Free range

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Chickens in front of a mobile house system

When free-range keeping animals, usually of is farm animals , in an area with discharge outside designated stables. As a further development of stationary free-range farming , there are mobile housing systems that are particularly suitable for laying hens and broilers.

Free range of different animal species

Sow husbandry

Main article: Pig production

In alternative free-range husbandry, around 15 sows per hectare are kept on level ground. This species-appropriate husbandry enables high animal performance with low investment and slightly higher feed expenditure. However, due to the uneven distribution of faeces and urine, it is less environmentally friendly than stable housing.

Geese at the Kirbachhof

Laying hen farming

Main article: Poultry production

In laying hen husbandry, free-range husbandry means that the animals have an outdoor run available, which is why it is sometimes also called open-air housing. In organic farming this type of farming is most common and is subject to additional requirements.

Modern mobile chicken coop


In the aquarium hobby , free range means keeping mostly non-native fish in the garden pond or in water tanks outdoors.

Rabbit husbandry

Outdoor rabbit husbandry

In (race) rabbit breeding circles, rabbits are generally isolated, kept individually in pens, boxes and cages. This takes place even though meadow areas are available, especially among rural breeders. Some breeders practice a certain kind of outdoor free-range housing by letting these small grazing animals graze on the flat meadow in small, movable wooden wire mesh enclosures during the good weather in summer. At night the animals are then put back into the barn individually. This form of temporary free-wheeling poses many problems. The risk of coccidiosis is much greater than with traditional pen management. In the narrow run-out racks, the rabbits fight for ranking, sometimes bloody. The extremely territorial, shy, fearful escape animals are overwhelmed by being suddenly moved to another environment and react with excessive escape behavior. Often the animals are not offered adequate places of refuge and refuge within the free-range enclosure. This means that in the event of imminent or perceived danger (e.g. a dog, a cat, an unfamiliar, suddenly occurring noise, etc.), people run into a panic escape reaction against the wire mesh. Real escape to an acceptable shelter (e.g. a hedge, a cave) is de facto not possible. The rabbits sit on the open meadow in their run-off grid, like on a presentation plate. In response, the rabbits try to dig their way out of the enclosure. In terms of nature, rabbits are as shy, scared and fearful as wild animals. If they have the opportunity, they flee from humans. When the animals are grabbed, they crouch and try to remain undetected. When lifted, these animals experience fear of death and assume an apathetic, crouching posture. If these animals are turned on their backs, they even go into a kind of paralysis.

A new movement among rabbit keepers interested in animal welfare is practicing different husbandry concepts. The animals are not unnecessarily exposed to being caught, lifted, carried around or locked out. Various model projects in the field of cage-free free-range and free-range keeping of rabbits are being worked on. The demarcation and protection of the rabbit area is being tested using electrifiable small animal pasture fences. These high, close-meshed electric pasture fences are primarily used as protection against predators. In this form of free-range husbandry, it is important to offer the rabbits an acceptable, cool “cave” in a naturally structured landscape within their free-range area. This rabbit den can be a barn, shed, basement room or a stone house that the carer can walk on with standing feet. The rabbits can reach this cool open stall independently from their free-range area through a tube or a flap at ground level.

Disadvantages of free-range husbandry in connection with intensive animal husbandry

Chickens mainly use the run near the barn. If the stocking density is high (as in industrial chicken farming), this quickly leads to damage to the sward , so that the accumulating nutrients from the excrement are no longer bound and can get into the groundwater if the farm does not maintain the run appropriately.

The animals come into contact with the faeces when they are looking for food, which means that pathogens from the faeces can pass onto the animal. However, this also occurs with other husbandry methods, in particular in floor and cage rearing of laying hens. Mobile barn systems can remedy these problems with regular relocation and reduced numbers of animals .

Prohibited if there is a risk of epidemics

From October 20, 2005 to December 15, 2005 the free-range keeping of chickens was banned in all of Germany, as well as in Austria and Switzerland, and the keeping of chickens was mandatory . This measure was intended to prevent the spread of the H5N1 bird flu , which had reached Europe from Asia, and was then temporarily imposed on affected areas ( restricted areas ).

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