Becoming More Self Sufficient With Chickens

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by mtngirl35, Oct 31, 2014.

  1. mtngirl35

    mtngirl35 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    We are a family of 3. We are working on becoming more self-sufficient. I would like to maintain a flock of chickens that will provide us with meat and eggs. I am hoping to use broody hens instead of relying on incubators or buying chicks. I would like to be able to put a chicken in the stewpot each week. So I have a few questions. 1. What are some breeds of chickens that tend to go broody? 2. How many chickens would I need to maintain in my flock? 3. How often would I need to cull an older hen to make room for new hens coming up? 4. How many chicks would need to be hatched out each year? 5. How many chickens would be too many? I only ask this last question because I have turned into a chicken addict and if I'm not careful I will end up overrun. I should also mention that the meat production would be more important than egg production as 6 hens keeps us in eggs with some to give to family. We have just bought 19 acres so room shouldn't be a problem. Thanks for any advice.
     
  2. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    I think you would be happiest with a meat flock and an egg flock. You are talking 52 chickens to butcher to meet your goal of meat every week. And that is a very, very ambitious goal. I would highly recommend that you start smaller, and take the approach that you reach your ultimate goal in about 3 years, in that time you will gain a lot of experience if you have not done chicken before.

    What I would recommend, is to start with 6 egg layers and 6 meat chickens and 6 dual purpose chickens. Meat chickens grow very fast, and you would have something to butcher in 8 weeks. These birds grow very fast, and will probably need their own pen. Butchering 6 chickens will give you experience and even with help 6 chickens is a bit of work, without overwhelming you. You can figure out the freezer room, the knives to use, how you are going to get it set up. Almost always, after you do a few, you start to figure out ways to make it easier. Then you could repeat, if you liked this. These would be very tender birds, and not need a stew pot.

    Your egg layers will start making eggs at about 4 months, your dual purpose hens will grow a bit slower and start laying at about 5-6 months. The dual purpose birds, tend to go broody, such as BO. They don't lay as much as the egg layers, but mine have always laid well enough. I find the dual purpose roosters ready to butcher at about 5 months, so they will be coming out of your flock. You can run the dual purpose and the layers together.

    Even though you have 18 acres, you will still need a coop and run. There are times that you need to keep your birds in a totally enclosed run. If you are gone for a couple of days, or if predators find you, and they will, it is good to lock up your flock out of their reach. If you plan to free range, you need to plan on losses, and if the loss is your food, that really bites. So that even if you have acres, you are still going to be limited by the size of your coop and run.

    Generally I plan (but I use that word cautiously, as the coyotes and I make different plans) to have 3 generations in my flock. 2years old going on 3, 1 year olds going on 2, and new chicks. In the summer, when the days are long, and mine spend most of their time free ranging, I let my numbers build, chicks are hatched, and little. As fall comes on, I bring my numbers back to a minimum flock, so as to keep my feed bill down when the birds are the least productive. So I cull roosters, and older birds. This gives room for the chicks that are now getting bigger. It is not static. I do raise my chicks with broody hens, but you will often times loose some chicks that way. It is the survival of the fittest. I recently hatched out 7, and in the first 3 days, lost two of those. I think the remaining five will make it, but the natural way is kind of ruthless.

    I garden and have chickens, and I have never come close to sustaining my family, but we eat a lot off of my work. Sometimes it is better to start a little smaller, not such a huge investment, not so overwhelming.

    my 2 cents,

    Mrs K
     
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  3. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    How self sufficient do you want to be? Do you want to be independent of having to order chicks from a hatchery? Will you do your own butchering? How much freezer space do you have? Have you considered using a pressure canner to preserve your chicken meat? Will you want to butcher a bunch of chickens at once, or would you prefer to just butcher one when it's time to fill the stew pot... like your great grand-ma might have done?

    Cornish cross rocks are the meat birds which pack on the size and are table ready at 8 - 10 weeks. They require careful management of feed and space.
    Freedom Rangers or Pioneers are cross bred chickens which do better at free ranging, are table ready after 12 weeks, don't grow quite as large, and are a bit easier to raise. They do not have as much efficiency on their feed conversion rate as the CXR. They can also be used for egg layers.

    You could grow 1 - 3 batches of meat birds, and harvest them for the freezer. Or you could buy straight run DP chicks, and save the roos for the table. Since you say you only need 6 layers, you might want to buy meat birds, in addition to your laying flock. If you hatch your own birds, and have an excess of pullets, those could most likely be sold as chicks, or raise them to POL and then sell them.

    The best thing about raising chickens is that the decision that you make this year does not have to be a long term decision. As your flock will be constantly be in a state of renewal, you can make changes along the way as you decide what works best for you. The recommendations I have for you: Don't bring adult or started birds into your flock. This will help you to limit likelihood of disease wiping out all of your hard work. Make your coop bigger than you think you'll need. Research fermented feed, sprouted grains or fodder. Even if you hope to have a broody to hatch your eggs, I'd recommend that you get an incubator. Chickens choose to go broody at times that may be very inconvenient for you, but having an incubator will give you control of when to increase your flock. If you can wire a lamp, you can make a forced air incubator for less than $25. This will allow you to salvage a clutch of eggs when Ms. Broody decides that motherhood just isn't her thing. Or it will allow you to incubate eggs in the house while Ms. Broody is incubating her own clutch, then, if she has a small hatch, she can foster your incubated chicks.
     
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  4. mtngirl35

    mtngirl35 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Mrs K, thank you for a very detailed reply. I actually have been raising and butchering dual purpose chickens for almost 2 years now and I want to step it up a notch. I do plan on raising meat birds next spring. Right now I have 6 layers, 4 pullets that are a few weeks away from laying, and 6 roos. 5 of them will go in the freezer next week. I don't like having to depend on hatcheries to grow my flock if I can do it with broodies. We're planning a mini farm with an orchard, a large garden, and various livestock. Everybody I work with thinks I'm crazy because I am always canning and trying to come up with more ways to stay out of the grocery store. I think I was born 100 years too late. As of right now I only have one hen that goes broody and she hatched out some chicks in June. She's a mixed breed that was supposed to be a light sussex. I think you're right about starting small, though. That way I will know when I've got enough to fulfill our needs without wasting money or overwhelming us. It has always been my dream to maintain a small homestead and I believe all the hard work will be worth it.
     
  5. mtngirl35

    mtngirl35 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'm looking to do things the way my great-grandma did. Grab a chicken when I need one. I already butcher chickens and whatever deer my man brings home. I know that I don't have the knowledge or experience to be totally self-sufficient but I can garden, can, and use a solar dehydrator. And I'm researching smokehouses. I don't want to depend on hatcheries at all. Right now I have an 8x10 coop for my 10 girls and 1 roo and a roo coop for my guys waiting for butchering. They each have a run also. I have a 10x16 storage building that I plan on turning into a coop and going to free range. I have enough freezer space to hold a deer, a side of beef, and hog and I'm venturing into canning meat. I already can veggies out of the garden and fruit from my cousin's small orchard.
     
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  6. Folly's place

    Folly's place Chicken Obsessed

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    I'd like to add that a self-sustaining flock will need more cocks to maintain adequate genetic diversity. There's good information on the Rare Breeds Conservancy website, and a small book available through them. Dual purpose heritage breed chickens are best for a self-sustaining flock, or keeping separate breeding flocks, one for higher egg production, and one for better meat, would work. Smaller breed cattle, with AI rather than coping with a bull, and few pigs raised annually, if you want beef and pork. I remember canning meat and fish and would rather not, myself. Mary
     
  7. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    You are considerably more experienced than I first thought. Lazy Gardener gives excellent advice, advice that I am currently using.

    "The best thing about raising chickens is that the decision that you make this year does not have to be a long term decision. As your flock will be constantly be in a state of renewal, you can make changes along the way as you decide what works best for you."

    The other piece of advice I would give is if you are keeping a closed flock, and being that you have had a flock, so understand what your predator losses are going to be, I would buy some high quality birds. Birds from someone who truly keeps records on egg production and meat production, who has bred to a standard. The problem with mutts, is that the stellar qualities such as egg production and meat production go down hill with repeated breeding. Start with a good flock and introduce the best roosters, and you will be much happier with the results.

    The other idea, I have read about, is someone on here mentioned (I don't remember who) kept a flock of white rocks, and a flock of cornish, and then made their own meat birds as needed for the table. Interesting idea, if you had the set up for three different flocks.

    Mrs K
     
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  8. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    I grew up on one of those farms up in the Cumberland Gap area of Tennessee that did it the way “Great-Grandma” did it. A lot of people will come on here and tell you that you cannot do it that way, but many of my relatives and neighbors did it that way too.

    The big issue you are likely to have is predators. My folks went years without a predator attack and they totally free ranged their chickens. Some of them even slept in trees in the winter and summer instead of the hen house. But occasionally a fox or dog would show up and have to be dealt with. Some people can’t free range at all because of predator pressure. I can’t free range here. It’s not the foxes, coyotes, or hawks, it’s the dogs people bring out to the country to abandon. To me, predators are the biggest threat to doing it the way you are talking about.

    When I think about self-sufficiency I think about money. To me there is a lot to be said for knowing where your meat comes from but that is different from being self-sufficient. Feed is likely to be your biggest cost. During the good weather months, which was most months, we never fed the chickens. They fed themselves. In the winter they pretty much fed themselves too by foraging but also eating the grain left after the cows and horses ate the hay and by scratching through cow and horse poop for some good nutrients. But in the bad weather months we also fed them corn we had raised ourselves. Whatever you can do to reduce your feed costs will be a big step toward being more self-sufficient, at least the way I define self-sufficient.

    What kind and how many chickens do you need? You can’t beat the hybrid broilers for converting feed to meat. That’s what they are bred to do. You can’t beat the hybrid commercial layers for converting feed to eggs. That’s what they are bred to do. But broilers need to be butchered at a certain age or they eat themselves to death. You can’t just butcher one a week as you need it. The commercial layer hybrids are pretty small. While you can eat any chicken of any age, there is just not much meat there. The broilers and commercial layers are specialists, not what it sounds like you want now but you may change your mind. You can’t breed them yourself, you have to buy the chicks each year.

    Practically any dual-purpose chicken will suit your purposes. They are not as efficient as the specialists but they lay fairly well and make a pretty good meal. If you are hatching them, you will eventually wind up eating as many of the pullets as the cockerels. That’s assuming you eat the older layers you are replacing with fresh pullets. The flocks I grew up with were not purebred. They had Rhode Island Reds, New Hampshires, Dominiques, Rocks, and such mixed in with them, but they had some game too. Games are smaller than the other breeds but they are pretty good at foraging and better at avoiding predators because they can fly better. That does not mean they are predator-proof. A fox, coyote, hawk, dog or whatever can still get them, just that they are marginally better at avoiding predators.

    While some breeds have a tendency to go broody more often than others, not every hen will go broody. While I much prefer to have a hen hatch and raise chicks, it’s hard to depend on broodies to keep you in enough chicks to raise for meat. Getting an incubator gives you some control over that, but you then have to brood the chicks yourself. That means providing a brooder, heat, and feed until you can wean them and let them forage with the flock.

    Going broody is a genetic trait. If you hatch eggs and keep your breeders from your hen that goes broody you can eventually get a flock that goes broody quite a bit. It may take a few generations. Keep one of her boys as your rooster too. He contributes genetics too, not just the hens. If she is the only one that goes broody now how do you hatch her eggs? Get an incubator.

    Genetic inbreeding can be a problem. If you cull ruthlessly you can go several generations without a problem. That means keep the ones you want to eat and eat the ones you don’t want to eat. If they have health or behavioral problems, they are gone. Look at what kind of eggs and how many a hen is leaving in the nests before you decide which ones to eat. If you keep defective breeders you are going to have a problem with the chicks that hatch.

    The way Dad handled the inbreeding problem was that every four or five generations he’d bring home a dozen chicks from the Co-op and keep the best rooster from them. He’s usually keep a few hens too. That way he avoided the problem of potentially bringing in diseases from other grown birds.

    Now the hard question. How many chickens do you need in your laying/breeding flock? I don’t have a clue. A lot of that is going to depend on your methods. If you use an incubator for replacements you might get by with what you have. If you rely on broody hens, you will need many more. If you free range keeping an extra spare rooster and a few hens is probably a real good idea. Will you really eat 52 a year? With visiting my granddaughter and other things, I only need about 42 a year, not 52. Your flock size is a number you will have to come up with by trial and error.

    Good luck with it and be flexible. You have some challenges in front of you. You may be greatly successful or it may collapse around you. But I assure you, the end result will be different that you now envision. Learn and adjust as you go and you will have a much better chance.
     
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  9. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Quote: I completely agree with what lazygardener said here. The way I say it is that all chicken plans are subject to change. What you think will work for you may not and what you think isn't going to may be your best bet in the end. Chicken breeds come to mind. You pick a breed that most say will brood chicks, then that particular line/strain just doesn't. Hatchery stock is famous for not being or doing what it is supposed to.

    And to that last statement in the quote, definitely once you get going, steer clear of "free flea market chickens" and the like, to avoid wiping out all your plans due to some nasty carrier disease. Best of luck.


    I remember my grandparents' farm in west Georgia and how they'd go pull a chicken to butcher for dinner. They didn't have Cornish X but all sorts of skinny whatevers and sometimes, it would take a couple of them. I was there for hog butchering and calf castrating and all other farm activities. It's a tough life but a rewarding one. My grandfather lived to be 100 years old and my dad is going on 94 himself, though he left the farm when he had to make a living for his daughters and moved to the city. I think farm people just live better, even if they don't live longer. JMO.
     
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  10. mtngirl35

    mtngirl35 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I agree. My chickens so far have been for fun and eggs and an occasional dinner but that was before we bought more land. I let my mutt hen hatch the chicks just because the whole process fascinated me. My Barred Rocks, Black Sexlinks, and Black Australorp show no tendencies to go broody. I have located a quality breeder in my area and I am leaning toward Buff Orps or Light Brahmas for a breeding flock. And the idea of White Rocks and Cornish to produce meat birds would be doable with one more coop and run. Predators are the reason a want a bigger flock. I live on the edge of the woods and we will have losses from coyote, raccoon, and hawks. Considering a good livestock dog or two once we get moved and start bringing in animals. We will also have pigs and goats, which I haven't raised in fifteen years or more. Maybe even a cow.
     

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