There are as many ways to raise and keep poultry as there are breeds of chickens. Find what suits you best and go with it.
With poultry kept in cages, signs of distress or ailment are much easier to identify than trying to identify an individual amid dozens or hundreds in a community enclosure. Further, it is easier to isolate and treat ill or infected individuals rather than medicate the whole flock including healthy birds. Some remedies specify not to eat the eggs of treated hens - all the more reason to treat only the symptomatic individuals. And when kept in cages, it is so much easier to isolate the bird with symptoms to avoid spreading the affliction to the rest of the flock.
Monitoring the productivity of individual hens as well as recording feed-to-egg ratio becomes effortless when your birds are housed individually. A hen that lays one egg every four days is not pulling her weight. She should be considered a candidate for the freezer. In that case, switch her feed from laying crumbles or mash to cracked corn and oats. Corn and oats will produce a plumper and more tender bird than laying crumbles alone.
Individual cages completely eliminates the incidence of cannabalism among your flock.
Layer cages are designed in such a way that the egg, once laid, rolls out of the cage away from the hen. It literally sits in a wire trough in front of the cage waiting to be collected the next time you happen along. No bending, reaching or stooping to collect eggs randomly laid.
The trough should be covered to disallow birds from walking on or roosting over the food. Soiled feed should be discarded immediately.
+ ensures each hen proper amount of feed
+ individual care
+ record individual productivity
+ record feed-to-egg ratio
+ prevents damage to eggs
+ less chance for soiled water
+ more sanitary
+ controlled intake
+ Easier collection of dropping for use in gardening
or worm beds + saves time collecting eggs
+ ease of medicating/monitoring individuals
- more time consuming - feeding
- additional space needed for cleaning cages
- loss of driveway sentry function
+ allows highly social birds to be, well, sociable
+ easier to more uniformly provide heat to the entire flock
+ more natural habitat
+ natural environment encourages laying
- flock activity reduces body weight
- flock activity increases feed intake
- fighting and/or cannabalism
- heavier work to rake and freshen the coop floor
- much more work in keeping the habitat disinfected
+ reduces amount of feed
+ insects add variety to the diet - with protein
+ effective insect control
- fall victim to predators
- if near a road, becoming roadkill. Yes, chickens do cross roads.
- daily egg hunt - not all hens will return to the coop to lay their eggs
- soiling in areas you hadn't planned on having the hens roost
...like on your porch swing , patio table or deck rails
There really is no right or wrong way to keep your poultry - whatever works for you is what is best for you. There are, of course, pluses and minuses as outlined above. I've had coops, individual cages and free-range hens at various times. It boils down to personal preference. The only time it matters is if your birds are being raised strictly for meat - in which case the individual cages will likely be your best bet. JMHO
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