to be encouraged to even go outside.

We’re in a much milder climate here in South Texas. Even so, I wouldn’t dream of not providing adequate food and housing for my egg layers.

Penny

Hopefully they are not raising their version of free range kids!

Ria

I had always been under the impressing that “free range” meant, well, giving the animal some range to be free. As opposed to having them confined to an area too small to properly accommdate them, possibly not ever letting them be outside. They’ve got room to run around and eat what they find and do whatever other chickeny things they like to do.

But I was never under the impression that it meant treating them like wild animals and not providing for them at all. If you’re not going to do a thing to take care of your animals, then why have them at all? Raising animals means actually raising them, doing work, making sure they’re well cared for, and yes, giving them shelter and clean water and good food, IN ADDITION to giving them freedom to run around.

People die of exposure when they have much more protection than those chickens did. I wonder if those families would consider that a tragedy, or just part of being a “free range human”.

M.L.

Just so sad. It’s just an excuse for being irresponsible.

NewsView

If they cannot be made to see that such treatment is inhumane, perhaps they will respond to an economic argument. No one wants to eat or purchase bad eggs or sickly chicken meat. It is a waste of money when animals that are raised for food are sick.

Another other option is to simply offer something that you think someone who is incorrectly caring for an animal might benefit from — an old dog house or pet bed you don’t use anymore — think creatively: a chicken or a rabbit or whatever the case may be can benefit from such an item in a pinch — a tarp lying around in your garage that might serve as an insulator against wind or rain when thrown over a cage, a bale of hay for the chickens to bed on, etc. The strategy here is that if the “correction” is made in the context of *giving* rather than chiding or scolding someone, people take to the good intent (aka hint) better than they will to unsolicited advice.

Try to see what sort of psychology makes them tick: Whatever it takes to produce a desirable end result.

Jo

I have been thinking about this a lot. I have tried to see this issue from all viewpoints. I really have. What needs to happen is these people who commit acts of cruelty, whether through ignorance or on purpose need to see the long arm of the law.

All animals in their “care” should be taken from them and good homes found for them. Then they should be given their day in court to explain to a judge just why they decided to let these chickens suffer and die as they did.

No one has the right to treat God’s creations in any way except with the utmost care. Period.

Lynne

Holy cow…I think people can be so cruel. We have 28 hens and one supremely happy rooster. They have a house to both roost in and lay eggs. I do not like to hunt eggs but one time a year!!

We really enjoy our chickens and are silly to the point that when it is really cold if one chicken is roosting by herself, we will put her closer to others to stay warmer.

People have some nutty ideas about animals. We do have Guineas that would rather have frost on their backs than go roost inside. They did figure out when it was subzero that maybe the barn wasn’t so bad after all.

Anne

that’s terrible! We had 5 hens until recently – a hawk killed our silkie when she was out in the yard. We did all but bring our girls into the house when it got so cold here in florida. We had almost 2 weeks with either freezing or below freezing temps. Our coop has a heatlamp and was surrounded by tarps and quilts to help keep them warm. How heartless of these people to treat their animals this way. Our hens are excellent egg layers – have continued to lay every day (thanks to the light I’m sure) and are more pets than anything – we love them and their little personalities.

LL07

how sad. Those poor birds. It made me tear up just thinking about them freezing and miserable in the cold. How completely irresponsible of those people. I believe animals serve a purpose but that doesn’t mean they should be neglected and abused. Animals should be treated with kindness and respect. I stopped eating meat last year after reading all the horrible stories of how the animals were treated during their lives. Not because I belive that animals should not be eaten but because I was so disgusted and saddened by the abuses they suffered (and the additives and hormones currently put in animals). So many irresponsible people out there not caring about the consequences of their actions. Cruelty to humans usually begins with animal cruelty.

Dave

Chickens are domesticated forms of a bird called the Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus), which lives in TROPICAL areas of the world, like Malaysia and the Philippines. The wild birds would do no better in freezing weather than these birds did. As the post and other commentators here said, someone caring for an animal should understand the animal before imposing human concepts like ‘free range’ on it.

Sheryl at Providence Acres Farm

I agree! Keeping chickens out in the elements to just “fend for themselves” is cruel and inhumane. Our chickens live in an insulated fortress.

Tmj

I totally agree. I do have a small flock of chickens, their living area has a hen house where they can get out of the weather as well as an outdoor run enclosed with wire and a roof. The wire around their area is buried a foot into the ground to keep digging animals out. Before I got my chickens I read a lot about shelter and what they needed. I also watched my neighbors lose their free range chickens to the free range neighborhood dogs and diseases picked up from wild birds or chemical coated garden plants. One even managed to ingest a pile of small screws and died from that. I don’t think most people intend to be cruel but they often don’t educate themselves or they are reluctant to spend money or time to provide appropriately for their animals.

Patti

Just came in from working on my insulated, well planned out hen house! Love my babies! A hawk tried to snatch one from me and that is when I learned my lesson about free range! My girls will have a nice safe run and plenty of room to roam! I have also purchased a dog kennel that will be their home in the deep of the winter inside my house! My chickens are pets that happen to make breakfast and I would say that people who treat their chickens so badly are very similar to the commercial farms who treat their chickens with no humanity! I thought the point was to eat food from well cared for animals. Even old time farmers treated their animals better than that!

Quinn

I wish the authorities has taken action sooner, but am glad they finally rescued the surviving birds. I hope there will be abuse charges brought against the people involved, to make them understand that yes, they DID do something wrong.
I agree with you about misinformation being broadcast by “experts” who have no firsthand knowledge of raising animals – it’s certainly not limited to birds.
Here’s hoping for a better life for those rescued birds, and all creatures struggling to survive in poor conditions.