I so appreciate hearing the different perspectives on this free ranging issue. I'm really conflicted about what to do in the future.
........ On the other, DA, I think what you're saying is that you feel guilty keeping them penned up all the time and have decided that losing one is the price for letting them range around (forgive me if I've mistated what either of you were saying).
Nope, you've got my sentiments right on. My run is not big enough to keep 30+ hens in full time and I knew that when I built it. It's strictly for really bad weather and if I know a predator is prowling near by. So, if I do keep them in, I feel pretty guilty and they definitely let me know they are not happy about it. They all pile up right in front of the door to the run and squawk and chortle and generally tell me all about their "jail" time.
When I buy day old chicks to replenish the flock I always buy with about a 20% loss ratio factored in. So, if I want 30-40 hens total, and if I was starting from scratch, I'd buy 50 or even more because I know I'll lose some in shipping and because they don't do well once they arrive. The last time I bought a large number, I bought 75 and I'm down to about 35 now, 1 year later. That's about the right number. I've only lost a couple to predators and mishaps, the shipping this time was what really accounted for a lot of the loss.
While I love them and enjoy their silly antics, chickens are not the smartest of all God's creatures. They find ways to die even when predators aren't involved. They can get sick, egg bound, sour crop, prolapsed rectums....or just fall over dead on occasion for no apparent reason. I've had a couple fall into the horse stock tanks and drown. Why? Because they could. They always have LOTS of fresh water, for some reason that day the horse's water looked better than theirs and they flew up to the rim of the 150 gallon stock tanks I have and fell in. Unfortunately, I wasn't outside right then, so couldn't play lifeguard. I have done in the past, seen one go in and run and fished her out. Once their feathers get sodden that's it, they can't get out of a big tank like that on their own.
So my advice to you is........get a whole bunch more chickens to watch after. It will keep you from feeling the loss of 1 hen so severely. It won't make you heartless about it, it still hurts but not like if she was only 1 of 4, then you really see the empty spot on the roost. I'm sure Irma enjoyed her "New Orleans Funeral", I hope somebody plays some good jazz for me when I go!