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Chickens

Chicks are a favorite homesteading addition.

Why Raise Chickens?

Chickens are raised for the eggs the hens produce (female hens will lay eggs without a rooster), for their body meat, chicken manure (fertilizer for gardens), feathers (fertilizer for gardens), pets and entertaiment.

Hens

Hens are female chickens. A pullet is a "teenage" female chicken. Hens lay eggs even without a rooster to mate with.

Roosters

Roosters are male chickens. They don't lay eggs. They grow faster and are good raising for meat. If you have a rooster, then you need about 20 hens per 1 rooster. If you have 2 or more roosters with hens, they may fight. Another option is to have just as many hens as you need, and then keep the rooster in a separate pen. Roosters will mate with the hens and then you will have fertile eggs. And if your breed of hens goes "broody" (nests), then you will have baby chicks.

If you have say 8 hens and 1 rooster, then the rooster may mate with them so much that it wears off their back feathers. This can be painful for the hen, cold (she may get sick) and cause stress for the flock.

If raising chickens for eggs, you only need about 1-2 hens per person. Our hens lay on average 0.75 eggs per day, 3/4 of an egg per day, or 3 eggs every 4 days. Since chickens are very sociable and like company, you should keep 2-3 chickens as a minimum. You don't need a rooster to get eggs from chickens. Roosters are male chickens and they crow. Hens are the females, (rarely if ever crow) who lay the eggs.

If raising chickens for meat, choose a chicken breed that puts on weight more quickly. I prefer to raise chickens for eggs, getting more high quality protein this way. There are breeds that go from extreme layers, to extreme meat producers, and there are breeds that are "multi-use" who have a balance between the two (my preference).

If raising chickens for pets, you only need two. Chickens are very sociable. Choose a breed like the orpington buff for a friendly, sociable bird. They will follow you around, eat out of your hand, let you hold them, let you pet them and make all sorts of interesting noises in their communications.

If raising chickens for fertilizer, you can use the chicken droppings in your compost pile, eggs or put them in your garden. Feathers from slaughtered chickens can be added to compost piles.

How many Chickens Should I Raise?

How many chickens you choose to raise depends on what you are raising them for. If you eat 1.5 eggs per day or 3 eggs every two days, then I recommend two chickens for eggs. For two people, then you need 3-4 chickens. Chickens often produce less during winter and as they get older (4-5 years old). When they get too old, they quit producing eggs altogether. You can give away eggs if you have too many or put them in your compost pile. If you raise too many chickens, you can sell them or give them away to friends.

To raise chickens for pets, you only need 2 chickens (so they have company too).

For growing chickens for meat, calculate how many chickens you need per year and then how old they must be before slaughtering for the breed you choose. Search for specific breed age for slaughtering from suppliers. Some people raise a flock of chickens, then slaughter them all at once and put them in the freezer. Younger chickens have less meat, but the meat is more tender. Older chickens have more meat (up to a certain age) and the meat is tougher. Free-range chickens have tougher meat.

Some people have a rooster and 20 hens. They let the hens raise the chicks, and then slaughter the chicks (now grown into being chickens) when their feed input to meat output ratio is met.

Feeding Chickens

What do chickens eat?

Chickens eat worms, mealy worms, bugs, flies, grubs, roots, grass, greens, grains, vegetables, cooked legumes (except for cracked peas, don't feed dry beans to chickens) and all sorts of stuff they scratch from the soil. Chickens will eat toasted or cooked eggshells. Who knows what all goes down the hatch?

Chickens don't necessarily eat only what's good for them. They will eat styrofoam, solid foam insulation, etc, so please don't allow them access.

Chickens are very efficient at digesting food. For example, it takes two eggshells (from eggs) for a chicken to produce one new egg. So if you feed your chickens the vegetables you don't eat, likely you will get much of it back in the egg. (Don't tell your kids this or it may become their excuse to avoid vegies.)

How much feed do chickens eat per day? How many pounds does a chicken eat per day? Chickens eat about 1/4 lb of feed per day. Chickens eat about 1.75 pounds of feed per week. Chickens eat about 91 pounds per year.

How many pounds of feed per year for a chicken? Chickens eat about 1/4lb pound per day x 365 days per year = 91.25 lbs per year to feed a one chicken.

What grains do chickens eat? I feed my chickens: (all organic food) brown rice (they love it), wild rice (love it more), wheat, milo, oats, flax, corn, peas, sunflower seeds (shell and all), leftover cooked brown and wild rice and leftover cooked lentils.

How to get best prices on grains?
Some mills put out bags of uncracked, whole, organic grains in 25-50 pound sacks. They will ship pallets by trucks that they send on routes through the states. To get the best price, find a milling or grain company near you that sells whole bags of uncracked grains (cracked grains spoil quickly) and work with other chicken growers in your area to order 1 pallet at a time and arrange a large city as the drop-off point. Sometimes you will need a forklift (so find a business that will unload the truck for you) to remove the pallet or they may charge more money to unload by hand etc. Ask the company for details. As a rule, the more you buy, in increments of pallets, the less expensive per pound your feed will cost.

How much does it cost per year to feed a chicken?
Just figuring for grains, it costs about 50 to 75 cents per pound. For example, if you have 4 chickens providing eggs for 2 people (about 1.5 egg per day per person) x 91 pounds of feed per chicken per year and 75 cents per pound, that comes out to 4 x 91 x .75 = $273. Obviously there are other food expenses for vegetables, but fewer birds per people means chickens can eat the vegetables you don't eat and efficiently convert this to eggs and fertilizer.

How much does it cost in grain per eggs?
If you figure 91 pounds of feed x 75 cents per pound, that's $68.25 per year per bird. If the bird lays .75 eggs per day x 365 days per year, that's 273 eggs per year. Our chickens lay .75 eggs per day on average, year around (they produce better with walnuts in winter). Taking cost of $68.25 per year divided by 273 eggs per year, that is $0.25 or a quarter per egg. A dozen of eggs at twenty-five cents each would be three dollars, and the quality would surpass any store-bought eggs.

How much does it cost per day to feed a chicken?
Figuring $68.25 per year divided by 365 days per year, it costs $0.19 per day to keep a laying chicken. That's less than a quarter a day for some eggs, clean wholesome entertainment, fertilizer for your compost etc.

Chickens will need grit or small rocks to help them grind up food they eat. If free-ranged, they will often find enough on their own. Laying chickens need a source of calcium. Oyster shells are a common calcium source found at feed stores for chickens.

Vegetables for Chickens

What vegetables do chickens eat? My chickens love carrots (diced finely), kale, lettuce, cabbage, apples, cooked yams and cooked acorn squash. Carrots and acorn squash make chicken eggs have darker yokes. I think dark orange yokes taste better. Similar to people, chickens do better and like a variety of different colored vegetables.

What is an example of a balanced diet for chickens?
I mix feed for chickens this ratio:

Water for Chickens

Chickens need continuous access (except while sleeping) to water. Baby chicks will die within hours without water. A laying hen will drink from 500mL (about 1 pint) to 1 liter (about a quart) per day. While you may set out a watering bowl, and fill it, they come in to drink water and it may not seem like much, if they don't have a continual supply they will drink much less and may get sick or overheated. Chickens drink much more water in summer and they can get very hot. They need water and shade helps greatly in the strong sun. Birds usually shelter under trees where it is much cooler in the summer. If you don't have a tree for them to shelter under, then they must have shade to keep cool with all those feathers they are wearing.

Chicken Housing - The "Coop"

Chickens are kept in numbers of 2 or more. They are sociable creatures. They need about 4 square feet of sheltered coop area. Chickens that are kept better like larger areas because they are more active.

Coops are often shed-roofed (one single sloping plane) to the North. A gutter on the shed roof with downspout to water tank will store water for chickens. Side walls need to be 3-4 feet or more tall. Sides are often plywood with 2x2 or 2x3 supports. A top south window that allows sun on northern flooring or water buckets will store heat during winter days for the cold nights. Coops must be well ventilated to prevent strong odors from chicken poop. You need about 1 square feet per bird. The vents should be protected from strong winds.

Chickens need a roost, on which to perch or roost at night (something to wrap their feet around). Think of a big branch or 2x3 (with rounded/routered edges and no slivers) turned sideways so that the wider part faces up. The 2x2 would need rounded to simulate a large branch so that it fits a chickens foot. As the chickens sit on the roost at night, their claws clutch the roost. At night, the chickens also poop. So a sliding tray or door with slick floor under roost will make cleanout easier. This chicken poop or fertlizier can be added to compost piles for a strong source of nitrogen to go with wood chips, branches, twigs and leaves. Caution: Adding chicken manure directly to plants is very likely to "burn" them.

The Chicken "Run"

Chickens need a minimum space of 10 square feet of "run" area per bird. Personally I think chickens should have at least 25 sq feet of run area per bird. Chicken run area varies somewhat with the size of the bird: baby chicks and smaller kinds of chickens can do with less and larger chickens needing more. It also varies with the health of the bird.

So if you have two chickens (minimum) x 10 sq feet of run area, that is 2 x 10 or 20 square feet of run. This is like a square that is 4.5 feet long on each side or 1.5 meter. If you have a larger run of 25 sq feet per bird, that is 50 square feet or aproximately 7 feet on each side of a square. Or you could make the area rectangular like 5 feet wide and 10 feet long. Keep in mind that a square is a four-sided shape that has the least amount of fencing for the greatest area enclosed. Rectangles take more fence per square feet enclosed. For the optimum use of your fence, you could do a circle. More rounded shapes are more efficient. Also fences with round sides and rounded corners allow a hen to escape a rooster (if you have one).

Chicken Coop for 10 Chickens

Chicken sayin's:


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