Help - please fix my plan!

NHMountainMan

Free Ranging
Feb 25, 2019
935
3,732
502
New Hampshire
My Coop
My Coop
Hi All - I've been a chicken guy for almost 4 months. I've learned so much from BYC through reading posts and asking questions. I've learned that there are a lot of experts, and a lot of different opinions. As I've asked questions in different forums, I realized that my original plan was way off - and I wish I'd found BYC before starting construction on my coop or ordered my first chicks!

I've got specific questions below in bold, but wanted to put some context around the questions. Feel free to comment, correct or question anything I've put in my plan. I really value the help this group has provided.

First - my reason for starting with chickens - I'm a cancer patient in remission. I've been ill for almost a decade. I'm finally regaining some strength (not regaining hair :) and what did come in is now white!) But that experience has made me rethink my grocery store diet. I wanted to know and see my source of food. So, 2 years ago, we started raising honeybees for immune boosting honey. We put in a big garden last year, and this year was the start of adding home grown protein. Also - I must now eat a very low iron diet - so red meat and game is now off limits. So - pork, poultry and fish.

We live on an exposed ridge in the mountains of New Hampshire. LOTS of wind, especially in the winter. Wind blown snow here on the ridge, with a week or 2 of 90 degrees in the summer, and 2-4 weeks with temps 15 degrees below and wind chills a 20-40 below.

With that in mind, we set out to get about a dozen eggs a week for us empty nesters - so we thought 4 chickens would be enough, and some dual purpose for meat. I bought from a hatchery - and they recommended birds for our weather conditions. We got 4 Barred Rocks, 3 New Hampshires, 3 Buff Orpingtons, and 3 Golden Buffs. (they threw in an extra barred rock) All are pullets. I chose to avoid meat birds this years, and I wanted flexibility to keep more for eggs, or butcher more if I wanted.

Do you agree with the hatchery that these breeds are cold-hearty?

I learned that they'd need 2-3 sqft each in the coop, and 10 sqft in the run. I was unsure about free ranging as our land abuts 10's of thousands or acres or protected forest and a ton of predators.

The coop I built is 48 sqft (8'x 6') and 6 feet high, with a 6/12 roof pitch - so plenty of room for me to stand. The run is 120 sqft (15'x 8'). I've previously posted pics and got great advice about adding poop boards, more ventilation and to reconfigure the roosting bars. I've already followed that advice and corrected the coop. 1/2" hardware cloth everywhere and electric netting surrounding it all.

At 8 weeks old, the pullets all moved to the coop, and all is going well. Over the weekend I started letting them out of the run and into the netted fence area, with my dog in the net with them for protection.

Oh - I forgot. I'm a city boy. Born and raised in NYC. No construction or farming experience. So I rely on advice from others. My wife grew up on a family farm (but really doesn't love the farming life) and my brother-in-law farms the land thats been in his family since before the revolutionary war. Great advisor, but his advice is old school and often very different from those on BYC.

My plan is to send 8-9 to the freezer in a few weeks, and keep four or five for eggs. They are now 16 weeks, and none are laying yet.

I heard that 4-5 hens should give us a dozen or so eggs / week. Is this correct with the breeds I have raised?

My Initial thought is to keep 1 of each breed (BO, BR, NH and Golden Buff) to see which are the best layers. Of the breeds above - which should I keep as layers?


Then I heard that having only 4 or 5 hens in the coop through our cold winter would be rough. That shared body heat would be better. So brother in law gave me 5 chicks (in which it looks like 3 may be cockerels.) They are now 5 weeks old, and in a small coop next to the other pullets, they can see each other but not touch. I"ll need to move them into to coop and run in a few weeks. That would give me 18 in 48 sqft. Approx. 2.6 sqft per chick - too tight a squeeze (I've learned about chicken math on BYC!) The new chicks are 1 each of silver laced wyandotte, gold laced wyandotte, easter egger, whitings true green and whitings true blue.

Should I have only 4-5 in the coop for the winter, or is 9-12 better for shared body heat?

The plan for the future is to keep enough layers to give us a dozen eggs a week replace them when the age and stop laying reliably, and order chicks to fill the freezer. With my dietary requirements, I eat a lot of chicken. Initially I want to avoid cross / meat birds, as their growth rate was developed for industrial agriculture, and it just doesn't feel natural. But I may change my mind on that.

Final question: At what age should I harvest dual purpose chickens, and at what age should I harvest surplus cockerels?

Again - I thank you all for what I've learned so far, and will be following BYC regularly for the great advice.
 

ChocolateMouse

Free Ranging
7 Years
Jul 29, 2013
5,603
17,949
707
Cleveland OH
I would agree that those are all around good types of birds.

Laying is seasonal. 4-6 hens will give you about 3-5 eggs a day in the summer and 1-2 a day in the winter. You'll have gluts and famines for eggs.

The golden buff is a hybrid (a cross between multiple breeds) and will probably lay the best but they're all competent layers. The buff orpington will lay the least and eat the most feed... But may also have the nicest temperament.

Your coop size being enough and warm enough is going to be very dependent on it's design. It's easier to keep more chickens in a smaller space in the coop if they have a lot of run access (way more than 10sqft/bird) from sunup to sundown. More birds can be great, but only if you have enough ventilation. Cause cold isn't a chicken killer - moisture is. More birds = more heat but also more moisture. If you have a well designed coop that ventilates well without making a draft, your chickens will do better with a few more. If your coop is too sealed up, fewer will be better.

When you process depends on what you're doing. An old rooster makes a great coq au vin. It makes a terrible fried chicken. A retired hen is great for a crockpot, a pressure cooker, or anything where you cook it twice. It's gonna make a terrible baked chicken. On average 20 weeks is popular for extra boys. Bear in mind, hatchery 'dual purpose' chickens are really more like heavy egg layers. They don't have the body mass of a breeder sourced chicken and will be unimpressive but will still feed you. I like to skin mine and cut away the leg+thighs, and the breasts and then compost the rest. It's a lot of effort to pluck and eviscerate an egg chicken for not a lot of meat.

I know it may not be 100% relevant if you're post treatment but I'm sure you're aware that cancer/cancer treatments make your immune system terrible. Backyard chickens can be a source of bacteria and infection and salmonella cases related to backyard chickens have exploded in the last decade. You may want to look into maintaining yearly tests for your flock. I would do NPIP and fecal tests yearly, and maybe also salmonella testing and/or salmonella chick vaccinations. Wash your hands a lot, plan on wearing a mask for cleaning, wash your butchering surfaces with a bleach solution, have a pair of shoes special for wearing out to the chickens, etc. This will also keep your chickens safer too, it's good biosecurity practices, it's just extra important for people with compromised immune systems. And I speak from experience as my mum had cancer and my sister is in immuno-suppressants.
 

Acre4Me

Crossing the Road
Nov 12, 2017
6,540
20,962
867
Western Ohio
Breeds: sound good. The BO are heavily feathered, and many like them on BYC. I’ve never had them. Our Barred Rocks have always done well and we get pretty cold here. There are some breeds that tend to lay better in cold vs hot, for example Chanteclers, but you don’t get so extremely cold and most breeds should do well for you. Give them some wind breaks to get out of the prevailing winds in winter when they are outside. And don’t forget to put water in the coop - we have it in The coop in winter so everyone drinks, not just the ones that don’t mind the outside cold temps when it is bitter cold.

You Can butcher at any age, but most recommend between 14-16 weeks for males to get the most meat with retained tenderness since hormones are just starting to ramp up around 16 weeks (some breeds are earlier, some later).

With cold and wind, I’d keep more than 4 or 5 in the winter for warmth and since you have the space.

Good luck
 

NHMountainMan

Free Ranging
Feb 25, 2019
935
3,732
502
New Hampshire
My Coop
My Coop
I’m new to this too and I’ve read they lay less in the winter. You might want to keep that in mind for making the decision on when to cull
I've heard the same, but also heard that if they get enough light or will stimulate more laying. My plan is to add light on a timer from 4 am until 8 am, which will give the 12-13 hours a day of light. Unfortunately, our egg demand goes way up in the winter, with all of the holiday baking we do. We'll need to buy some for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
 

Folly's place

Enabler
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
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x2!
As a new chicken owner, I'd consider culling all three cockerels this first year. IMO having a flock rooster of the right temperament is wonderful, but this year, maybe not for your needs.
If your run is roofed, you can arrange to have the flock outside in winter too, with a wind block on the north and west, at least. Chickens hate snow, and they won't want to run around out there unless you love shoveling paths, at least.
Your pullets will probably lay pretty well this winter, with or without extra lighting. I have a light on in the coop from about 4am (or3am) to 8am every morning, so the birds get 14 to 16 hours of light every day, for best egg laying all winter. Some folks do this, and some don't, the birds will be fine either way.
Chickens are fun! You will want eggs, but also 'eye candy', and entertainment, and interesting personalities out there. It may be too early to ID obnoxious flock members, but they will need to be gone too.
You won't know who your best layers are until they've been in production! Traits that are associated with good egg production aren't the same as meat traits, and somewhere there's a balance, unless you do raise separate breeds for each purpose.
Maybe keep eight or ten pullets, and see how things go.
Mary
 

ValerieJ

Straw parade on snow day
Premium Feather Member
5 Years
Jul 24, 2016
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Washington State
I heard that 4-5 hens should give us a dozen or so eggs / week. Is this correct with the breeds I have raised?

My Initial thought is to keep 1 of each breed (BO, BR, NH and Golden Buff) to see which are the best layers. Of the breeds above - which should I keep as layers?


Should I have only 4-5 in the coop for the winter, or is 9-12 better for shared body heat?
At what age should I harvest dual purpose chickens, and at what age should I harvest surplus cockerels?
I can answer a couple questions. I think 4-5 chickens will give you a couple dozen eggs a week. The buff orpingtons lay an egg every day most of the year, but only if artificial light is added in the winter for a few hours to lengthen the days. If you don't light the coop, then expect fewer eggs during the shorter days of winter.

I think 4-5 in the coop is fine, but I'm in Washington where it rarely gets below 20 degrees. As for the coop, really the space per chicken should be 4', not 2 or 3, so keep that in mind.

I would cull excess roosters when they are somewhere between 12 and 18 weeks old, and immediately if they start fighting at all. Dual purpose birds can be culled at the same age if what you want is to stock the freezer. They will be a better eating bird. Some people prefer to keep them for a couple years while they are at their peak laying in life and then cull. The draw back is, now you really just have a good soup chicken. That being said, if what you want to do is stock the freezer, you might want to consider a single purpose meat chicken. They will taste better and have better texture.

I hope that helps. I know several other folks on here can speak specifically to the other breeds and will have better advice on harsh winters. Good luck!

Sorry to hear of your journey with cancer. Sending prayers and wishes your way.
 

jrjoplin

Songster
Jul 18, 2015
224
206
136
Bridge Creek, OK
Egg production will fall in the winter if you don’t provide additional light. Even without light you might get a dozen a week from 4-5 from the breeds you’ve got. You’ll likely have a month or so where your under that production but any more and next spring you’ll be getting that amount every two days.

As far as numbers go I think you’re good either way. Your hens will be happier with the extra space and as long as they can be out of the elements they’ll be fine regardless of how many you have. If my math is right you’ve got 10 now and your coop at 48 sf is plenty of space even if you keep them all.

As far as harvesting goes my opinion is harvest when they’re at the size you want, but I’m sure someone will give you a better timeline. As for the extra cockerels, I try to let them get to size but have been known to go to the freezer earlier if they are a nuisance.

On a side note. If you’re looking to supplement all (or most) of the chicken in your diet with your own flock you’re going to need a lot more chickens. There are some meat breeds out there that don’t have the growth rate of a Cornish Xs and might suit your purpose better.
 

NHMountainMan

Free Ranging
Feb 25, 2019
935
3,732
502
New Hampshire
My Coop
My Coop
I would agree that those are all around good types of birds.

Laying is seasonal. 4-6 hens will give you about 3-5 eggs a day in the summer and 1-2 a day in the winter. You'll have gluts and famines for eggs.

The golden buff is a hybrid (a cross between multiple breeds) and will probably lay the best but they're all competent layers. The buff orpington will lay the least and eat the most feed... But may also have the nicest temperament.

Your coop size being enough and warm enough is going to be very dependent on it's design. It's easier to keep more chickens in a smaller space in the coop if they have a lot of run access (way more than 10sqft/bird) from sunup to sundown. More birds can be great, but only if you have enough ventilation. Cause cold isn't a chicken killer - moisture is. More birds = more heat but also more moisture. If you have a well designed coop that ventilates well without making a draft, your chickens will do better with a few more. If your coop is too sealed up, fewer will be better.

When you process depends on what you're doing. An old rooster makes a great coq au vin. It makes a terrible fried chicken. A retired hen is great for a crockpot, a pressure cooker, or anything where you cook it twice. It's gonna make a terrible baked chicken. On average 20 weeks is popular for extra boys. Bear in mind, hatchery 'dual purpose' chickens are really more like heavy egg layers. They don't have the body mass of a breeder sourced chicken and will be unimpressive but will still feed you. I like to skin mine and cut away the leg+thighs, and the breasts and then compost the rest. It's a lot of effort to pluck and eviscerate an egg chicken for not a lot of meat.

I know it may not be 100% relevant if you're post treatment but I'm sure you're aware that cancer/cancer treatments make your immune system terrible. Backyard chickens can be a source of bacteria and infection and salmonella cases related to backyard chickens have exploded in the last decade. You may want to look into maintaining yearly tests for your flock. I would do NPIP and fecal tests yearly, and maybe also salmonella testing and/or salmonella chick vaccinations. Wash your hands a lot, plan on wearing a mask for cleaning, wash your butchering surfaces with a bleach solution, have a pair of shoes special for wearing out to the chickens, etc. This will also keep your chickens safer too, it's good biosecurity practices, it's just extra important for people with compromised immune systems. And I speak from experience as my mum had cancer and my sister is in immuno-suppressants.

Your coop size being enough and warm enough is going to be very dependent on it's design. It's easier to keep more chickens in a smaller space in the coop if they have a lot of run access (way more than 10sqft/bird)
I forgot that the coop is elevated, so the run is actual 168 sqft. The covered portion is about 1/2 of the run. I plan on wrapping plastic as a wind break. I'm thinking I'll play it by ear on covering the entire run. We are on an exposed ridge, and wind tends to blow the snow off of our little summit. our driveway can have 2 feet, but the ridge will look like a dusting. I'll shovel if need be, and then adjust the design (and expand the run) next year.

I am immuno-compromised and really didn't think about some of the advice you offer. I do wash my hands often, bleach any surface chicken touches in the kitchen, and have specific boots I wear in the coop area. I think adding a mask when cleaning makes great sense. I'm going to have to research NPIP (don't know what that is) and look in to fecal test and our vet / our the UNH coop extension. Thank you so much for your help. And thanks for the recipe advise! For a period of time, I was stuck in a wheelchair (thankfully no longer). I spent a lot of time learning to cook and found I had a passion for time spent in the kitchen. Better and Italian chef than French, but it looks like there's coq au vin in our future.
As for the coop - I got a lot of great advice here and have added a lot more ventilation that I can open or cover depending on wind direction.
Thanks again for the help!
 

Folly's place

Enabler
10 Years
Sep 13, 2011
23,524
39,455
1,106
southern Michigan
Wear a face mask, at least a N95 or better, whenever you are in the coop. That dust isn't good to inhale! Your oncologist might not be pleased about your chicken coop adventure, but do take extra precautions to be safe.
Your chickens are likely to be safer preparing in your kitchen than those store bought ones! It's coop management that's mostly at issue. Consider having someone else do the deep litter clean-out chores anyway.
Mary
 

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