What is free range?
In the EU free range means that one hectare (2.4 acres) of outdoor range must be provided for every 2,500 hens (equivalent to 4 m2 per hen; at least 2.5 m2 per hen must be available at any one time if rotation of the outdoor range is practiced) Continuous access during the day to this open-air range, which must be “mainly covered with vegetation”.
So at least they are out in the sunshine (assuming they can find their way in the crowd out of the pophole in their barn) and they should find they have an area to themselves on that field the size of a table top. Now if you have ever kept hens you would know that they poop a lot – I mean a lot. Our 11 hens fill a wheelie bin with poop every 3 weeks. Simple maths tells you that 231 hens would fill it in one day and 2,500 hens would fill nearly 11 wheelie bins full every day. So we pick up all poop in the run each morning – effectively I gather £10 worth of chicken manure every day for our compost pile. This is clearly impractical for the large scale farmer who must therefore rotate pasture every 6-8 weeks. Until then his girls have to scratch around on an ever increasing pile of poop.
Our daily routine is that at dawn each morning the girls run gets cleaned, their coop gets cleaned and they get fed dried mash and water. By 10am they have laid nearly all of theirt eggs for the day so they are rewarded with hot vegetable mash mixed with their dried food and are let out into the 6 acre field (so they get 1/2 acre per hen currently compared to the 4 m2 requirement. This will reduce to 0.12 acres per hen when we get to our maximum 50 hens total. They go foraging far and wide for worms, voles and anything else they fancy. By 4pm they are generally back around the run area and they get enticed back into their electric fence area with corn and lettuce so are safely enclosed as twilight approaches.