Raising Food: Chicken Edition
I want to touch on a self-sustaining food source that is inexpensive and can be utilized almost anywhere. Many people believe that in the city, you cannot raise chickens, and that is false. Most cities have a limit on amounts and housing, etc., but do not make it illegal. A few cities do not allow roosters, however, so the reproduction will not be an option for those.
Where breeding pairs are allowed, chickens can begin reproducing in 14 to 24 weeks depending on your birds. The average hen will sit on approximately ten eggs at a time, giving you ten more chickens every month or so. That doesn’t sound like enough food but picture six hens on ten eggs, now that makes the picture clearer.
As the chickens age, you can barter or simply eat them, allowing the young to lay eggs to eat and hatch. Most hens and roosters will reproduce up to a couple years then become infertile, and hens will no longer lay. Once you have decided this will be something you would want to do, the next step is setting up your coop. In the city, the guidelines are set for you, but outside city limits, you want two square feet for every chicken minimum. Utilizing your entire building will be the key to maxing out your allowable flock.
Remember, a building has height to it, so every two feet up, you can add nesting boxes with ramps allowing the chickens to be “stacked.” An example, I have an eight by ten metal shed that I have built boxes around the perimeter of three sides and stacked three high. On the ten foot length I have five chickens per stack, and the eight foot sides I have three chickens per stack. This would allow me to house 33 chickens for nesting plus the area inside the floor where my roosters nest.
You want to make sure you have proper ventilation, as well as good insulation. The metal buildings provide great insulating factors in all seasons. You also want to make sure you have an adequate “run” for the chickens to scavenge around and stay happy. Happy chickens produce more eggs and that is a proven scientific fact. I have put up a 10×10 dog run and added a mesh top and it works fine. I did put chicken wire around the bottom half to keep the little ones in, though.
You have your laws figured out and the coop, and run are complete. The next step is to determine what breed will better suit your needs. Chickens are not just chickens, and you should know the different types and how they benefit you.
You have layers, meat, and dual purpose breeds and should decide what you are wanting. I am outside of city limits, and breed for eggs and meat, so I have dual purpose birds. If you are not allowed to breed, you should consider what you would benefit from the most. If you want more egg production, you would want a good layer, but if you are looking for meat you would want a meat bird. Last, if you want the best of both worlds, dual purpose would be the way to go.
After determining your primary choice of bird for its contributing factors, you also need to consider your climate and their living environment. Some breeds are free ranging birds and not good in a confined run, as well as some birds will not lay in cold winters, while other breeds will.
I will start with Orpingtons, which is my bird of choice. I live in colder climates and the Orpingtons will lay all year, sit on any eggs, even if they have not laid them, and are a fat, dual purpose bird. They are gentle birds, and don’t mind being confined.
Barnevelders are fair layers and a good meat bird. They are considered slow growers though and are also calm birds. They do not sit well so you would need to incubate any fertile eggs.
Brahmas are very good layers and sitters, good meat bird and good in cold weather, also. They are probably more suitable for my needs but the cost can be high due to they are also show birds.
Plymouth Rocks are good layers and meat birds, will sit on eggs, and are calm birds to handle. They are more of a free range bird, though, and confinement isn’t a good idea for these birds.
Egg layers come in white or brown egg production and better suited for different habitats as well.
White layers include, Leghorns, and White or Pearl Leghorns will lay more than other colors of the breed. Leghorns due best in confined areas and are nervous birds.
Anconas are hard to find and very wild birds. They will lay large eggs though.
Hamburgs are also a wild bird that prefers to free range.
Minorcas are large birds that produce a lot of large to extra-large eggs and hard to find too. They are probably one of the wildest birds to handle and would need to free range.
There are several brown egg layers and I will cover the more popular bird here and that is the Rhode Island Red. The roosters are aggressive but the hens will lay large amounts of eggs. There are a few more breeds of layers that are growing in popularity and researching more could be beneficial.
Meat birds are the Cornish X Rock hybrids, Cornish and Jersey Giants. Meat birds are decent layers, but if you are solely raising a meat bird, you probably wouldn’t eat the eggs. Most meat birds are also slow growers too.
Keeping your chickens happy can show a better production, and feeding can determine production also. You can find starter or grower food for the young, switching to layers feed and eventually Finishers food. They will enhance each stage of the bird and can be feed as a primary food or mixed with corn feed. The brands, I have found, also play a part in it. I switched to Purina brand layers food and have had two dozen eggs produced in 6 days between three hens. This was not happening with the other brand I was using.
Another neat little feature with the eggs is you can start to hear the little chicks peeping inside after about two weeks, reminding you of God’s gifts of life, but don’t get attached; they are completing our life cycle.
When raising chickens, you can pick up most breeds for as little as $4 a bird when they are a week or two old. The sexing is hit or miss even for a hatchery though. To assure sexing you will need to wait but the cost will increase to around $10 a bird. A month supply of feed for a flock of 10 to 12 birds will run around $20 and some miscellaneous costs will occur for bedding, but the costs are minimal compared to the gain. You will also find yourself selling eggs that are not needed and birds if you breed to keep your rooster to hen ratio close. Remember most breeds will do great with 4-6 hens per one rooster. Have fun and enjoy the satisfaction of depending on you alone to feed your family.