Starting my first mixed breed, heritage, self-sustaining chicken flock


In the Brooder
8 Years
Jan 3, 2012
Campbell River
Hi there,
I'm new to this forum, a new owner of a 16 acre farm, and new to raising chickens!! I'd like to start my flock in the spring of 2012. The opportunities are endless, as I have lots of space!! We'd like a flock of mixed heritage breeds that are self-sustaining, supplying us with eggs as well as meat for the table, and some to sell. I want the eggs to be big, many, and of diverse colours. I want the meat to be delicious and cost-efficient (grow fast enough to be worth the feed cost). We are not opposed to having 50 birds; but have little idea of what we are getting ourselves into. We do not live on the farm yet; but will in a few years. We could let them free range, but hawks are around, so fear for their safety. We live on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest of Canada. The farm is damp in the winter. The current enclosed pasture is 4 acres surrounded by fencing and a deep creek. The pasture is also home to two horses and three alpacas. We want Turkeys too!!
My questions.....
What breeds of chickens should I get?
Should I buy eggs, baby chickens or laying hens to begin? Where should I buy them from?
How many of each should I buy to start?
When, what kind, and how many roosters should I buy? How do I integrate them with the hens?
When and how do I "grow" my flock without buying more? Do I let the hens raise the chicks? How to I integrate the new chicks?
When, and which birds do I butcher?
What hen house/chicken coop set up would be best? (how many coops/pens?)
As you can tell, I have A LOT of questions

Thanks for any and all info!!!
Lucky You!

I have a few points of advice for you but not much in the way of a particular breed more along the lines of how to start out.
I would recommend getting chicks from breeders but a hatchery is alright too if there aren't any breeders nearby.
Starting with chicks eliminates several problems that come from buying fully fledged adults. Chicks build immunity to their surrounding environment as they mature so they are more likely to stay healthy longer. Placing adult chickens onto a farm could end badly if they aren't used to the particular diseases and/or organisms of a certain plot of land because they haven't had the time to build immunity. And unless you buy all the chickens from the same breeder you are looking at quite the vicious few days or weeks of pecking order reestablishment. Also a pecking order may never be fully established either.Buying chicks that grow up together practically guarantees squabbles remain small and infrequent.

There's also hatching your own eggs but for the inexperienced it could be a discouraging proposition if that is your sole way to get chickens. Unless procured directly from the farmer (and even then) you are looking at lower hatch rates until you become acquainted with your incubator and due to shipping damage. Not to mention the disadvantage of pricing for shipping and purchasing eggs. However, it's certainly not something to write off, it can be quite addicting and rewarding but just maybe not the best option for your method of acquiring your first chickens.

Hope that helps and if it doesn't I'm glad I was able to post it's been a while!
Hi and
. No advise to you as far as heritage goes. Mine are all hatchery birds except for as few individual ones and not sure of the source of those.
I have heard a lot of good things about Delaware as far as a good dual purpose chicken, but only what you can get from a breeder, not hatchery birds. Hatchery birds are good but normally too small for meat chicken. True dual purpose are from breeders who have kept their birds as what they should be. Hatcheries go for eggs only, so for instance the Orpington that you get from them lays quite well, but will only dress out to 2 lbs when processed. Where the breeder one will dress out to 4-5 lbs or more and still lay almost as well.

If you want different colored eggs, then you'll have to have different flocks, one for each color. Or you could get Easter Eggers but those aren't meant for meat and while some do eat them, they aren't a real good breed for that. Only for their eggs which are various shades of greens and blues. A hen will pretty much always lay the same color eggs. Thus for different colors, you need different hens.

If you allow the different breeds to mix, there's not really much telling what you'll end up with. You might be happy with them, and you might not.
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You have really asked more questions that can be answered on a simple forum. You might want to check out some good books on raising poultry.
You have really asked more questions that can be answered on a simple forum. You might want to check out some good books on raising poultry.


The good news is though that you have some time. Start looking through the forums, subscribe to a few that sound interesting to you and in about 6 months youll have a better grasp on how you might proceed. It does sound like though you might want to plan for a larger coop divided into at least 3 sections. I breed Delawares so I am biased towards them. Take a look at this link to start with . Then look at the breed selection tool on the home page to get some ideas rolling. A few might be austrolorps, leghorns, Delawares, Plymouth Rocks, and wyandottes
My understanding is that some heritage breeds are very hard to find in Canada.
Chantecler are a Canadian breed, lay large brown eggs thru the winter, very cold hardy and a good big meat bird that can be eaten at any age.
Buckeyes, Brahmas, Jersey Giants, Australorps and Cochins are big breeds too.
Australorps, Orpingtons, Cochins, Hollands and many bantams tend to go broody but many others will too.

here's food for thought - look for egg size/quantity, meat characteristics, foraging, etc.

If you're not going to be living there, consider that chickens should be let out in the morning and locked up at night. They can be kept indoors but the space needs to be MUCH bigger.

I'd start with about 10 POL pullets so you'll be getting eggs soon. Then get about 50 straight run(50/50 boys and girls) chicks of 2 or 3 breeds. That way you'll have the extra roosters to eat and the best you can keep to fertilize the hens so you can continue to replace the flock with pure breeds. Figure 1 roo to 10 hens average. You raise them together.
You can't predict when hens will go broody but using broody hens to raise the chicks is easier than an incubator and you don't need electricity. The hen will protect the chicks and take care of integrating with the flock.
If you have more than 1 breed and want to continue pure breeds you'll have to keep each breed in separate pens. They're not prejudice and will mate with anyone.
I sometimes raise meat breeds for that purpose but more often I just butcher the extra roosters. You can also butcher the older hens when their laying slows and your young birds start producing.

The book 'Living with Chickens' by Jay Rossier is a great place to start.
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Congratulations! You have a fun time ahead of you. I would highly recommend Harvey Ussery's new book, The Small Scale Poultry Flock. He is very into self-sustaining poultry raising. It is excellent!

Will you be visiting your farm a couple of times a day to take care of your chickens until you move there? Chickens need care every day. Everything is a predator to chickens, so you can't leave them to themselves. Baby chicks need care several times a day.

I would recommend starting with 25 baby chicks in 1 or 2 of your favorite breeds. Two flocks would be easier to keep separate if you want to raise baby chicks from them and not end up with a whole bunch of mutts. 50 chickens eat a lot of feed! I bet feed is very expensive on Vancouver Island, it is certainly expensive enough in Missouri!

Have fun!
Not sure if this is what your looking for, as it is still experimental for me. but i have kept a few of my freedom ranger hens and added them to my layer flock, and they are doing better than my actual layers for the winter, now they are only 8 months old so I am not sure about long term.
That is a lot of questions. You might spend some time in the Learning Center up at the top of this page, plus go to your library and check out some books on raising chickens before you decide which one to buy. Then come back on here with more specific questions. You'll notice a lot of us give different advice, whether on this forum or in the different books. There are a tremendous amount of different ways to do almost anything with chickens and most of them work. But we all have different goals and circumstances. What works for me might not work for you.

As an example of differences in goals. If you are raising chickens for meat, providing most of what they eat, with the plan to sell, you do not get a real good feed to meat conversion with anything other than broilers, and those are not sustainable. Unless you really know what you are doing and have the facilities, the broilers don't live long enough and get too big to reproduce. You have to buy chicks every time. If you are raising chickens for eggs, you get a lot better feed to egg conversion rate with breeds or chickens especially bred for egg laying, but these are small so they don't spend a lot of nutrients on maintaining a large body. What they eat goes to egg production. There is not much meat on them if you want to eat them.

You can eat any chicken, but how much meat you get off different breeds will vary a bunch, as well as the cost of feed to put that meat on them. If they forage for a vast majority of their food where you are not buying it, then that cost per pound of weight gained changes dramatically. If it is just you and your spouse, you can make a meal off one of those egg laying breeds and maybe have a small amount of leftovers. If you are feeding a mob, you need a bigger chicken or more of them. If you are selling them for meat, the egg laying breeds are not suitable at all.

The dual purpose chickens were developed to lay fairly well and provide meat fairly well but not be tremendously great at either. Their feed to egg or meat conversion rate is not great. But I use hatchery quality dual purpose chickens of mixed heritage. I raise them mostly for meat but get a lot more eggs than I need. They forage a lot. It's just me and my wife so we get maybe two meals and usually a lunch, plus about 5 pints of chicken broth out of each one. That varies with whether it is a rooster or a hen.

I suggest you refine your goals by reading the posts on here, spending some time in the Learning Center, and reading a few different books from the library. Decide what you really want the flock to do. There are just so many different goals and methods available, it is hard to come up with a solid suggestion that works for all situations.

Good luck!!!

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