Managing a self-sustaining flock - Page 2
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A self sustaining flock is not possible in a temperate climate, and not realistic otherwise. We are not raising jungle fowl, and we are not in tropical Southeast Asia. We also expect a return, and that requires an investment. We get out what we put in, and with good management, we could possibly see a profit.
Now, I realize that is understood. It is important to define what we are trying to accomplish. Why do we have the birds to begin with? Eggs for the kitchen? A seasonal meat source? etc. etc.
On a single acre, even the idea is at a disadvantage. We would be better off with bantams. Or even bantam x large fowl crosses. What I am trying to express is there is a limited amount of resources. Fowl half the size, lays an egg 3/4 of the full size, and eats 1/2 a much feed to maintain body weight.
Unless we are willing to grow a substantial amount of grain and legumes, bantams or shrunk down large fowl fit this conversation better. Even that is not what people want to hear. Somehow, bigger is always better though it rarely is.
Roughly 60% of the birds dietary needs is a high energy food source. They have very high metabolisms, very high heart rates and respiration rates etc. These birds are rarely sitting still even when they are still. This becomes clear when we try to take a picture of them. Anyways, priority number one is a digestible energy source. They need larger quantities of it than the others. This is why the corn/soy combination drives the market. It is the ability to produce and harvest lbs. per acre, but also an excellent and digestible energy source. Soy compliments the corn concerning the amino acid profile, but is high in protein where corn is very low. Soy is also a high energy source of digestible protein.
Green forage that is lower fiber and digestible can make up 25% of the diet if the percentage crude protein is decent. I like to further break it down into greens, herbs, and legumes. We can decide for ourselves what is available, but I feel that a variety of all three are important.
The last 15% should be a high protein source. This can be soldier fly larvae, or meat scraps from the kitchen etc.
Now we do not have to be precisely perfect all of the time, but we should know our birds and monitor their condition. Earlier growers did not have the commercial rations that we do, and became good "feeders". They developed an eye for their birds condition and were able to identify what corrections might need to be made to get them at top condition. Though there can be periods of maintenance, it is a false economy to operate under the premise that less is more. It is not more, and is only less. As a consequence, deficient. Then the birds suffer, and we suffer.
Grass is part of the birds diet, but should be a small part. Grass is a high fiber food item. Chickens are low fiber animals. They are not cows, rabbits, goats, or horses. When we consider greens for poultry, preferably it is young and tender. Not that they cannot utilize it otherwise, but as a matter of necessary preference. If all the bird has is grass, it will not thrive.
Poultry quickly depletes an area of diversity, insects etc. Better birds for this are birds that forage widely. Frankly, fluffy, large, soft feathered roost potatoes do not fit this model. They are big eaters, and high maintenance. You want active and assertive breeds that range far. Again, if they are restricted to an acre, bantams or shrunk down large fowl might be a better option. Sometimes less bird is a good idea. That can be smaller birds, or less birds. 4 commercial leghorns will cover up most families with eggs.
We should be realistic about what we can provide, what they have access to etc.
Broody hens is a reasonable option when managed well.
Edited by gjensen - 11/23/15 at 8:17pm
It is odd what some people consider self sustaining. True self sustaining is zero supplemental feed, complete independence in breeding, hatching, and rearing young, healthy and free of reproductive and genetic issues, and street smart about predators and weather. Most people do not have sufficient forage for truly self sustaining chickens, especially if you live in a climate that is not warm all year. Each bird, in a warm climate, would need at least an acre of DIVERSE land to find enough food off of, and I still would not expect year round eggs or extra fat on the birds. I do not care what anyone says; freaking Buff Orpingtons and other fluffy, cute, dual purpose lump chickens, as much as I love them, are not the birds to be looking at to do this with. You need game birds, Nankins, Orientals, perhaps with a cochin or silkie or a big broody thrown in here and there for size and mothering qualities, or maybe a Dual Purpose for a little better protection against predators, but mostly game. If you really wanted eggs you could cross with an Egyptian Fayoumi or a like breed for eggs and vigor since they are not too far on the dumpy domestic side. My best all day foragers, best flyers, mothers, and street smart chickens are my games mutts. They have Cochin, silkie, and Easter Egger thrown in for diversity, but they are primarily game and Nankin. You have to be careful with some wilder bantams that you do not get show type ones that have been living in cages for the last few generations are so. It would not be too big of a deal, but you want to stick as close as you can to the wilder chickens for sustainability.
- Monkey Lookout
In African (and I'm sure many other parts of the world) having chickens is a way of life for most rural people (typically accounting for 60-75% of any country's population). The majority of these birds free range - be it in local fields or the neighbourhood. It does work, but the egg production can be as low as 40-60 eggs per year (reportedly, in Kenya - where i live) and the carcass weight is very low.
I have owned some of these hens (my first ever hens) and found that with commercial feed and free ranging in the garden, they produced many more eggs than than 40-60 (in fact, only stopped laying through broodiness).
My personal conclusion is that if you want a totally self-sustaining flock, then be prepared to accept lower egg productivity and lower carcass weights, combined with potentially considerable losses due to predators. For sure, breed will be a big issue (unless you live in the developing world, where centuries of natural selection has dealt with this) also.