How big should my flock be?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by mirandalola, Nov 9, 2016.

  1. mirandalola

    mirandalola Out Of The Brooder

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    If I want to eventually supply my family with 5 chickens on the table every month?

    Theoretically, I'll be breeding my own flock. So, I guess another way to ask would be, How many chickens should I start with if I want my chickens to be hatching and raising 60 chicks every year?
     
  2. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    Miranda, How many eggs will your family eat? Will you sell any surplus eggs? If so, I strongly suggest that you have an incubator. Are you ok with smaller birds for the table? While LF/heritage birds can supply both eggs and meat, IMO the grow out time for meat with a LF layer is a bit on the long side. You are looking at around 16 weeks. Their feed conversion rate is poor when compared to the CXR. But, if you intend to be self sustaining with your flock, I suggest that you get some Pioneers. Their grow out time is around 13 weeks, and they provide a nice carcass. Also, they are not prone to the systemic problems of the CXR, and you can breed successive generations from them. Pioneers are also pretty good layers. One year, I kept a hen back from the freezer, and she became my most productive layer. She did not have a long laying history, but while she layed, her eggs were massive and frequent. The down side of Pioneers is that the roos are massive. It might not be wise to have a Pioneer roo breeding the rest of your laying flock. So, if you have room for 2 flocks, I'd suggest that you get some Pioneers for your meat needs, and choose an other LF breed for your egg production. You can work some Pioneer pullets into your layer flock to beef up the gene pool.

    In answer to your question, you will need to hatch 60 for meat + how ever many layers you need to replace the old layers each year. If you want 12 layers, that means 60 + 24 (b/c at least half of those layers will be roos, and they don't lay many eggs!) Now, figure out how you will be processing, how much freezer space you have, will you be canning the meat, do you want to keep your birds on the "hoof" and process just a few each month? Personally, I'd not want to be brooding chicks all year round, and would plan on having the storage to keep the processed birds in the freezer or canned. Also, it's a beast to be processing birds in warm weather. Flies and yellow jackets make warm weather processing horrid.

    If you are new to having a chicken flock, I suggest that you start small the first year. Perhaps order your layers, and get some CXR for your first meat birds. You might throw in a few Pioneers to get you started on your second batch of meaties.

    I also suggest that you explore brooding options: IMO, best to brood in the coop with a heating pad. Do a thread search on brooding outdoors and MHP brooder. When you plan your coop, design it so there will be electricity in the coop, and a separate area for brooding chicks. You will need 4 s.f. in coop per bird, and 10 s.f. in run per bird.
     
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  3. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    While 5 birds a month is a reasonable goal. It is a pretty steep one to start out with unless you have some help. I too will suggest, if you are new to chickens to start smaller, and work into it. I would just start with egg layers, then go to the meat birds. Get some experience. I also agree on doing several at once and freezing. It is a daunting job, and takes some time.

    If I wanted to meet my meat needs with birds I raised myself, I would have two flocks, one for eggs and meat, and just meat birds. Do some research on the cornish cross birds. Once on here I read an article where as they kept both breeds of the flock, and then once or twice a year, crossed them to produce the meat carcasses.


    As for numbers to produce 5 a month, a few hens is all you would need. An incubator, and a bit of luck, you should easily hatch out the 60 birds. Not all will live, some you might want to keep for future layers.

    MrsK
     
  4. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    Good advice above.

    Agrees if you are just starting out with chickens this year.....
    Get thru a winter with the birds you have now.
    Prepare a separate place to brood chicks in the coop for next spring.
    Incubate some eggs next Feb/Mar or Apr...depending on your climate/location.
    (putting your location in your profile can really help folks give better answers/suggestions)
    Grow those chicks out, slaughter the extra cockerels.
    Have you and your family eaten a homegrown dual purpose bird?
    That might help you decide if growing a couple batches of CX is better than just eating the 'layer' stock.

    All this time you will assess your housing needs and management preferences.

    ETA: Reading your other threads, it sounds like you've had rough start to your chickeneering endeavor.
    Do you have a coop built yet?
     
    Last edited: Nov 10, 2016
  5. mirandalola

    mirandalola Out Of The Brooder

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    Thank you all for your advice. I do plan on starting small, not getting any more until my little flock has survived a winter. I just like to make plans upon plans and know what I'm getting into! God teaches me often that that is not my privilege! One step at a time and figure it out as I go... I do know that I'd much prefer to let a broody hen raise my next batch of chicks, partly because I love watching nature take its course and partly because that's less work for me! That means I've got to wait a few months until my month-old chicks are ready to raise their babies, and by then winter will be past and my new baby will be due as well!

    We eat about 2-3 dozen eggs a week. Growing family with 4.5 children and doing most of my cooking from scratch :D Sometimes I feed eggs to my chicks, too!

    Aart, I do feel like I've had a rough start but I am amazed at the happiness my little chicks bring me. I put them outside in the morning in a little pen, and every time I go visit them they all come running to see me! The coop is finished except for the roosts; the weather is turning colder and I am dragging my feet actually sticking them out there but it will happen in the next few days. They are now 4.5 and 5.5 weeks old, plenty old enough to handle it from what I've read, but what I've seen is that if I put them outside too early in the morning, before the sun has made it over the trees, they huddle and shiver. While I know intellectually that they are fine, my mother-heart shrinks from making them do that until they're bigger!

    My biggest dilemma now is that I want to breed for disease resistance, and so I'm undecided what to do about my sick chickies. Should I let nature take its course and if they survive, then keep them and breed them? Or should I proactively cull every chick that shows symptoms, leaving me with perhaps two or three survivors to start a flock from? While I feel like the latter is the smarter move to make, I hesitates to take life without a very good reason, and until I get some more expert advice those sick chickies are still surviving.
     
  6. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    Hard to say whether you should cull all and start over with fresh healthy chicks....or ride it out with the survivors.

    From what I've read many diseases, including Mareks, are prevalent and carried without symptoms until stressors lower immunity and they bloom to debilitating or fatal levels. I've seen some mild respiratory symptoms in my flock, started with an adult flock that brought both disease and pests. I did not treat and they recovered fine. Also lost one this summer that had some nasty inside, likely avian leukosis, I can't afford pathology to confirm. But that was a hatchery bird and none of the others have had that inside when I slaughtered old hens and extra cockerels. Who knows now what my flock might be carrying. My outlook is... you can't kill all the bugs, you just have to manage what is there. I euthanize rather than treat or vaccinate...as that's a whole other slippery slope I don't care to set foot on.

    Rotating stock for meat and layers is tricky, lots of ways to do it.....after 3 years I'm still playing with the best way to keep my small flock in fresh layers.
    I don't raise meat birds but do harvest meat from my flock. Broodies are great but I prefer to incubate from my own flock for timings sake and my limited facilities.
     
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  7. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Overrun With Chickens

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    I am a broody loving chicken owner. However, I have chickens for fun with eggs. I have kept a flock for the last 11 years, and sporadically before that. You want one or two good broody hens. I have had good luck with Orpingtons. Too many broody hens, and you won't have enough eggs. However, broody hens are temperamental. And often times, you do get a poor hatch. An incubator is much more predictable and works with your schedule, and often times, if you get it set up right, ( a learning curve) will out produce your broody hen.

    However, you can cheat. You can set eggs in the incubator when you get a broody hen, or order chicks when you get a broody hen, and then slip them under her. And she will raise them up. This works well as a hobby. I have done both of these, and I have had them hatch out, and while I do process our roosters, I have no where come close to providing chicken meat for my family. If you are doing birds to meet your meat requirements, broody hens are just not consistent enough.

    What I think you need, is a good mixed flock, some real egg layers, and some dual purpose birds (they tend to go broody). Get them up and going, for say a year, then try some meat birds.

    If you have small children, and it sounds like you do, I would strongly recommend NOT GETTING a rooster. Roosters take some experience, and can go from a darling to a nightmare in a heartbeat, especially for the inexperience, which might not recognize the signals, and they are opportunist and generally will ATTACK small children first. Roosters have ruined the whole chicken experience for a lot of kids. If you have a rooster, you need to keep a serious eye on him, and your children.

    Mrs K
     
  8. mirandalola

    mirandalola Out Of The Brooder

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    Thank you for you advice! I have ordered some Buff Orpingtons and I'm excited to see how things go with them!

    I have heard how aggressive roosters can be, and I have a family history of putting aggressive roosters on the table :D I have read that roosters are less likely to be aggressive if they're handled from a young age, and my kids are great at that :D I've also tried to stick with breeds that are known to be docile, but I know that each chicken is an individual. I'm new to chickens but not new to handling animals, and my college degree that I got 11 years ago is in Biology. But I will be cautious, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep my kids safe, even if it means giving up whatever dream I had about keeping a rooster in my flock!
     
  9. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

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    I actually think the opposite is more true...familiarity (can) breeds contempt.
    Could depend on the bird and the people handling it.
     
  10. EggSighted4Life

    EggSighted4Life Overrun With Chickens

    @Mrs. K Gave me the same advice just a few months ago that friendly young cockerels don't fear you anymore and in the chicken world, fear equates to respect.

    I had a cockerel who would sit on my lap and just be so cool. But upon her advice I quit holding and started chasing a little. At first it didn't work, but he gets the point now. Once breeding age set in, that was all they cared about. He even tried to grab a pullet out of my lap once.

    Another cockerel I have was never handled is very respectful, except to the dog playing frisbee. So yes he's going after the smaller ones first. Upon seeing this, I realize he must either be locked into a run or something.... On one hand, I'm proud because he only does it to protect the girls. But now my dog knows he is an unfriendly. I was out there and the dog looked at me like what should he do because they know I am the leader. But if I wasn't there, he might have reacted differently.

    It's true all birds are individuals... But I reiterate THANK YOU for giving me the advice that seems opposite of common sense so I would never had suspected. [​IMG]
     
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