Of all the critters that you have to choose from to stock your homestead, chickens should be a no-brainer. Whether you have an urban backyard, or have found yourself a few acres in the country, the backyard chicken can be one of the greatest assets you can have. They provide eggs, meat, manure and insect control to name a few of their benefits.
There are more breeds of chickens than I can possibly go into here, but I will tell you some of the ones that I have personal experience with. Birds that will help you bring your backyard into egg production. The breed (or breeds) that you select should be chosen for their ability to bring something to your table.
Part of my flock. I have nearly two dozen in all !
First of all, are you wanting a chicken for egg production, or for meat? Or both? Some breeds lend themselves to producing both eggs and meat. If that’s your ultimate goal, these are the ones you might want to consider. The breeds I will recommend are some obvious choices. For a dual purpose bird (meat and eggs) I would suggest you think about Orpingtons, Rhode Island Reds, Barred Rocks or perhaps a Sex Link. The Sex Link comes in red and black. They are called “Sex Link” because as soon as they are hatched, they can identify the gender, just by their markings. Other chicks have to be turned upside down to check. They squeeze them and squirt stuff out and… well, let’s just say it’s not too pretty. Even then, determining the sex of a day old chick is a skill that takes a long time to develop, and I couldn’t do it if my life depended on it.
I have found that the sex link hen it’s one of the best layers, and grows to be a large enough bird to make it a good meat bird also. They are one of the best layers I’ve ever had. They seem to lay well year-round. Even in the winter.
This is a Black Sex Link. Beautiful black hen with gold neck. She is over 5 years old !
Ranked up there (as far as I’m concerned) is the Barred rock, as they are great layers too. They will pretty much lay year round. Very friendly.
Barred Rock Hen
I never had any Rhode Island reds, but they are said to be one of the best laying chickens too.
So, it really is important so take care as you select the breed you want. Right now, as part of my flock, I have six Production Red hens and one PR rooster. They are beautiful and are great layers. They are a cross from Rhode Island Reds, and look a lot like them. I am a little disappointed with the size of the egg. They are medium. But then, I am probably just spoiled to the extra large eggs that the sex link and barred rock lay.
Production Red Hen
If you are fortunate enough to have someone close to you that will sell you grown chickens, buy them! That’s the easiest way to get started. If that’s not the case, you will probably be buying day-old chicks. I have dealt with McMurray hatchery on several occasions, I found them to be professional, and have great stock, as well as service. All the breeds discussed above can be found there, as well as dozens more. If you do buy day-old chicks, you will need to build a brooder before they come in the mail. This is pretty easy to do. You can make a brooder out of a cardboard box, or anything else that has side walls. I have even used a small wading pool as a brooder. You just need to make sure the sidewalls are high enough to keep the chicks from jumping out (about 10-12 inches. Some sort of heat source will need to be placed above it. I’ve always hung a 250 watt heat lamp about 12 inches above the brooder. You want to give the chicks enough space that if they get too hot, they can move away from the light. The temperature needs to be between 95 and 100 degrees at first. After a few days, they will begin to grow feathers. You can raise the light, which will decrease the temperature in the brooder. Every week you should drop the temp about 5 degrees. If the chicks get too cold, they will move under the light. If they get too hot, they will move away. If you are doing this in the spring, and live where the climate is not too cold, you might get away with using a 100 w light bulb instead of a heat lamp, thus saving you money on electricity. After a while, when they get completely feathered out, they shouldn’t need any heat source. Also, be aware that the chicks will need to be fed “Chick Starter” not just regular chicken feed. It is higher in protein, and will give them a much better start.
After they are about 4-6 weeks old, they can be put outside. Keep in mind that they need to be feathered out pretty well if it is cold where you live, or you will still need to provide a heat source.
Now that they are outside remember… everything… and I do mean EVERYTHING that lives in the woods think you brought the chickens to your place to feed THEM. It seems that there are more predators out there than you can shake a stick at. They include foxes, wolves, possums, skunks, raccoons, hawks and owls… not to mention the neighbors dog, and maybe even your own. I have gone through several dogs, and have only found a couple, that didn’t pay them any attention. Your chicken coop should be closed at night, and secured against any of the above, or you WILL be feeding the local wildlife. I lost 13 hens to a possum in 3 nights. I had left a VERY small opening in the top of the coop, and he went in and helped himself to some chicken dinner. I might as well have put some biscuits and gravy out for him too. I fed him well. But then the Lord called the poor critter home… if you know what I mean. You can even make a moveable chicken pen, called a “chicken tractor”. As you move it around it gives them fresh grass/bugs/worms to eat, and fertilizes your yard to boot. How cool is that ?
My chicken tractor. Note that it’s on skids…
Here’s a video of my Chicken Tractor
Also an often asked question is… do I need a rooster? Depends. If you are in the city, and have neighbors that want to sleep past 05:30, I would say… uhhh… No.
Production Red rooster crowing
Roosters are not essential for egg production, only for fertilizing the eggs (you remember the birds and the bees, right?) So you don’t have to have one. Personally, I like to hear them crow… makes it sound more like a farm 🙂
If you can, let your flock free range during the day. This will cut down dramatically on your feed bill ! If they are out eating bugs and worms, they are not inside eating the expensive feed you bought.
Chickens can provide so much food (and fun) that I can’t understand why anyone who can have them would not have them.
Entire books have been written about their care and benefits, so I won’t keep you any longer, but I do want to encourage you to start your flock soon, and discover Da Benefits of Da Bird !
One of the benefits…
Fresh eggs !
Take care, leave a comment, and check out my YouTube Channel