Ideas on a self-sustainable flock?

Minky

Songster
Nov 4, 2017
528
465
143
Ontario
Hi folks
Im a newbie. Got a mixed flock of 7 for eggs. Currently 3 have started to lay.

I'm thinking ahead and starting to plan how to have a self sustaining flock, that provides my family (family of 5) enough eggs (15-20 a week will be enough for our personal use) and also provides us with enough meat birds for the year. I dont like the idea of eating my layers (who all have names and eat from our hands etc) but next spring we'd like to raise 30-40 chickens for the freezer as well.
On top of this, I know that after a couple years egg production decreases, so would like to raise my own layers in time to take over from the older girls.

Now, to me, it makes sense to get a Rooster- but then, will there be enough genetic diversity? Do I need 2 Roosters? Do people swap Roosters for their "services" ;-)
How would I breed 30-40 eggs (for freeezer birds) does a chicken still only lay one egg every 26 hrs even when they are fertilized? Does that mean all 7 of my egg layers would have to be laying fertilised eggs and sitting on them all day for weeks on end and then all chicks would be hatching one per day etc etc?? Sorry if these are really dumb questions. Ex- city girl here. :)

How would you manage a flock that you wanted to get 15-20 eggs from each week all year, and raise 30-40 meat birds from March - June??

Important to me- all my meat birds would be free ranging on our land, supplementing with feed.
They would be dual purpose breeds, not those ugly birds that are somewhat featherless and raised just for meat.

Ideally, we'd process the meat birds a few at a time as needed (my husband would do it) but we arent sure if thats practical. The other option would be to drive all 40 to someone else who would process for us, but trying to not incur any costs, and truly live off our land like the olden days...

Any tips, ideas, suggestions welcome. Thanks!!!
 

Crazy for Chickens!

Free Ranging
Jun 9, 2017
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It it's kind of hard to understand what your getting at, but I'll try.
you only need 1 rooster if you have ten hens or less. If you have more, you might want to get another, but it really depends on the rooster.
A hen lays 1 egg per day, fertilized or non-fertilized. You would have to have the kind of chickens that you want chicks from. If you have seven hens, you would collect the eggs from them every day, and when you got the desired amount of eggs, you could incubate them. Sounds like you want to have a hen set on them, so for 30-40 eggs, you would need a couple hens. Also, big thing here, your hens would have to go Broody, for them to set on them. Most hens will not go broody. Some that do more often are Cochins, and Silkies. Silkies are very good setters.
30-40 meat chickens seems a lot for your family, but as long as you can eat them all!
Meat birds are usually tasty when they are young. So if you raised them, and they were ready to butcher, you would ideally butcher them all, at once. It's a big process to butcher, especially if you are plucking by hand. (that would take hours and hours)
 

lazy gardener

Crossing the Road
7 Years
Nov 7, 2012
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Do you have much freezer space? Would you can any meat? Or would you just harvest a few at a time? Have you eaten home grown DP chicken? Do you have an incubator? Do you have the space to grow out chickens? Do you have room for a grow out coop for the cockerels? Do you mind listening to a cockerel serenade?

A sustainable flock is very doable. You can keep DP birds of your favorite variety(ies) and harvest the older birds and the cockerels every year. You really won't need to bring in a new roo for 3 or more years, perhaps a much longer time. Let your "when to replace the roo" decision be based on his performance and if/when you see the size/health of your new chicks becoming an issue. He will most likely start "missing the mark" in terms of providing good fertility long before any concerns about inbreeding arise. A single roo will easily service all of your birds. My roo has done well with up to 24 hens in past years.

You could raise 2 broods of meat birds/summer, in addition to raising your replacement layers. They can be C x R or Freedom Rangers, or Dixie Rainbows aka Pioneers. When C x R are raised on a free range + chicken feed system, they actually do well. They grow out slower and are not prone to the systemic issues seen in C x R which are caged and fed only bagged feed. FR and DR or P take longer to grow out, but provide a reasonable carcass by 12 - 13 weeks. DR also make nice layers. I held one back one year, and she became my first pullet to start laying. She laid a very large egg. Her genes still run through my flock.

DP cockerels reach sexual maturity before they achieve a good carcass size. Their feed conversion rate is not as good. If you hold them till they are a good processing size, IMO it's imperative that you have a grow out coop/run for them. They can otherwise brutalize the females in your flock. Home grown meat is also tougher, and stronger flavored than the processed cello wrapped meat you may be used to.
 

Minky

Songster
Nov 4, 2017
528
465
143
Ontario
Thanks for the replies.

I've never eaten a chicken that wasn't from a store, sadly. But I used to buy free range organic chicken from the butcher (when i was a city girl). I can only assume that the flavour of home grown chicken would far surpass Costco or Walmart meat.(?)
We have 27 acres, so lots of room. And we have a giant freezer. We have a large barn that currently only houses 7 layers but I will want a few goats and maybe a pig in the new year.
We are both stay-at-home, home-steader newbies... so plucking chickens taking hours would be my husbands job and he is willing to try it. I don't eat the skin, so perhaps he would just skin most of them?
How much does it cost to process 40 birds?

I have lots of space to incubate the chicks in the basement of the house or in the 4 season room, incase I dont get a "broody" hen. (How/when will I know?? ) And what would I do with all those eggs I would collect (that are fertilized) until I had enough to incubate or let my hen set on them? Do they "keep" for days/weeks, fertilized..if not being kept warm???? So, if laid on Tuesday and kept on a counter for 10 days, could you them put it under a broody hen? Or incubate?

How would we eat eggs during this period from our layers? Or would I collect all eggs for incubation for a week or 10 days, and just eat store bought ones?

Do you separate the rooster from hens for the rest of the year, and only allow him to service them when you want chicks??

Making a coop or a run for cockerels wouldn't be an issue. My husband is handy and like I said we have space. We gave up our city jobs to do this stuff, so he wouldn't mind at all.

Right now (to my best knowledge) I have 1 Maran, 3 Orpingtons (blue, buff, splash) and 3 Easter Eggers. I would love to keep another Maran for laying, since I lost one last month. I love my rainbow eggs.


***PS. Lazy Gardener- you lost me on the DR PR Cx R Pioneer etc etc.
I figured out Dual Purpose = DR but not sure about the rest. Can you explain?
thx
 
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sylviethecochin

Free Ranging
Jun 14, 2017
5,207
10,607
691
Central PA
Thanks for the replies.

I've never eaten a chicken that wasn't from a store, sadly. But I used to buy free range organic chicken from the butcher (when i was a city girl). I can only assume that the flavour of home grown chicken would far surpass Costco or Walmart meat.(?)
We have 27 acres, so lots of room. And we have a giant freezer. We have a large barn that currently only houses 7 layers but I will want a few goats and maybe a pig in the new year.
We are both stay-at-home, home-steader newbies... so plucking chickens taking hours would be my husbands job and he is willing to try it. I don't eat the skin, so perhaps he would just skin most of them?
How much does it cost to process 40 birds?

I have lots of space to incubate the chicks in the basement of the house or in the 4 season room, incase I dont get a "broody" hen. (How/when will I know?? ) And what would I do with all those eggs I would collect (that are fertilized) until I had enough to incubate or let my hen set on them? Do they "keep" for days/weeks, fertilized..if not being kept warm???? So, if laid on Tuesday and kept on a counter for 10 days, could you them put it under a broody hen? Or incubate?

How would we eat eggs during this period from our layers? Or would I collect all eggs for incubation for a week or 10 days, and just eat store bought ones?

Do you separate the rooster from hens for the rest of the year, and only allow him to service them when you want chicks??

Making a coop or a run for cockerels wouldn't be an issue. My husband is handy and like I said we have space. We gave up our city jobs to do this stuff, so he wouldn't mind at all.

Right now (to my best knowledge) I have 1 Maran, 3 Orpingtons (blue, buff, splash) and 3 Easter Eggers. I would love to keep another Maran for laying, since I lost one last month. I love my rainbow eggs.
I eat my roosters because I insist on letting my broodies hatch eggs. That obviously means I have roosters, and something needs to be done with them. I prefer storebought meat. Store birds are butchered at about 6 weeks, before testosterone becomes a thing. This means that they are far more tender. You should definitely try home-butchered laying rooster before you commit to raising forty of them.

There is such a thing as an automatic chicken plucker. If you decide to raise 40 roosters and have the money, I would invest in one.

Orpingtons should go broody. Silkies are continuously broody. Mine will hatch an average of eleven eggs at a setting, which they commit to about once every three or four months. You know when a hen is broody because she doesn't get off of the nest and perfects her omnicidal glare and rusty-door screech of rage.

Rooster management: Roosters run with their flocks year-round. I prefer to pick up mild-mannered boys locally (which is not good biosecurity practice, but the neighbors on three sides have chickens and some guy down the road raises pigeons, and my hens free-range. Biosecurity was never a real option for me. On the other hand, except for the girl with egg-yolk peritonitis last year, and the pullet with marek's (the marek's came here with our first batch of hatchery chicks--the local farmers should not be blamed) my chickens are never sick. So enh.)

The advantage of getting a free, mature rooster is that you know how he behaves where he came from. He should court his girls rather than chasing them down, and refrain from attacking your legs or children. Also, if you get an adult rooster, you don't have to worry about leaving a horny, immature teenager in with your girls. The disadvantage is that you often cannot choose the breed and there is a risk he might bring in diseases.

When I am done with my adult roosters, I sell them at the auction for maybe three dollars each.

Eggs for incubation: You may have to cut back a little on egg consumption, yes. Generally, my hens only go broody when they're laying their best, so if you do go the broody route, they do partially make up for the eggs you lose. If you go with incubation, just harvest eggs at your convenience. You could even cut back ahead of time in preparation. I generally will set eggs if I've had them for less than two weeks. And yes, you can keep them on your counter (I frequently do, with good hatch rates), but I've been told that's bad for fertility. You should put them in the dark. The fridge is supposed to be too cold and dehumidifying, but I've set eggs from there and had them hatch.
 

lazy gardener

Crossing the Road
7 Years
Nov 7, 2012
27,610
26,708
907
CENTRAL MAINE zone 4B
Eating eggs have a long shelf life. So, if you plan ahead, you should have enough eggs to eat while you are collecting your hatching eggs. A fertile egg is viable for 7 - 10 days with viability decreasing as the egg gets older. If you read all of "hatching eggs 101" in the learning center, it will answer many questions that you have not yet even thought to ask. Should be required reading for any one who is contemplating hatching an egg, whether by broody hen or incubator.

BTW, if you are a DIY, you can make your own incubator. Check out the "how to" videos posted by Rush Lane Poultry. You can also make your own plucker, though I've not experienced that yet!
 

Ridgerunner

Free Ranging
10 Years
Feb 2, 2009
24,145
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Southeast Louisiana
There are a lot of different ways to approach what you are doing. In many ways it’s really close to what I do. In keep one rooster and anywhere from 6 to 8 hens in my main breeding/laying flock. I use an incubator to hatch a lot of chicks early in spring and broody hens to hatch and raise more later. I try to eat one chicken a week, but with visiting grandkids and other things I only need about 45 a year. There are only two of us so we can get two meals out of a pullet or hen. Since half of what I hatch are female, half of what I eat are female. With kids you might need more. In many ways you’ll have to experiment a bit to find what works best for you for this and everything else.

You will find that egg production will go up and down throughout the year. Often, not always but often, a pullet will skip the molt her first year and keep laying throughout the winter and all the way until the next fall, when they molt and stop laying. I rotate my hens, keeping some pullets every year as replacements and eating some of the older hens. Most winters I get some eggs to eat on, though two years ago it did not work out that well. Those pullets just would not lay.

Some hens will never go broody no matter what breed. Some hens might go broody a lot, regardless of their breed. They do have tendencies, your Orpingtons have a reputation that they go broody, but it is really challenging to raise enough meat birds just using broody hens unless you keep a really large flock that often go broody. They certainly will not go broody when you want them to, if they go at all. If you are going to raise them for meat and hatch your own I really think you need to get an incubator.

If you store eggs in ideal conditions you can store them for two weeks or so and get really good hatch rates. There are different criteria for ideal conditions, part of that is 55 degrees F and high humidity. The closer you can come to that the longer they stay viable. I don’t have those conditions, I store them in the house at room temperature and humidity, often pretty low humidity depending in the time of the year. I can store them a week like that and still get good hatch rates. I do turn mine regularly.

As far as genetic diversity, a standard model used on small farms for the past few thousand years is to keep a flock with one rooster or more, but usually not many. They keep hatching and saving replacements for a few generations, that includes keeping his son as the rooster, but eventually they bring in a new rooster. Usually they could go for four or five generations before bringing in new blood. One key is that you cannot become sentimental and keep a special needs chicken. You need to be pretty ruthless at eating any that show defects, or at least do not allow them to breed. The larger your breeding flock, number of hens as well as roosters, the longer you can go. There are other techniques breeders use to maintain genetic diversity but this is a tried and true system that has worked for thousands of years for people in your situation.

The chickens you raise will not taste like the store birds and will have more texture. That’s because of age. Our dual purpose birds do not grow fast enough to be butchered at 6 to 8 weeks like those broilers. The older they are when butchered the more flavor they have and the more texture. Some people just don’t like that taste. You have to adjust your cooking methods to take into consideration the age of the bird. You can’t fry or grill an older bird and expect it to be tender. The older they are the slower they need to be cooked and the more liquid you need. There are ways to turn a very old bird into a gourmet meal but if you cook them wrong they are closer to shoe leather.

I have limited freezer space, especially when the orchard and garden are really producing. So I raise a few different batches of chickens throughout the year. With the dual purpose birds I don’t have to put them in the freezer at a special time, I can leave them on the hoof if I need to and get them later. But I may have to change the way I cook them.

You will hear a lot of myths on here about roosters. Many of those are based on experiences with cockerels, not mature roosters. There is a huge difference in immature cockerels and mature roosters as far as behaviors go. Another issue is that the tighter the space the more likely you are to have behavioral problems regardless of age. Also regardless of sex, hens can be pretty brutal at times. Mature roosters should take care of all members of his flock, chicks as well as hens. Cockerels are a bit more problematic. I leave my rooster with the flock all year long, winter or summer, whether there are baby chicks in there or not. I don’t know why you asked about removing a rooster part of the year, if you can tell us why maybe we can address that concern and make you feel better about it.

If you are just after meat and you buy a fair amount of what they eat you cannot beat the special meat birds as far as efficiency. The Cornish X will generally need to be processed by the time they are 8 weeks old, though there are exceptions depending on how you feed them. No matter what anyone says on here about any topic, there are exceptions. That’s part of why you need to experiment and do trial and error to see what works for you. The Pioneer or Rangers are still special meat birds but they grow slower and generally handle pasture better than the Cornish X.

My general suggestion is to read on here as much as you can, including in the Articles section at the top. Keep an open mind though. If anyone, including me, tells you that you have to do something a special way or you will have guaranteed disaster, get a second opinion. There are so many different ways that work and we are all in a unique to ourselves situation that there is just no one way that is best for all of us. Try some things. If it doesn’t work be flexible, eat your mistakes, and try something different. And never be afraid to ask any question that pops in your mind. We all have to start somewhere and the only silly question is the one that is not asked.
 

rjohns39

Wrangling Birds
Project manager
Premium member
Aug 20, 2015
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There are ton's of options. Do a search here for toads, @duluthralphie has developed a really interesting bird for meat, that naturally reproduces. CXs obviously are not sustainable, but they are easy and give you a really tender bird with large thighs and breasts. They require a different husbandry than DP or layers. The wizbang plucker is pretty successful DIY, but there's a yardbird that's not too terribly expensive and I understand it works really well. I have a featherman, but I process a lot more birds in a day than you.
 

duluthralphie

Dux eradication specialist
Premium member
5 Years
Jul 11, 2014
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Interesting opinions from all.

There really is no wrong way. I have toads, as was mentioned, my own breed:

There are 5 flocks of people know raising toads. We are trying to keep the genetics the same in them as we make minor tweaks.

Toads are not featherless, they do get balder in the summer. with added light I get 5-6 eggs a week from them in winter. Outdoors spring, summer and fall gives me the same. The problem right now is roosters. You do not want to have just one rooster because of their size they are not as long lived as the girls.

I have never noticed a taste difference based on testosterone in chickens. I am sure there could be...

I prefer older birds for processing. A 6-8 week old bird is too mushy and does not taste "chickeny" enough for me.


I like rooster close to a year old. (culls) they roast up so tender and I am a roasted chicken person. Not sure how they would fry. I do make fryers out of 6 month old ones though...


Toad Pictures... This guy was 22 pounds. All the roosters dress out around 15 pounds.
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and his Great Great Grandpa...
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