Starting a Self-Sustaining Flock

City Gardener

In the Brooder
10 Years
Mar 22, 2009
Hi there,
I love my 8 chickens, but as we've just made the move from Brooklyn, NY out to the country, we are eager to expand our flock.

I have a big order in at My Pet Chicken, but my son, my husband and I have all been talking about starting a self-sustaining flock of a dedicated breed and selling them in our area. My son wants to do it for a homeschooling project, and I want to do it to supply chickens to the area (so they don't have to get shipped al the time) and.... for fun.

Would love to hear from some of you small-farm breeders. Is there a reason to start with breeder-quality chicks? Or can we start with hatchery-chicks? We're not so interested in showing, but would like to have a good-looking and healthy line.

Should we start with chicks from different sources to mix up the bloodline?

How did any of you all get started?

I know I sound like a total ignoramus, that's because I am! Just at the beginning of the research phase, so be kind please!

thanks for anything you can share.


10 Years
May 31, 2009
Cobleskill NY
I guess a lot depends on what you mean by "self-sustaining."

It is possible to maintain a flock of quite closely related individuals for a very long time. All breeds are inbred to a certain point. Maintaining several lines or pens, perhaps from different sources can help with this. So, most any bird can be genetically sustained with a little research into breeding practices.

OR are you looking for a bird that will sustain your family with its meat and eggs? In that case you might want to consider finding breeder stock of some of the classic American breeds like Barred Plymouth Rocks or Rhode Island Reds or Jersey Giants. There is a difference between them and hatchery stock. Hatchery stock may lay more eggs, but they probably don't have the same sized frame that would be desirable for a meat bird.

OR, are you looking for a profitable bird? I don't think there are many people that are making much money on poultry breeding. The dark egg layers like Marans or Welsummers are still hot, as are Ameraucanas or Auracanas for their blue eggs. If you plan to make any money with them, you need to get the best stock you can afford and read as much as you can about breeding and selection. There are lots of people reproducing these breeds but who aren't selecting for anything, and are cranking out watered down versions of the "real thing" at inflated prices. That's not a way to make a name for yourself in the poultry business. I even see people on BYC who charge more for their eggs than the original breeder they bought their stock from, even though they have done nothing to improve the line. These people ultimately get found out.

I say find a breed you enjoy and want to explore the history and genetics of- A breed you want to live with for years. That will be the most sustaining for you in the long run.


9 Years
Apr 7, 2010
Eastern IA
I started my flock this spring and a local breeder set me up with 35 chicks of different breeds. This gave me the chance to find out which breeds I liked and now I'm finding out about their laying abilities. I started with Ameraucanas, Cochins, Welsummers, Polish, Cuchoo Marans and Easter Eggers. I found the Polish and Cochins are pretty cool to look at, but not very good in a free range setting, so I know I won't get more of those. I like the colored eggs the Ameraucanas and EEs lay so I kept an EE and an Ameraucana roo to cross with all the hens. Hopefully I'll get some babies next year:D

I do like to breed quality, so my next experiment will be with an Iowa group that are going in together to get a bunch if Iowa Blues. They are an all purpose heritage breed we are going to try to build up. We will be getting them from two different hatheries to try to get a wider gene pool, so maybe that would be a good way to go.

The nice thing about raising chickens is the generations come pretty quickly and you can always change your mind if something doesn't work!


10 Years
Nov 25, 2009
If you want to show or have breeder quality chickens, then you should NOT order from a hatchery! Go to a reputable breeder! Hatchery birds only produce hatchery birds. Even if you add better birds to your flock, the hatchery ones will just slow you down. If you just want eggs and meat, then buy from a hatchery.

If you are a beginner, start with one bloodline from one breeder. Breed that same strain for a while and learn from them. After you are experienced, start mixing strains. You can line breed or in breed just dont breed sister X brother ( I think)


It's all about the Dels!
9 Years
10 Years
Jan 24, 2010
Englewood, TN
First off.... THANK YOU for researching!!! What a breath of fresh air that is!

I think what you are looking for is a free-ranging, homesteading, all around, dual purpose, heritage... chicken, right? If I'm understanding you, you want a chicken that is a hardy all purose bird.

One... you asked about breeder/show stock verses hatchery... this is a slippery slope on a site like this. If you are looking for utility only, then hatchery is fine. If you are looking for utility and breed conservation (yes, there are many endangered breeds of chickens), then a breeder (not just any either) would be the right choice. You already said you won't be showing, so don't bother with "show quality" anything... most the time it is a selling word (online especially) and means nothing when used that way.

If you want to preserve a breed... which I highly suggest for a miriad of reasons... you should join the APA and the ALBC (American Poultry Association & American Livestock Breed Conservancy). You will find a wealth of knowledge with both organizations. The ALBC will give members a directory of breeders of each breed (even other livestock) and it would be a great place for you to start off finding good utility stock.

Be careful just "mixing" bloodlines right off the bat... you could unintentionally cross a great line with a bad one and set yourself back. Be careful and thoughtful and educated in your decision. PLEASE do not take any one person's word for anything!!! I'm just trying to save you from so many new breeder's mistakes.

Go to a show or fair if you have too... look at all the chickens... take notes on breeds that catch your eye. Google them (again... use more than one site as a reference - you'd be suprised how they sometimes will contradict themselves). Write breeders that you find and "tickle their brain"... a good breeder will be willing to answer you and help you!

So, I guess all in all what I'm saying summed up is.... learn all you can!

Lastly, if you are wanting to supply your area with birds... you need to do some local research too. I have multiple breeds going here and some I couldn't GIVE away locally... they just don't even know what I'm talking about when I talk about them. So, be careful with that too.

Good luck and have fun!!


9 Years
Mar 17, 2010
Paso Robles, CA
You have an order pending? I would raise those up and see which ones you like and go from can check out the breed threads look at birds and learn don't be in a hurry.........I too highly recommend a heritage breed and I would buy from a "breeder" who raises the kind of stock you want and that takes time and luck to find a good one. If you decide to take "the plunge" I recommend buying a Standard of Perfection even if you never plan on showing that way you learn what a good bird is to look like and learn faults that you never want to get into your flock. Enjoy your birds and have fun wow hatching is a joy for me and trying to improve my stock is relaxing and fun even if there is hard work involved from time to time. I started with wanting a self sustaining flock for eggs and meat and so far have really enjoyed the journey and have beautiful eye candy to look at everyday.


10 Years
Jul 9, 2009
We've had chickens for about 2 yrs now, and I just wanted to share with you from our experience. First, I got interested in nearly every breed I read about on-line. They all sound great! And worthy of conservation! I now have probably 300 chickens, and still haven't decided which ones I like the best. I would suggest getting a variety of breeds from one of the better hatcheries (such as Ideal) and then wait to decide in a year or so which one you like the best. For example, I had seen speckled sussex on-line, and they didn't look that interesting to me at the time, but then we got some at the feed store by accident (thinking they were welsummers since they look similar as chicks), and it turns out I fell in love with the beauty of the speckled sussex (much more impressive in person than in photos). Anyway, I guess if I had to pick just one breed, after trying 30 or so breeds so far, I don't think I'd waste my money on the marans again (I got 3 different types and didn't fall in love with any of them really). Now that we're getting eggs from them, I don't think I'd ever give up my welsummers (beautiful birds and beautiful eggs). Also I love the hatchery Easter-Eggers for their personalities and eggs. And the Ameraucanas too. I also like the white-faced black spanish (large fowl) for their beauty and historical interest. And you can't beat the large-size cochin for curb appeal (every car will stop and stare at those big beauties).
Anyway, just thought I'd throw in my 2 cents. If selling eating-eggs, I'd go with the welsummer or Ameraucana or Easter Eggers. If going for preservation of a historical breed, there are lots to chose from also. Plus people don't seem to care too much about boring color eggs (white/tan/small) anyway, as long as they're farm-fresh!!


Intentional Solitude
Premium Feather Member
13 Years
Feb 3, 2007
Blue Ridge Mtns. of North Georgia
Personally, I will never go with hatchery stock again due to my many hens from one particular large hatchery all dying from internal laying, starting just after their second birthday. Longevity is not what hatcheries breed for. They breed for egg production generally and that's all. For self sustaining, you need at least some breeds that still have their broody tendencies intact. Heritage breeds, the tried and true, are the best overall for a self sustaining flock, in my opinion.

My favorite all-round breed is the Plymouth Rock, mainly the barred variety. They are usually not all that broody, though some that are far removed from hatchery stock do brood. They lay extra large to jumbo brown eggs and are friendly and easy to keep. Since most of my hatchery stock has passed from reproductive malfunction, my current flock is mainly from eggs hatched from various breeders and my own hens and eventually, I'll bring in new blood from other places in the form of hatching eggs. My Barred Rock/Ameraucana crosses do brood occasionally.


12 Years
Nov 19, 2008
central virginia
when you decide on a breed or breeds try to get at least 3 different strains. a show quality strain, a hatchery quality strain and a strain from a local breeder. pick the best rooster and 2 best hens from each strain. raise a bunch of chicks from them to adult size. pick the best rooster and put him in with the original 6 hens. pick the best 6 hens and put in with the original rooster. so now you have 2 breeder pens, some call this the rolling method, and you should be ok even if you have to inbreed. from here its just best to best and you could even have 12 hens to a rooster. you could breed your rooster for 3 years to a new generation of hens every year or so.


Hopelessly Addicted
Premium Feather Member
9 Years
Jun 18, 2010
Southern Oregon
I don't have any advice for you but am enjoying the responses as I've had similar ideas. I mostly wanted to say congratulations on your "escape" to the country! Sounds like you're loving your new life!

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