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How To Raise Chickens For The Homestead

How to raise chickens

The most common homestead Livestock

how to raise chickens

Chickens are the most universally accepted livestock on the homestead for many practical reasons.

Chickens are readily available and inexpensive, take little experience, and need very little space, making them a great starter livestock to begin with.

While many newbies that cringe at the fact of eating rabbit or drinking goat milk, most wont bat an eye at eating a hen or her eggs.

Why raise Chicken?

Outside of the reasons I stated above there are many reasons you should consider raising chickens:

Taste

Early on chickens were primarily raised for their eggs and sold directly to the consumer, the meat was more of a by-product than anything else – then around the 1930’s broiler houses, scientific feeding, and genectics

started to rise.

These broiler houses main goal is to pump out chickens inexpensively and quickly, I won’t sicken you with going into detail about the inhumane treatment of these animals

The feeds given to commercial hens are the cheapest possible, with many types of additives mixed in.  These additives often include growth hormones, meat and bone meals, as well as antibiotics and chemicals, like arsenic, to keep the chickens awake and producing more.  The commercial chicken has a much shorter lifespan due to stress and disease. Essentially it comes down to you are what you eat, Hens that are allowed to free range vary their diets and eat better. Producing heartier eggs, and delicious meat.

Health

Free range or backyard hens are by far more nutritious than your average battery hen and are far less likely to contain salmonella.

homestead eggs - how to raise chickens

Commercial egg on the left

Nutrient Content – Battery Eggs

Nutrient Content – Free Range Eggs

Vitamin A – 0.97mg Vitamin A – 7.37mb
Vitamin E – 487IU Vitamin E – 763IU
Beta Carotene – 10mg Beta Carotene – 76.2mg
Folate – 47mcg Folate – 0.71g
Omega 3 – 0.033mg Omega 3 – 292mg
Cholesterol – 423mg Cholesterol – 231mg
Saturated Fat – 3.1 Saturated Fat – 2.31g

Just observe the difference in appearance between commercial and the eggs you produce on the homestead – They even look healthier!

Farming

  • The Chicken can do many wonderful things for you other than just lay eggs or be a source of meat, they are also great for your farm or garden!
  • Fertilizer – Chickens are omnivores and will eat anything out of your kitchen including meat, Converting it to an awesome high nitrogen fertilizer to add to your garden.
  • Composting – Turning over your compost pile can be a chore, However chickens naturally love to scratch and do wonders at turning and breaking down your compost pile.
  • Pest control – Chickens will take carry of any insects or pests that may be lurking!

Getting Started

Breeds

First ask yourself what it is you expect from your flock, Are these birds primarily as a source for eggs or for meat? Not only this reason in what breed you select but also how you raise them since the process is much different.

If your answer is both, as it is for most homesteaders, I would suggest purchasing two separate breeds to maximize the efficiency.

There are tons of breeds to choose from and you can go crazy searching through all the hybrids etc, all have their own value but we will focus on the top breeds that will suit our needs,

Egg layers

Rhode Island Red

  •  Lay above medium size brown eggs at an above standard rate .
  • cold and heat hardy so they are great for any climate.
  • Reds get to a fair size so can be used for meat down the road
  • Can be aggressive

Plymouth Rock

  • Great brown egg layers
  • Docile and friendly great for beginners
  • Can reach up to 9.5lbs!

Leghorn

  • Best egg layer available, produces up to 300 extra large white eggs a year!
  • A bit more noisy and flighty than your average chicken
  • Smaller than the Plymouth Rock but still good for meat once egg production declines

Meat Chickens

The Jersey Giant

  • Average harvesting weight of 13lbs!
  • 6 months to achieve harvesting weight
  • can work as a dual purpose bird laying extra large brown eggs
  • Poor feed growth ratio

 

Cornish Cross

  • Average harvesting weight of 4lbs
  • 8 weeks to achieve harvesting weight
  • Tender white meat
  • easy to pluck
  • good feed growth ratio

 

The Chicks

Purchasing day-old chicks are the most common and fun way to receive your flock. care is fairly simple, I used a 4-by-eight piece of ply wood with wood sides about a foot high. Generally I use  1/2 of square foot of litter per bird and a heat lamp to regulate the temperature to 95 degrees.

Initially you will need a circular fence (I use cardboard and duct tape) to keep the chicks from piling in the corner and potentially smothering one another this usually is only needed for a few days.

It’s a good idea to dip each chick’s beak in the watering source so each chick is taught where to find it. you will need at least two one gallon waters for every one hundred chicks. Keep in mind water is their most important food so keep it clean and plentiful. be sure to give them plenty of space to eat and always keep their feeders at 3/4 full. If you fill it anymore the feed will end up all over the place.

The Hen House

how to raise chickensThere are many designs of chicken coops from basic to extravagant, so I wont get into that here. However there are some basic fundamentals to keep in mind when building/purchasing your hen-house.

Chickens spend a ton of moisture so having proper ventilation is key, installing a few windows will help keep your flock healthy.

If you have a wood floor consider raising the henhouse far enough off the ground to discourage rodent infestation, and lastly make sure the henhouse is large enough to accommodate your flock without overcrowding.

 

Feed

While organic feed is out there finding “true” organic grains is a tall order and an expensive one at that. This is why I choose to grow my chicken feed, it’s easy, cost-effective, and I know exactly what is going into my chickens body.

  • Corn – Can be grown and harvested on a small plot and be husked by hand or with a hand sheller.
  • Millet – Can be stored without threshing and during the winter time, I tie a small bunch of stalks head down from the rafter just enough for so the chickens have to stretch to get at it.
  • Sunflower Seeds – an excellent source of protein and easily removed from the head with a coarse screen.

Most crops grown on the homestead are acceptable chicken feed, such as garden waste, vegetable trimming dry bread and crushed chicken shells are a great source of calcium.

Still allowing your chickens to free range will satisfy most of thier nutrional needs, and keep costs down.

 

Well there you have it how to raise chickens, in a future chapter we will discuss the various ways to butcher the chickens for meat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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1 Response

  1. Homestead says:

    Raising chickens can be a hand full. It’s quite rewarding when you bite into your first homestead chicken though. I still remember the first time I had a free range chicken fresh from the farm and nothing compares. Even the eggs are 10x better. I’m the type of person that enjoys watching them as well. They are quite smart and entertaining. Predators are really the only problem with free range. You’ve got to have a close eye or a couple of dogs. I found a really neat new website that helps local farmers and homesteaders sell their products to the community. Anyone heard of FIFY? (Farm It For You)

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