Starting a Self-Sustaining Flock

iknowmike

In the Brooder
9 Years
Aug 30, 2010
14
2
24
Houston, Texas
I would suggest that you keep different sources seperate until you know they are safe to enter each others areas. Every source comes with its own issues whether they want to admit it or not. Just a safe protocol. Try to keep the same size hens together when they are small. they start pecking early and the runts get the brunt of it.
iknowmike
 

Tropical Chook

Songster
9 Years
Jul 5, 2010
283
10
101
I can't really offer much advice. When you say "self sustaining", do you mean you want a flock which can take care of themselves, in that you ideally don't want to provide feed for them? Or, are you referring more to the subject of reproduction. If it's the latter, then I well and truly can't help as I know very little about breeds. If on the other hand you want a free ranging flock which requires little or no feed, then you need to look into what birds are best suited to that way of life, as I would imagine certain breeds are simply no longer capable of providing for themselves.

I' as you can see, live in Thailand, and I started my flock with a few birds which were given to me by one of the locals. These are native Thai chickens (game birds) which one finds everywhere over here. Most Thais simply allow the birds to run wild and breed as they wish, but because not all people have one of the larger Thai fighting cocks to breed in a good size, many of the birds are quite small. With that said, these birds are 100% self supporting. I myself have recently allowed my to free range from dawn to dusk, and after just two weeks, they are no longer interested in commercial food at all. Hopefully my two ducks will eat most of what's left before I have to throw it all away because the chickens don't go near it anymore. I still get beautiful eggs, and I have a flock which is happy and content. The bug population is down, including the ticks, and the coop/run smells a whole lot better as they're only in there to sleep. Most of the hens also go into the coop during the day when it's time to lay an egg. I want decent sized birds, so as I go along, the small ones will end up in the freezer, while the larger ones will be kept for eggs and breeding. All roosters will be processed before they start doing their business, and chick making will be left to a lone fighting cock.

On the downside, some people don't favor the meat of these birds because it's not as tender as the chicken you buy in the grocery stores. I prefer the taste of our chickens and so does my family, and I would imagine many others on here feel the same way. Just one month ago, I was determined to get in a few different breeds, but now I've changed my mind, because I didn't start with chickens in order to have several breeds. I started because I wanted to raise our own meat and eggs, and by meat, I don't meat broilers. Each to his own, but if you ask me, when you eat commercially raised chicken, or even self raised broilers, you're really just eating recycled chicken feed. When I eat one of our birds, I'm eating recycled grass, weeds, and bugs.......just as nature intended. And, when I eat some of our eggs, I'm no longer eating recycled layers pellets. I know not everyone can free range, but if you can, then it's the way to go, and if you can cut out commercial altogether, then that's even better.

Just the other day I asked a friend if they've ever tasted what a free range egg tastes like, and he replied "yes", him and his wife only ever buy free range eggs when they go shopping. I don't know about the states, but for he most part, you cannot get "real" free range eggs in a supermarket.

Anyway, sorry for the long post, but just wanted to share
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briteday

Crowing
12 Years
Dec 16, 2008
1,220
117
266
Northern Nevada USA
I think I understand your intent...to provide enough chickens for your own needs, incubate some eggs for sale, keep the cycle going. There are lots of ways to do this...One way is to sell hatching eggs. But we couldn't find just one breed that everyone wanted to buy. and you get into shipping, packaging, etc...not worth my time and I couldn't really afford the breeder stock for start up. So we settled on a "business plan" based on eating egg sales. I have outlined how we do it to give you some ideas...

I spent a couple of years with different breeds to decide which one I liked the best. We investigated many of the heritage breeds and I like the Rhode Islands (reds and whites). And we have built quite a following for egg customers so I need some hens that can really produce, so we also have some sexlinked ISA browns (patented breed) as well as some sexlinks that we have bred ourselves.

That being said, we settled on these breeds for a few reasons that all dovetail within the project. With a RIR rooster and some RI-white hens, I can produce my own sexlinks. The advantage is that you can sex them when they hatch, sell the day-old pullets for more than straight run (mixed males and females), don't need to raise them up (feed $$$) and find out they crow. Our day-old males are sold on Craigslist mainly to people who keep reptiles. They buy the males for $1 each and I haven't put any money into them at that point so it's pure profit. The females are sold for $4 which is pretty similar to what the feed stores charge here for hatchery sexed pullets. Even before we start incubating we separate the hens we breed with the rooster to a certain part of the run about 4 weeks before we start collecting fertile eggs and post ads in Craigslist and let friends know so they can pre-order their chicks from us. It gives us an idea of how many eggs to incubate. We figure on the conservative side that 60% will be males, and not every egg will even hatch. And we have no trouble if we end up with extra females, there is always a market for them. So sometime in January and into February we are getting an idea of how many eggs to start collecting for incubation, while still being able to meet the needs of our egg eating customers. We start incubating eggs by the second week of February (it takes about a week to collect enough eggs to do a batch in the incubator, then 21 days until they hatch, so the lead time is about 4 weeks for your first batch). Then we generally have enough orders to set eggs in the incubator every week, with our last hatch about the middle of April...that's about as long as I can take the baby birds being in the house and the constant flow of chick customers coming and going, phone calls, etc.

So out of the hatches I pick the ones I want to raise up to replenish my own flock as well. (The Rhode Islands I get from a local gal because with a red rooster and white hens...well, all you can make is sexlinks, not separate red or whites) There are also chick customers that don't have the proper housing or they don't have the time for baby chicks, so we raise some chicks up for those folks along with brooding our own chicks. We charge the $4 per chick plus $1/week for each week we keep them to cover food and electricity (brooder lamps, etc). Most people will take them at about 8-10 weeks of age when they can be out in a regular coop and the weather is warm enough that they don't need a brooder lamp anymore.

The other thing we've figured out is to set the eggs in the incubator on Thursday evenings each week. That way the chicks hatch on Friday, mostly, and we notify chick customers on the waiting list Friday night and ask them to pick up their chicks on Saturday. By then the chicks are dry enough to come out of the incubator, we start them in a little brooder cage with food and water so we can weed out any that are not doing well. And we separate out the males, calling the reptile folks as well on Friday night to let them know how many males we have for them that week, they also come on Saturdays.

So when my own chicks are old enough to start laying eggs, we post last year's hens on Craigslist for sale. The sexlinks lay well for at least the first two seasons. After that I don't know because I've never kept any longer than that. But when we eventually sell the last year's hens (about August) it pays for the feed it cost to raise up the new chicks. Also, the money from selling day-old chicks is pretty much pure profit as well. That money sometimes goes for coop improvements for the year.

So having 5 hens that I breed from I end up setting 20-30 eggs each week, and that ends up to be about 15-20 (conservatively) chicks to sell each week. 60% males x $1 = about $9-12/week...40% females x $4 = $24-32/week. Over the Spring I generally figure on $40 per week x 6-8 weeks = $240 - 320 for the hatching season plus whatever chicks I raise up until they are older for others. Then combine that with about $8/hen for last year's girls ...20 hens x $8 = $160 per year. A good year is $400 - 500. You aren't going to get rich on this project, but you can make it pay for itself. But most of this money in the first few years is dumped right back into improvements and new breeding stock every few years.

Then it starts all over again with egg sales all year 'round. We get $2-3/dozen and sell about 8 dozen per week = $20/week...We keep that money separate in a ziplock baggie so we always have a slush fund when it's time to replenish chicken feed / oyster shell / bedding / feeders / you get the idea. Anything leftover in the egg money bag in December is used to purchase brooder lamps and other supplies for the chicks that will be hatching in the next few months.

The real trick at start up is to use your time wisely so that you don't end up buying everything new, building all kinds of expensive buildings, acquiring all of your supplies brand new. We started out with 6 hens in a little dog house and they wandered around our fenced pasture during the day. When egg sales allowed we increased our flock to 15 birds the next year, but only after a neighbor moved and offered us their wooden garden shed for free if we would just move it off their property. Then we did purchase some chainlink dog kennel panels for a run (15 chickens can find lots of places to hide on our property so we only allow 6 to roam freely each day, the others are in a very nice part of the pasture, but fenced in so they can't hide). As we purchased the panels, Craigslist used, lots of foreclosures that year so we got them dirt cheap...lots of people were using them for chickens as well. When we explained our intent, a few sellers offered us all kinds of feeders, waterers, nest boxes...for free...we're moving, please just take them. The last few years we've had 20-25 egglayers and one rooster in a 10 x 10 shed with a 1/4 acre fenced run. Our weather rarely causes our birds to stay in for any length of time so we can push the square footage needed for housing a bit towards the outside limits of 4 sq ft per bird indoors. If you live in an area where winter weather prevents the birds from going out each day you would want to figure more square footage per bird. You will also need enough space in your coop to house a brooder for chicks where you can raise them up until they are large enough to be integrated with the current hens. And the incubator is a shared project with a neighbor. She gets to keep whatever birds she wants from my hatches in return for the use of her incubator. I deliver the eggs to her house on Thursday afternoon, she sets them that night, and I go over after work every Friday that we have hatches with a bottle of wine, she provides the pop corn! We sit in front of the incubator watching the eggs hatch like it is a just-released movie at the theater! Then I help out as needed for chick pick ups from both of our sales on Saturday. We see a lot of each other from February - April! On the other hand, a good sized incubator is a major investment, so I'm happy to share.

So there you have it, the way we have a self-sustaining flock that our teenager started several years ago. She's in college now and doesn't really participate in the process on a daily basis. However she is usually on winter break when we start incubating so she's around for that and she helps deliver eggs to our elderly customers who don't get out much. In the last few years there have been a few times when she's had enough profit, and no new coop improvements needed, that she has squirreled the profits away for gas money or textbooks. Good luck, have fun, take plenty of time up front to line up cheap resources, and most of all enjoy the birds. They are some of the best fun!
 

Mahonri

Urban Desert Chicken Enthusiast
Premium Feather Member
May 14, 2008
30,365
300
506
North Phoenix
My Coop
My Coop
I've loved reading this thread and realized that I'll never have a "self sustaining" flock.

Mine will always be a backyard hobby that will always cost me money, but I have some very beautiful birds from four different breeders and so I save the best of the best looking, and the bluest of the blue layers and then I breed them. It is a work in progress and it will take me many YEARS to get to the point where I'll be producing birds like Pips&Peeps but I hope someday to do just that...

... and it's a lot of fun in the process.
 

jeslewmazer

Songster
Nov 24, 2009
1,749
7
206
Mississippi
I live on the outskirts of a small town (they call it a city, but it is just a map dot
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) and just have a backyard flock. About 98% of mine either originated from or are the offspring from hatchery stock. The worst misfortune that I personal have suffered from this was do to bad weather that killed 7 out of 26 chicks. I can let mine fee range all day and as soon as I walk out side here they come running up to me for feed. It is aggravating and yet so hilarious at the same time. I have many different breeds for different attributes. So, you would have to account for everything that you are looking for. Things like: do they need to be cold hardy, heat tolerant, or neither; what type of temperament; any particular feather (or leg, or skin, or egg) color, amount of feathers, number of toes, or comb preference; if you want pure or cross breeds, or ability to make sex links (which would often requires two pure breeds, but majority don't breed true); maturation rate, and size of mature birds; how well they are with confinement (if they can or need to be penned or if only free range); broodiness; and I am sure I missed something(s). Personally from my flock the: sexlinks produce the most and the biggest eggs, some even went broody but not very often; Speckled Sussex are the calmest and produce good for both meat and eggs, good broody and moms; Bantams are a lot in a little package and so cute; Games are the best broody and moms, seasonal layers, not good for meat unless something like chicken and dumplings but very well gamy
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, very beautiful (most beautiful in my opinion), but I have only had two roosters that did not fight each other until we separated them and they would try to kill each other after that, the hens will kill fight if ever separated too (downfall if space is a issue), but if free range with one rooster I think that they would need the least human interaction; Easter Egger lay pretty blue/green eggs, and the temperament is fairly calm; Backyard crosses are my best meat birds ( I have don't used my hens for meat nor have I ever tried the Cornish or meat specific breeds) and they lay fair (some are better than others). I would have to say that I have never found the "perfect" chicken for everything. It seems like you always have to give up one or more attributes for others.
 

City Gardener

In the Brooder
10 Years
Mar 22, 2009
83
0
39
wow, thank you so much for all your replies! Wow, BriteDay, that is a reall efficient operation you've got going. It sounds amazing!

By self-sustaining I meant that the flock would replenish itself... but I also do want a flock that provides meat and eggs for my family, so I have appreciated all of your replies.

And yes, we are really excited to be starting this new life! Funny thing-- the chickens were what got us to leave the city. We had an urban backyard flock and just loved it, and wanted more, and it slowly dawned us that we were trying too hard to live this country life in the city. Why not just GO to the country!

So we've ordered Welsummers, RIR's, EE's, Barred Plymouth Rocks, Australorps and Wyandottes. And ten assorted bantams, to replenish our current bantam flock that is closing in on 2 years old. AND three Blue Andalusians, which I know nothing about, but my daughter begged for them.

I did not order Speckled Sussex or Black Jersey Giants or White Brahmas or Orpingtons or Cochins... or several others I've had a hankering for. Sigh. But there is always next year...

As several of you suggested, I think we'll see which ones we love and go from there.

But wow, thank you all for your suggestions and experience. BYC is truly a treasure trove of information. I will keep you all posted!
 

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