Why Are Chickens Often Raised Inside?
As a chicken farmer, I’m often asked why farmers raise chickens inside poultry houses. While most people envision chickens living outside and foraging for food on rolling hills and sunny pastures, the reality is that about 99% of chickens are raised indoors. There are three main reasons why farmers raise chickens inside: protection from extreme weather, predators and disease.
All of this protection helps to ensure that the chicken flock is safe, healthy and comfortable – because at the end of the day, a chicken farmer’s priority is the welfare of their chickens!
1. Protection from the Weather
Chickens can live comfortably both outside and inside! But one of the major reasons that farmers, like me, keep chickens inside is to protect them from the weather. Here in Maryland, our chickens would have a very hard time foraging for food outside during the winter. It would also be very difficult for our chickens to stay cool and hydrated when it’s over 100 degrees in the summer.
Chickens especially need to be kept warm when they are babies because they can’t regulate their own body temperature. When baby chicks arrive to the farm, the thermostat is set to a tropical 92 degrees. But as chicks grow bigger and feather out, they put off more heat and need to be cooled. By using ventilation systems and advanced climate control inside the barns, we can control the temperature inside to keep the birds comfortable and healthy all year long.
Not all poultry houses have the same ventilation systems. My chicken houses are outfitted with controllers (computers that read the thermostats).
Learn more about chicken houses and managing the temperature inside here.
2. Protection from Predators
Another reason we raise chickens inside is to protect them from predators. Chickens are an easy animal to prey on – they don’t have strong defense mechanisms, they don’t have great camouflage and…they’re tasty. Predatory animals like hawks, eagles, raccoons and foxes would be happy to snack on a chicken left unattended outside.
Having an enclosed shelter also gives chickens a strong sense of security. It has even been shown that when chickens are given the choice to be free-range outside of the barn, they actually choose not to. Oftentimes, the chickens never leave the security of the chicken house.
3. Protection from Disease
While farm animals don’t get the same diseases that we get, there are still plenty of things that can make them sick. Disease prevention, also known as biosecurity, is another reason why we raise chickens inside.
Avian flu is one of the most widely known diseases that can affect chickens, but there are other diseases that chickens are susceptible to, such as infectious bronchitis and Newcastle disease. Keeping chickens in chicken houses with limited access to other animals (including humans) helps prevent chickens from getting sick and also reduces the spread of disease to other flocks.
At the end of the day…
Whether farmers raise chickens inside or outside, the health and welfare of the chicken flock is our number one priority. Farmers invest a lot of time, pride, energy, and resources into our chickens. We depend on our flock to provide for our family, and we do everything in our power to ensure our flock is safe and healthy.
Jennifer “Jenny” Rhodes owns and operates a family poultry and irrigated grain farm with her two sons, Chris and Ryan. They produce more than 500,000 broilers raised without antibiotics annually. Their farm feeds 30,000 people each year.
Jenny is also an Extension Educator of Agriculture and Natural Resources for the University of Maryland Extension Queen Anne’s County. The main focuses of her educational programs are agriculture profitability programs, risk management, and poultry production education. Jenny serves as past President of the Delmarva Poultry Industry, Inc., past President of Maryland Association of County Agriculture Agents and past member of Maryland Agriculture Commission.