Self Sufficiency Links: Fowl
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A bit about chickens.
I believe chickens to be about the best deal for people looking at starting to grow their own food.
They are not big and scary like cows or even pigs, they won't eat your fruit trees like goats, and I think they taste better and are worth the effort more than rabbits. Most towns and cities will allow backyard chickens. They do not take up a lot of space and if you don't keep roosters they are fairly quiet. The manure produced can be put in your compost pile or piled somewhere till fall and put on the garden then. They make nice garbage disposals by eating most garden refuse too.
Getting started with chickens is fairly easy.
I missed most of the "chicken years" on the family farm. It seemed that after a certain year we stopped raising them so my knowledge was a bit lacking.
I did a little research on the web to determine the best way to brood the chicks and looked at several designs for brooders. I ended up making something that combined several sources of information. Most of the wood for the brooder hood was from scrap bins at local lumber places. Here is a pic of the brooder hood in the chicken cage
As I mention several times around here, flexibility is key.
I started big with 130 birds, 100 CornishxRocks for meat and 30 heavy browns for eggs. If I could go back, I would cut those numbers in half.
Our small shed was occupied by calves at the time so I built an 8'x8' cage in the garage. Inside that I had a 4'x4' brooder thing with 1 150W lightbulb.
The first night I was furiously sawing more holes and adding 2 more 150W brooder lights as the temps had dropped to an unseasonable 40 degrees!
The first yearI fed them continuously every day. I lost a lot of birds that way. I figured out that the best way to feed them was to filltheir feeders with enough feed to keep them busy for 20-30 minutes twice a day and allow access to a good sized yard for them to mess around in. Our losses dropped to 0 the next few years.
The next 2 years I brooded out in our old 8x12 yard barn. I have at least 2 lamps on in there with 1 more in standby and a couple of extra bulbs on hand. The first 2 years I used it as a coop I lowered the ceiling to help keep the heat in and it was nice in there.
When we first get the chicks we use 1 quart waterers and the smaller metal chick feeders. We also use a few of the feeders that screw onto canning jars. This works OK for the first week or so then we can either move up to a couple of the gallon waterers. We start switching to the big 4' long feeders after a couple of weeks.
We start letting them out after 3 or 4 weeks. The end of the original coop had an open lean-to built on it that I boxed in with 4x8 sheets of plywood. This gives them a small yard with a roof while they are still kind of small.
We did try tractoring 6 of the heavy browns one year but since we had tried free ranging with them, they did not care for the tractor. It does seem to be an excellent option though and I hope to try it again with a fresh batch sometime.
We free ranged one year and spent the next year finding clutches of eggs all over the farm. With a bit more management than we did it is also a viable alternative. I would suggest making sure that your neighbors dogs are well restrained and that the chickens are not able to get onto the roads.
We have been able to get a small
market for our meat birds and sell about half of what we raise each year.
We charge a fairly decent price and our customers keep coming back.
Our egg sales have always been spotty. Have yet to sell enough to justify keeping excess layers around. But it is something we may try again.