SUPER NEWBIE thinking about raising my own chickens for eggs and meat but I'm SO Confused!!!

Discussion in 'Coop & Run - Design, Construction, & Maintenance' started by JT_KROL, Jan 10, 2013.

  1. JT_KROL

    JT_KROL Out Of The Brooder

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    HI,

    I had thought about it last year but it was already late May and we hadn't made any decisions yet so I passed...

    I am looking at it more closely now because I want to be able to feed my family REAL food that has nothing added to it...

    I am disabled with a joint disease so I am looking at buying a coop and putting a run on the side of my house.

    This is one of the coops I'm thinking of but I don't know if the hen house would be large enough.

    http://cgi.ebay.com/ws/eBayISAPI.dll?ViewItem&item=180979364715&ssPageName=STRK:MESE:IT

    My plan is to raise layers for my family of 5 and to eat about half of them each year, (eating the older birds each year after the first year). I use to hunt deer and turkey so I have no problem butchering my own food.

    I would like to select the breed of birds I get and buy only hens but the people at McMurray only sell in minimums of 15 birds.

    So I guess I will get mine at Tractor Supply...

    I'm thinking that for my family to have fresh eggs all the time I would need about 9 hens am I right?

    Will the coop I am looking at suffice or do I need bigger?

    When should I butcher them (how old)?

    How long does it normally take before they start to lay?

    I'm planning on a walk-in run that is about 8 feet wide and 15 feet long is that good? or do I need more?

    Would I be better off with a tractor type coup that I can wheel around my yard? I have about a 1/2 an acre?

    I would love to start out with "White Rocks", "Rhode Island Reds" or "Buff Orpingtons" Are these a good selection? I would like good layers, good eaters and in a PERFECT world a bird that my kids can hold and pet (I have a 15 year old, 13 year old and an 8 year old).

    I have been reading online and have only gotten more confused. H-E-L-P!!! :)

    Joe
     
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2013
  2. AlienChick

    AlienChick Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Your selection of dual purpose birds sounds good.
    Buff Orpingtons are large and eat a lot; I would probably substitute Black Australorps or Barred Rocks since they are also large but are very good foragers.
    Tractor Supply will have a lot of RIR's (they will probably be called "Red Sex Links"), and they'll have some other popular breeds.
    They will also have meat birds in case you want to raise those (they must be butchered at 8 weeks).
    The egg layers can be butchered at around 18-20 weeks, but they won't be LARGE at that time (just more tender than an older bird).
    You can butcher older birds and they make great stew meat!

    You will get an egg/day from the egg layers except when they're molting and during darker winter days.
    During those times they will stop laying for weeks. (You don't have to worry much about that till they're over a year old.)

    Your coop size should be around 4sq-ft per bird floor space especially if you live in an area that gets a lot of snow.
    If you live in, say, California coastline, you can increase the amount of birds per sq-ft.
    I think the coop from your link will house maybe 2-3 birds (and that's pushing the limit).
    If you can allow the birds to free range around your backyard and then lock them up in the coop at night, that'd be best so you don't have to worry about building a run.
    But if you have a garden, forget it.
     
  3. Hummingbird Hollow

    Hummingbird Hollow Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I don't know if I have time to help with all your questions before I have to leave to teach my Zumba class, but I promise to check back and see if others have come to your rescue as well.

    First thing I noticed is that I think the coop you are showing is too small for 9 birds. I'd suggest something more like 4'X8' for that many birds, and the one you show is more like 2'X4'. I also think the outdoor run you pictured will be crowded for 9 birds unless thay get a lot of free ranging time during the day.

    That said, if you choose productive layers, 9 birds may lay as many as 6 to even 9 eggs per day when they are really cranking them out. I don't know how many eggs you are hoping to get per day, but you may be able to get away with fewer chickens. Currently I own 9 mature hens. Five will be two years old in the spring. Two just turned 1 year old in December and two were hatched in May of 2012. The two newest ones are Freedom Rangers, which are actually considered meat birds. They are not the best layers and will probably end up in the crock pot this coming spring. Right now, with the older hens and the fact that it is winter, I collect an average of 3-4 eggs per day. Today there were 4, yesterday only 1, the day before 6, but it is still more than enough to feed my family plenty of eggs even though I sell a dozen or more a week to a neighbor.

    Different breeds start laying at different ages, but I think around 5 months is an average.

    From my understanding, most birds moult in the fall of their second year. They stop laying, or slow way down during moult and then start back up again, but not quite as productively as they were before. That is when some commercial egg produciton companies choose to butcher their laying hens. So, if you get chicks the spring of 2013, they will start laying in the fall, slow down a bit during the winter, be at prime laying production the summer of 2014, moult that fall and then contiue laying a reduced rate after that.

    My Pet Chicken sells as few as 3 chicks per order, depending on where in the country you live. The minimum order for me was 7. I ordered 8 chicks from them in the spring of 2011 and have 8 more coming in 2013.

    Gotta run!
     
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed

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    No wonder you are confused. You are dealing with living animals. They don’t always follow the rule book. We keep them in a lot of different conditions for different reasons and manage them in different ways. There is no cut and dried one right answer to any question that covers all of us. It would be remarkable if you were not confused.

    I would like to select the breed of birds I get and buy only hens but the people at McMurray only sell in minimums of 15 birds.
    So I guess I will get mine at Tractor Supply...

    There are a few hatcheries that sell smaller numbers of chickens, Meyer and Ideal for example. You might check them out. One thing to watch for though, they are likely to add packing peanuts to small orders. Packing peanuts are extra birds included in the shipment to help keep them warm during the shipping process. Since the hatcheries sell mostly females, these are almost certain to be males. Males are the ones they have extra. If you don’t want packing peanuts, you’ll need to call them and tell them.

    I'm thinking that for my family to have fresh eggs all the time I would need about 9 hens am I right?

    I don’t know how many eggs your family needs every day and it is hard to say how many eggs a hen will lay in a week. With the breeds you are talking about I’d expect about 5 to 6 on average in their peak production times. Sometimes hens slow down in the heat of summer or the really cold days in winter. It’s not unusual for pullets to lay throughout their first winter without molting and keep laying until the following fall, but some don’t do that. With the way you are talking about managing them, you might try 9 and see if you need to adjust the next order.

    Will the coop I am looking at suffice or do I need bigger?

    I usually write a book about space requirements without giving a clear answer. How much space you need depends on your climate, how you manage them, and many other things. Their space includes their entire environment, coop, run, or free range and when it is available. If you leave them locked up during much of their waking hours, they need a fairly decent sized coop. If they have access to space outside the coop when they are awake, they really don’t need much coop space, mainly just enough to roost, but even that can vary depending on the ages of the chickens.

    Chickens have developed ways to live together in a flock. A lot of this involves the weaker running away from the stronger when there is a confrontation or avoiding the stronger to start with. They need enough space to run away or avoid. I find the more space I give them the less hard I have to work. Poop management is an easy example about that. The more space I have the more flexibility I have if I have a problem. I can’t give you a minimum requirement for how much space you need. There are just too many variables for that. But I would not consider that coop anywhere big enough for 9 hens. Then there is the note on it to not leave it outside uncovered in rain or snow.

    When should I butcher them (how old)?

    You can eat any chicken of any age. You just have to cook them differently depending on age. You are going to get them as chicks then pay to feed them until they get to laying age. You may want to wait until they stop laying to butcher them depending on freezer space. Again that is a difference in management. I raise them for meat more than anything else, but the eggs are an important side benefit. And I hatch my own. I generally start eating the roosters after 16 weeks though I really prefer to wait to at least 18 weeks, then just butcher a few as I need to. By the time I’m finished with the roosters, I’ve been able to evaluate the pullets for laying and start in them. At the end of the year, I’ve butchered my hens that are two years old when they molt and quit laying, have some one year old hens molting that I’ll carry into next year, and I’ve replaced the 2 year olds with fresh pullets.

    How long does it normally take before they start to lay?

    I have had hatchery chicks start to lay as early as 16 weeks but that is pretty rare. With the number you are talking about, I’d expect the first egg somewhere around 20 weeks. By the time they are 23 or 24 weeks old maybe half will be laying. By 27 weeks most should be laying. But I’ve also had some wait 9 months to start. You may get a bunch that are pretty late-starting or they may all start laying early. It’s just the luck of the draw.

    I'm planning on a walk-in run that is about 8 feet wide and 15 feet long is that good? or do I need more?

    That should be a decent sized run for the number of hens you are talking about. That should give them room to run away and avoid. How you incorporate that with your coop will help determine how big a coop you actually need. The big issue is predator protection.

    Would I be better off with a tractor type coup that I can wheel around my yard? I have about a 1/2 an acre?

    I seriously doubt it, especially if you have joint problems. Most tractors that you can move by hand are usually good for about 4 hens. After that, they get pretty heavy. And with tractors you have to commit to moving them a lot. Some people move theirs twice a day. Think about if you are sick or want to take a trip. Who are you going to get to move it?

    I would love to start out with "White Rocks", "Rhode Island Reds" or "Buff Orpingtons" Are these a good selection? I would like good layers, good eaters and in a PERFECT world a bird that my kids can hold and pet (I have a 15 year old, 13 year old and an 8 year old).

    If you are going to eat them I’d suggest you start with white or buff birds. The reason is that when you pluck them you will have pin feathers. If those pin feathers are dark where you can see them, plucking takes a lot longer, especially if you wait until they start molting to process them. But any of the dual purpose breeds will meet your needs. If you are going to get new chickens every year you can play around with that.
     
  5. Arielle

    Arielle Chicken Obsessed

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    Joe-- there is a lot to read here on line. YOu have defined your goal and defined your supply of birds.

    BUying birds at Tractor SUpply is fine-- just understand these are hatchery birds for egg laying. THese hatchery lines are NOT meat birds and are not dual purpose bids. THey lack the muscling-- I have butchered and eaten many hatchery birds because I have them.

    Also-- do your homework-- TSC emplyees are not poultrypeople and often mis label shipments and can't tell you the correct names of the birds. THee are the horror stories I have red here on BYC. My feeds and needs at least put the correct label on and post fliers with descriptions of the birds from the web site of the company they buy from. ( Meyers)

    Honestly-- I would order 15 from a reputable company like Meyers or McMurray, and buy a 2-3 of several breeds to see what you like. THIs is what I did and I learned quickly that breeds do vary and they vary from source to source too. ( I am now looking for real dual purpose breeds that ONLY come from the breeders and a few commercial breeders. )
    THere is a LOT to learn to keeping chickens. Read, read read, and have fun. YOu will find a few people here on BYC know more than others, look for them, find what they post: Freds HEns, Bob Blasl, Fowlman, NYred, the Dragon Lady . . and many more-- go to the HERItage Large Fowl thread started by Robert Blosl for more names-- they all hang out there from time to time. Dawg 45 knows his meds; Beekissed knows a ton too. THere are others of course, just know that most of us here are new to chickens; find the long timers . . .



    My plan is to raise layers for my family of 5 and to eat about half of them each year, (eating the older birds each year after the first year). I use to hunt deer and turkey so I have no problem butchering my own food. Hens are good for 2-3 years, as they don't pump out eggs like the battery hens. Nine birds a year will not feed your family-and these are hatchery birds without much meat compared to meat birds or real dual purpose breeds from breeders ( they are not available from the hatcheries usually--rare exceptions.)


    I would like to select the breed of birds I get and buy only hens but the people at McMurray only sell in minimums of 15 birds. YOu can find a neighbor to split an order with, or sell the extras on craigs list. Or eat them at 16 weeks. This assumes you have room for 15. No all chicks will survive, with shipped chicks expect 1-2 to die in trasit or with in a week.


    So I guess I will get mine at Tractor Supply...

    I'm thinking that for my family to have fresh eggs all the time I would need about 9 hens am I right? All depends on how many eggs you use. 9 hens is about 6-8 eggs a day from these hatchery birds if you pick the layer types: black sexlink , barred rocks, rhode Island reds, black Austalorp etc


    Will the coop I am looking at suffice or do I need bigger? Have you considered how you will manage the manure?? If you go with dep litter, you need more room per bird; if you use poop boards and remove poo everyday, then 2-3 sq feet per hatchery hen is fine.


    When should I butcher them (how old)? You said you wanted to butcher the old hens-- when they slow down. I butchered mine at 5 months ( extra boys) and they don't have much meat on them -- hatchery birds are NOT meat birds. YOu can butcher at any time, younger birds will have less meat.


    How long does it normally take before they start to lay? Hatchery pullets: About 5 months; some layers are 16 WEEKS ( Sorry not months).


    I'm planning on a walk-in run that is about 8 feet wide and 15 feet long is that good? or do I need more?That is about 120 sq feet-- max of 12 hens. THe more room they have the better. I include stumps and poles to sit on to make the environment interesting. I put in a pile of leaves to dig in and toss in oats or corn to encourage digging around. 9 A few more or less if fine. THe more room the happier they are.


    Would I be better off with a tractor type coup that I can wheel around my yard? I have about a 1/2 an acre? You can do both-- wheeling a tractor for 9 will be big. Can you free range them for a few hours at the end of the day? Or build a light weight simple framed tractor for occassional use and generally keep the girls in the coop/run for security most of the time?


    I would love to start out with "White Rocks", "Rhode Island Reds" or "Buff Orpingtons" Are these a good selection? I would like good layers, good eaters and in a PERFECT world a bird that my kids can hold and pet (I have a 15 year old, 13 year old and an 8 year old).Hatchery birds will not be good eats--yes they taste good but these are layers now and no longer dual purpose despite the advertising. These lines were developed for laying and have USUALLY lost the size and muscling to be meat birds. THey still taste good though. BO are good pets; some RIR are very crabby. My kids love the speckled sussex and the easter eggers. YOu will be limited by what the Tractor Supply has.


     
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2013
  6. JT_KROL

    JT_KROL Out Of The Brooder

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    Thank you so much!

    In what you have said I'm thinking that I can do with 4 or 5 birds. As far as the manure I have a composter and my wife has a veggie garden and all kinds of plants so I figured I have that covered.

    I have decided against the tractor idea. My plan now is this...I have a large deck that dog legs around my house. At the end of that leg I have a space that is about 10 feet wide by 25 feet long. I'm thinking that I can put the coop on the deck and run a ramp that goes right out to the run area. That area would be about 250 square feet. My thinking is with a setup like that the coop is off the ground easy to get to year round and if I need to get power to it (I live in the Pocono's of PA) I have outlets right there. Plus the kitchen window would look right into the run area and the kitchen is right off the back door. Less worry about predators at night on the deck too.

    I was out a Meyer and liked what I saw there as far as pricing and selection THANK YOU!

    THANK YOU for the recommendation on the COOP...I'm passing on that one and will look for one that is just a coop no attached run and higher quality.

    What about the starter kits for the chicks that are available from the catalogs...are they money well spent?

    When I am ready to order the chicks I should have everything setup and ready to go so they come right from the post office into their new home correct?

    Where is the best place to keep them when they are little? In the house, basement, garage?

    Thank you again you have answered so many questions!!!
    Joe

    I am working the numbers now to figure out startup costs...then I have to convince the misses.
     
  7. Arielle

    Arielle Chicken Obsessed

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    Have fun. My DH wasn't sold on the birds, but I do find him throwing corn in the evenings after work. ANd the eggs are much yellower from eating grass than anything in the grocrey stores.
     
  8. JT_KROL

    JT_KROL Out Of The Brooder

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    Hi,

    Thanks for the Marbles tip!

    THey need a source of reliable heat. SOme people use the garage, I use the house as my family is ok with sharing for 6 weeks. THey get big fast, so I put heat lamp in their new coop to help them adjust to new home temperatures outside.

    So inside for 6 weeks...I live in the North East, and in the North East of PA in the Pocono Mountains. If I get everything together fairly quickly I could be ready to order my birds in the beginning of February. Six weeks would bring me to about mid March. We can and have blizzards in March we had one that laid 3 feet of snow on us...I know you say six weeks but I guess my question is what temperature is safe for six week old birds?

    Oh and that leads to another question...The way I'm planning my coop and run the door to the coop for the birds to come in and out of will be about 3.5 to 4 feet above the ground of the run. My plan is to leave the ramp out all the time and just open the door to let them out and close the door for the night...Do I let them out everyday regardless of temperature or weather? If the run is covered with a foot or two of snow or snow and ice...do I let them out and feed them as if there was grass and dirt there? I ask because I've owned other types of birds, Doves (I was a magician) VERY VERY DUMB BIRDS, Cockatiels smarter but not by much, and a Conure (type of parrot) pretty smart for a bird, but I have heard that chickens EXCEL at stupidity. Do they know enough to get out of the cold and wet?

    Start up is often MORE than expected. I picked up used items at poultry shows. Just give a good cleaning and rinse with diluted bleach water. ALso plan on using the chickens for composting-- I have three sorting bins in the kitchen: chickens, dog, and compost. Apple cores, meat scraps, left overs, etc. I honestly belevie the birds DO need good quality protein, and this means meats, worms, bugs,e tc. IF you want them to be vegetarians, it is possible, too. I personally like that they can recycle my meat and bone scraps.

    [FONT=Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif]I came up with about $450 to start up including the birds (they seem to be the cheapest part no pun intended). But I was guessing on how much feed and other food items I would need for the chicks. Would you consider that Low, about right or high? I have heard about the composting and it was definitely on my things to do list. I didn't know about the meat scraps...do you give them raw, cooked or both meat scraps? What kinds of meats beef, pork, fish?[/FONT]

    Mary's concern is the total amount of daily work and care that the birds need and the expense. What will she need to do if I'm having a bad day. That generally means that it is physically difficult for me to move. She then would have to deal with it. Plus my condition is worse in the winter (yeah I know but moving is not an option right now and my condition hit only about 3 years ago. I use to LOVE the winter and the cold.).

    If it not too much trouble can you give me an idea of what an average chicken care day is? Or if there is a place here where I can get an honest (not an over encouraging YEAH do Back Yard Chickens it great impression) I'm looking for a real day in the life of keeping a small back yard chicken flock.

    As far as expenses beyond start up costs...roughly what does it cost monthly in feed and supplies? Have you seen a noticeable increase in you water or electric bill?

    Thank you again!!!
    Joe
     
  9. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    My day: get up some time after dawn - sometimes it is quite a bit after dawn, closer to noon as i have fibromyalgia and getting going is frequently a struggle - and go open the people door to the coop. The pop door for the chickens is an automatic door and it opens and closes by itself on a timer. This model requires electricity, although I have also used battery operated chicken doors with light sensors to open and close after dawn and as it gets darker but not full dark. I really prefer the battery operated door but the company was out of stock when I moved and had a new coop built.

    Anyway, the chickens go in and out by themselves. I open the people door so *I* can get in, and to let my turkeys out. They don't fit through the chicken auto door, but my ducks and geese do... As well as the chickens, of course. I fill all the feeders once a day and check on the automatic waterer because I had another model fail on me in the past and THAT was a mess when the float didn't shut off the water flow...

    This takes maybe 10 minutes. I do park my car right next to the coop people door when I have bags o' feed to unload. Dragging or lugging a fifty pound bag over too far a distance wears me out.

    I gather eggs. Two minutes, unless a hen is in the nest box; I won't gather from there until she gets up, so I usually wait for the afternoon/evening gather to get into formerly occupied nest boxes.

    I sit out in the yard to watch my flock for a while; this I do several times a day.

    I give the flock BOSS (black oil sunflower seed) as hand-fed treats nearly every day. Sometimes I hand feed them old fashioned, dry oatmeal. This takes at least 20 minutes because I talk to each bird.....

    Once a week I freshen the pine shavings in the nests. 10 minutes.

    Twice a year I shovel the used bedding out of the coop and put it on the compost heap; I use one of the variations of the Deep Litter Method, so there is no daily or weekly coop cleaning. This takes me a few hours and the last time I was lucky to have a friend who brought his 13 year old son with him to shovel it for me, because he wanted the fertilizer. Cool beans - I wasn't up to the work myself, so that was great.

    I think that's about it for routine daily tasks.
     
  10. JT_KROL

    JT_KROL Out Of The Brooder

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    [​IMG]Thank you!!!!

    Wow that is less than I thought it would be...How many chickens do you have?

    My main health issue is ankylosing spondylitis, which is severe, and has put me on disability for about 3 years now. The only way I can describe it is to say that it is like spraining every joint in your body at the same time. There are drugs available but none have worked for me except prednezone (10mg per day). I also have fibromyalgia (so we have something else in common [​IMG]) and when the two both come out to play it is quite a day! But hearing that someone who has one of the things I have gives me hope that we can do this!

    Threw changing my diet to all organic, no MSG (there are about 50 different names they hide it under) no High Fructose Corn Syrup, and NOTHING that is Genetically Modified I have been able with my doctor to get off all of my meds except Prednazone, occasional pain meds (I hate them and will fight taking them until the pain is really nasty) and my blood pressure medication...but I should be off the B/P meds soon too...they keep lowering it and my doctor is all for getting me off it completely! That's why I want to do the chickens. We would have our own supply of fresh non chemical eggs and in a year or two meat. The goal would be to get to the point where we would be rotating at least 2 of my 5 birds into meat.

    Thank you so much for your post!!!
    Joe
     

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