If you happen to have a small yard, you can still use the pastured poultry method of raising chickens by using a chicken tractor. A chicken tractor is simply a pen/coop combination that has no bottom or floor. It is usually light enough to drag or can have wheels that enable the chicken tractor to be moved around.
Pasturing chickens with a chicken tractor will give you the same benefits as using electric poultry fencing, it's just a bit more work since the chicken tractor should be moved daily.
Unfortunately, many people that choose to raise chickens, do not raise them much differently than the large mass producers. They purchase the chickens, place them in a coop and sometimes give them a small run. This is what I would call "cage free chicken". Although the chickens are not confined to a small cage, they typically do not have much room to roam, and after a short period of time, the run is nothing but dirt and mud.
We have been very happy with the results of pasturing our flock. The 5000 square foot area that the 300 feet of fencing gives us is plenty for the 2 dozen birds we keep in our flock.
As for the fencing, we have found Premier 1 Supplies to be very helpful in choosing the right kind of fence and energizer for our particular needs. We have been so happy with the product they sell, that we also use their fencing for our bee hives and gardens. The deer and bears are no longer a problem for us.
Electric poultry fencing is easy to set up and is quite portable so that you can move the pasture if you need to.
We have had some younger birds get through the fencing on occasion, but birds that are 2-3 months or older seem to learn the boundaries rather quickly and never seem to get out. We have not had any chickens fly over the 48 inch fencing that we use.
After trying both of the above methods in the past, we ran across what we consider to be a better option that gives us the ability to let the chickens roam, and at the same time, protect them from predators. It also keeps them out of the gardens and our landscaping. It is called "pastured poultry".
We purchased 300 feet of electric poultry fencing and a solar fence energizer from Premier 1 Supplies and set up a "pasture" for the flock with the chicken coop inside the pasture. The electric poultry fencing keeps out predators while at the same time keeping the chickens in. They get to have a safe area that contains grass, bugs, dirt, sunshine and fresh air. It lets them be chickens! They are happy, healthy and relatively free to roam.
A chicken that is given the opportunity to leave the coop in the morning and roam through the yard, fields and woods without boundaries, is what I would call a "free range chicken". This method is popular on homesteads that have a larger amount of acreage. While this method will allow the chickens a lot of opportunity to eat grass, bugs, seeds and other more natural foods, it does put them at a greater risk of predators like foxes, coyotes, dogs and such.
Chickens can also make a mess of gardens and landscaping as they forage for food while "free ranging". If you have neighbors nearby, or like your own garden and yard, you may want to reconsider free ranging your flock.
When we look at commercial egg and meat producers, we must keep in mind that profit is the most important factor when it comes to the method used to raise chickens. It would simply be cost prohibitive to do anything different than use large chicken houses that house thousands of birds in very confined quarters to produce eggs and meat for the mass market. The type of chicken and methods of raising the mass produced egg and meat bird equals a product that is not as tasty or nutritious as a slower growing chicken that has access to grass, insects, sunshine, exercise and fresh air. This is one of the main reasons that families choose to raise chickens in their backyard.