Hey fellas. This is a guest post by the admin of Móðir. Hopefully this will be part of a series of guest posts from pages I think we will all benefit from.
The Science of Animal Husbandry - #1
This guest post is about raising chickens for your homestead.
This is the first part of many, which will be continued on my own page.
Each post will have information that will use a ten-point ranking system.
Difficulty - 2/10
Price - 3/10
Space Needed - 2/10
Cleaning needs - 3/10
Environmental needs - coop, fencing, watering system and feeders.
Feed needs - Omnivores (grains, fruits, vegetables, some meat, and insects).
- Golden Comet: works best for eggs. 250-350 eggs yearly. (adapts well to cold climates, normal health, specifically bred to be a high egg production hen, different color chicks make sex selection easy, docile/family-friendly).
- Rhode Island Red: works best for meat and eggs. 200-300 eggs yearly. (adapts well to all climates, tough, great health, can be loud/aggressive.)
- Orpington: works best for meat. 200–280 eggs per year. (adapts well to all climates but needs shade, normal health, extremely friendly.)
HOW TO START:
Make sure chickens are legal in your area. Hahaha. Just kidding.
You’ll need a Brooder if you’re using chicks, or an incubator for eggs. I recommend you start with chicks because incubators are expensive. You can build a brooder relatively easily. If you use friendly breeds with great maternal instincts, such as Orpington to incubate, you can skip incubator machines altogether.
You can mix and match chick breeds to create a diverse flock, but make sure you select breeds that will mingle well (don’t put aggressive breeds with friendly breeds).
You obviously need a coop. One chicken needs 3-4 square feet (1.2 meters) of space of coop. If they’re always going to be cooped they need 10 feet each (3 meters) or build them a run. There are stationary and moving coops. Moving coops work well for people who don’t want “free-range” chickens because it allows your chickens to peck new grass and explore more. Use pine shavings for the bedding at least 4 inches in depth. Keep it clean for healthy birds, these dudes shit....a lot. It's ok though because the soiled bedding is a great source of natural fertilizer. Ideally your birds will be lifted off the ground. You want some sort of ventilation holes at the top of your coop. All doors, gates, windows, and latches need to lock.
If you live somewhere very cold you’ll have to look into methods of heating or insulation. You’ll also have to consider native predators because chickens are a damn good meal. Coyotes, bobcats, house cats, bears, hawks, coons, and other predators can easily access your chickens from the top. Foxes, dogs, and pretty much everything else can dig under. Applying anti-mite solution during wintertime is also a good practice.
If you want more chickens you'll need a rooster. Roosters are loud and can be aggressive. They'll protect their hens most of the time but they might also attack your grandma. Hens might lay more eggs around them but you don't entirely need them.
WATER AND FOOD:
One of the best ways to feed chickens is just to let them loose and allow them to feed off your backyard. These little idiots are pretty good at feeding themselves and will eat your garden goods or anything they can find. You can feed them your leftovers, as long as they're healthy. If a free-range flock is not practical due to predators, terrain or space, chickens are easy to feed. Before the chicks are fully grown, feed them a starter feed until they are six weeks old. I recommend you buy or make a low waste feeder.
You have two options for feed - Complete or scratch feed.
Complete feed helps you ensure you are giving your flock a nutritionally balanced diet at a higher price. Scratch feed (grains) will need to be supplemented with other foods but it can cost less. It’s also important to provide a grit source to help them break down the grains.
You can buy chicken feed with antibiotics to help protect them from many illnesses. Whatever you do, don’t feed your chickens chocolate, dried rice and salty foods. Chickens also don’t eat red peppers, dried flowers and mushrooms. Your local Farmers feed store can recommend what you need for your breed. I recommend you buy or make a gravity reliant water fixture thats easy to refill and clean. You can use a rain barrel that attaches to their water supply to cut even more cost and energy. Keep all feed/water sources clean for healthy birds. You may have to heat their water during the winter.
EGGS AND MEAT:
You gotta have nest boxes for eggs. Each laying hen should have its own box. If your coop is dirty the eggs will spoil. The nest box must be cushioned so that egg damage is minimized. Check for eggs in the morning so these dummies don't have a chance to poop on em'. Try to build a locking nest box (raccoons) that you can access outside of the coop for easy checks and cleaning.
Unlike eggs you buy at the store, you don’t need to refrigerate the eggs right away and they'll last longer. Don't wash your eggs unless they have shit on them. Eggs are laid with a natural coating on the shell that is applied as the last step in the laying process called the "bloom" or sometimes the "cuticle".
If you're looking to eat a chicken you'll have to check when the breed is at its prime eatin' weight and age. If you wait too long they'll be tough. There's a whole process to killing and cleaning a bird (which I can make another post for) but the hardest part is always the slaughter, and the feathers.
CLIP THEIR WINGS if you don't want them flying over fences or out of open coops. This can keep them from getting hurt or lost. It's a simple process that will save you time, money, and chickens. Their wing veins don't clot well so take extra caution when clipping.
Socializing can be important. They have a pecking order and will sometimes attack or kill other birds. Some breeds like attention and will grow attached to you. If you have meat birds this can be extra harsh. Other breeds won't want anything to do with you.
ARE THEY WORTH IT:
For homesteaders? Absolutely. You'll save money on eggs and fertilizer. The little dudes are actually a nice comfort to have around. Really gives you a sense of fulfillment.
Links for coop and brood blueprints: