Looking for help with my 2012 flock planning


10 Years
Jun 5, 2009
Tamms, IL
We have been chicken keepers for three years now. We have an urban homestead, and in all honesty a lot of the things we do are illegal (keeping chickens, using alternative water sources, etc.) but we live on 1/3 of an acre at the edge of town with no neighbors and good privacy fencing so we haven't had any problems. We are a large family (there are 9 of us and this autumn we will be a family of 10). We are mostly self-sufficient for economic reasons (in other words, we are poor) but we also love living the simple life and being as self sufficient as possible; our lifestyle also keeps us off the welfare rolls, since we provide our own healhty food.

In the past, our chickens have been for egg laying. Now we want to focus on dual purpose breeds because we could sure the extra meat every now and then. We processed and ate an extra rooster the other day, and in all honesty although he was on the tough side, it was so much better than store bought meat it made us decide that we should give consideration to eating our own chickens. We don't eat a lot of meat (for financial reasons) so this was a real treat for us.

Our chickens free range on our property. At night they are secured in a shed-turned-barn, and then let out at daylight the next morning. I would like to keep our flock size manageable, meaning 6-8 hens and our rooster. Hopefully, they will be quiet breeds. We do not have a freezer, other than the refrigerator freezer space. I do can all of our food, but in all honesty we do not like the texture of canned chicken. What we hope to do is harvest a chicken about once a month for eating the same day. We also need to depend on the chickens for eggs, which is why we are looking at the dual purpose breeds. We'd also like for the breed to be able to brood, so that our flock could replenish itself. We are considering three breeds: Australorps, Welsummers, and Marans (the Marans only because we love their egg color, they are not supposed to be good setters). We do not want to fool with breeds such as the Cornish X; we prefer the hertitage breeds. Our winters are mild; every now and then we might have snow but rarely do our temps fall below 20F for more than a few days at a time. "Winter" is January and February for us. Summers are typical southern summers- hot, humid, and relentlessly long.

I am looking for advice on flock building and rotation. How often should we replenish this small backyard flock to ensure that good egg production continues and we have a reasonable supply of chickens for harvesting? Once we get some broody hens and have our own chicks being raised, it will be easier. I am hoping someone who raises a small flock like ours for both egg production and the occassional meal can give me some advice on flock planning. I have read a lot, but it seems that most things I read, when they refer to a "small" flock, are speaking of 20-25 chickens.

Thanks so much. I appreciate any and all advice.


Susan, I haven't had Australorps, but I do have both Marans and Welsummers.
They both haven't been as broody as I would have liked.
The egg color is close with the Wellies, and they have been putting my Marans to shame in the laying dept.
But the Marans are supposed to be pretty tasty, from what everyone says.
I wish you luck in your venture.
Hi Susan! Wow, who would ever think that chickens were illegal in Illinois? Here in NJ, which is almost entirely urban, or suburban, I can see, but not in the midwest. Anyway...

IMHO, as I have not raised birds to eat, six to eight does not sound like enough for a self-replenishing flock. When my dad was growing up in Ohio, they had a flock to sustain them through the depression for the same purpose as what you seem to be looking for, although they had a chicken once a week. Their flock was at least fifty birds. The problem is, these heritage breeds need a bit more time to grow enough to eat and reproduce their own replacements. By reducing the flock by one bird a month, I don't think you would have enough birds to sustain you, especially through the winter months. You'll have to get better advice from someone who has had a flock like the one you are looking to have to get a better handle on the numbers.

As far as breeds, the best dual purpose bird I've had is the Dominique. Even when I lived on a 50-100ft lot, they would manage to find enough bugs and worms to hardly need to eat when they got back to the coop - they were amazing! They were very healthy, and seemingly impervious to the heat and the cold. They were very solid birds, although not as big as say, Wyandottes or Australorps. The Jersey Giants I have are very big, and would make for good eating, but take a very long time to grow, and eat a lot of food in the meantime. The roosters don't finish growing until they are around 18 months old. But, if you're looking for quiet, the several hens I have had barely made/make a sound. Plus, they are fairly clam birds, and do well with kids taking care of them.

There is no rooster that is truly silent. Even two roosters from the same hatch may be at opposite ends of the sound spectrum. Plus, you can almost rely on the bird crowing at the exact wrong time, even if he doesn't make a sound for the rest of the day. The quietest one I have ever had is my Faverolles bantam. He doesn't make a peep all day, but be ready at three in the morning, and he'll serenade you for about twenty minutes. This is my other breed to recommend to you, although it is more of a meat breed than a dual-purpose. They can be rather hard to find, as are the Dominiques, but I assure you both are worth the effort. My Faverolles hens lay cream-colored eggs almost the entire year. The Faverolles is the national chicken of France, and there are meals in that country that are only allowed to be made with the meat of a Faverolle. They are now my favorite breed - very quiet and affectionate, and beautiful!

Being in a similar financial situation, I have learned that my best purchase is one made following a great deal of research, and I have rarely had cause to regret that. Also, with chickens, I have learned the value of patience while waiting to get the right birds, not just birds of the breed that I want. Since you will be relying on these animals for your food, buy your stock from a reliable breeder, as the hatchery stock is not always endowed with the attributes you will be looking for, even though they may be the same breed. Even though you may not be breeding for show, birds from a reliable breeder are a world apart from mass-produced animals - they are worth the wait, and the price. Luckily, there is far more information available today then when I started with chickens only a few years ago, and you'll be able to locate the breeds and the breeders that will work best with your family.

I'll be following this thread - I'm interested to see what breed you decide on. Good luck!!

- Mary, NJ
Thank you both for your replies. I have decided that I will just buy a few pullets of each breed I am interested in and see how they work out. I really want to keep the flock small and easily manageable, so we will concentrate on eggs and just harvest a bird for special meals. It sure would be nice to have a flock of 50 and go out and harvest a bird every week, though!

Again, thank you for the advice. I appreciate it. I was hoping for more replies, but it seems that most people who have small flocks don't have them for self-sufficiency, they have them for pleasure. I think I will hunt up some good books to read on the subject.

Hi Susan,
Our family has a very small flock of just 3, which we hope to get eggs from eventually. Only one has begun to lay very small pullet eggs.

Anyway, I noticed in your post that you don't want to get Cornish X and I wondered why. When we bought our 3 pullets from the feed store, we also got 2 meat birds...just to go through the experience. We brooded them and raised them up alongside the others. When they were older, the "normal" chickens TAUGHT the meat birds how to scratch and look for bugs and grasses. Honestly, I don't think Cornish X have that knowledge in their genetics. But, my chickens taught them how to free range and they did great and put on weight fast. So for an investment of $1.45 plus some feed, table scraps and lots of attention from our family, we ended up with 2 very large, delicious "organic" meat chickens. One bird weighed 6 pounds after removing feathers and insides and he provided about five meals for our small family. All in all, it was a wonderful experience for us. We butchered them at 8 weeks and 10 weeks of age, however I have a friend that saved one of hers for 6 months (and a special meal). Free ranging helps them not to get too fat - too fast, but they aren't a breed for keeping for long periods of time, usually.

Cornish X get a bad name because they can be pigs and be pretty dirty (with 20+ birds), but they aren't so bad with just a few. They actually have cute personalities and were a lot of fun. Oh well, those are just my thoughts. You may have other reasons for not wanting Cornish X, but just thought I'd share our experience.
Hi Susan!

DW and I have been working toward self-suffiency too, though there's only the two of us.

We have about 25 Black Australorps. They're our only chicken breed, having already tried Brahmas, Delawares, and Plymouth Rocks. They've done very well in our high desert climate - highs in the low 100s in summer, lows in the upper teens in winter. They're friendly and mellow, good foragers, layers, and will go broody (especially after they're a few years of age). The hens are very quiet, and the rooster... well, he's a rooster.

I put leg bands on them to signify the year they were hatched. I understand egg production drops by 20% per year after the first year, so I'll probably dispatch the four-year-olds in Autumn after this laying cycle. To minimize the problems of inbreeding, I bring in a new rooster about every two years.

I don't know if this is an option for you, but I obtained a second refrigerator to store eggs and meat. (Actually, we got a new fridge for the kitchen, and just never got rid of the old one.) When we don't have a surplus, I just unplug it to save electricity and cram everything into the kitchen fridge.

Have you considered raising meat rabbits? I raise New Zealand Whites. Like chickens, rabbits are easy to care for, but they're more prolific, easier to dress, and rabbit meat is very healthy and tasty. Rabbits can use local forage (grass and weeds) for a large portion of their diet, which is why they're being introduced to villages in Africa. A buck and three does don't take up much space, and together can have about 12 litters of 6-8 kits per year. At 4# per fryer, that's over 300 pounds of healthy lean meat per year. In my opinion, the only drawback to meat rabbits is how cute they are. :/

Hope that helped!

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I second the meat rabbit idea (in addition to chickens). It has been something I have been wanting to start as well. I have dwarf rabbits, but am looking to get a trio of a heritage meat breed in the next few months. You can use any chicken recipe for rabbit I believe. Another good thing about rabbits is if you get a white breed (like New Zealand Whites) you can also sell their fur if that is something you are interested in. If you have a surplus meat rabbits sell quickly on craigslist for butchering or (don't yell at me) snake food. A great book is "Storey's Guide to Raising Rabbits". It goes into butchering, how to build cages, how to build/profit from worm bins, selling furs, and care of rabbits. VERY helpful!

I have had good experience with my Barred Rocks, but have not had any of the breeds you are considering so can't help much there. Good luck and please keep us posted!
We have been raising our flock for eggs and meat and I have now had the pleasure of hatching eggs and raising that generation for eggs and meat.

I think you could do it with your base flock of 8-12 bu during the growing up phase I would think you would want more. I have had hatchery birds in the wyndottes and last year found some breeder quality. First the breeders were a lot bigger in the rooster, hens are a bit fluffier but are slightly bigger as well. I had a broody last summer sit on 10 eggs and her chicks are now at the point of lay/eating range, so for waiting for a meal it is about 6months. But I do have four boys I will be eating soon. Last year I raised about 25 chicks and had over half boys... So we butchered all the boys have kept three roosters for the flock.

As for broodie hens they are not all the same, I had a few setting and one walked off on day 15, one killed all her chicks as they hatched and the other one raised her chicks (mamma is a keeper!). So just because they will go broodie does NOT mean they will be a good setter or mamma.

As for the meat, I have heard you want to rest the bird. (still learning on this side of things). Meat section can give you a better idea about this process.

I for one am starting to really like our home grown meat!

Good luck!
Susan, don't be mislead by the lack of replies. Remember that the new system conversion went on this week and most people are just trying to get used to it - I know I am! There are a remarkable number of people who use their flock for food. Like mommyofthree said, I would head over to the meat section - you're sure to find a great deal of advice over there. Don't give up! It's too good an idea. Just think of it as a learning experience before you can find a place with more land. By then you'll really have the hang of it.

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