Save Money on Feeding Your Chickens

Share on Pinterest all want to save money. Part of the reason some of us raise chickens is to have healthy eggs or meat for cheaper than we can buy at the store. But buying feed can cost a lot more than you expected. And honestly, some of the feed you get is just like buying junk food for your birds: it’s full of cheap stuff to fill them up, doesn’t provide a lot of vitamins and still costs a lot. Kind of like getting your kid that $4.00 box of breakfast cereal (hello, Cocoa Pebbles – I’m talking to you!).

First, let’s remember chickens are omnivores so they eat meat and vegetables. When you let them free range they’re eating bugs and grasses (and sometimes your strawberry patch but that’s another story…).

Just like with your kids you need to make sure treats come after a balanced meal and don’t fill their little bellies up enough to replace the protein and calcium they need in their diets to make eggs or meat and maintain their overall health. Ideally (and this is according to the “experts”) leftovers should never be more than 20% of their whole diet and should be portioned out so it’s only what they can finish within 20 minutes.

Now…let’s go back to us real life poor folks. I will pay for a decent feed for my egg layers – I don’t want junk in there so I look for something that doesn’t have by-products or anything I can’t identify near the top of the ingredient list. However, I can’t afford to pay for organic feed either. So, I’m looking for a reasonable compromise.

httpscreativecommons.orglicensesby-sa2.0Kids Won’t Eat It? Try the Chickens

To start with, you can obviously feed them your family’s leftovers. Pretty much anything goes here as long as it’s not spoiled food. You shouldn’t give them things high in fat, sugar or salt because (again, just like your kids) it’s gonna fill them up without providing nutrition. And their bodies are a lot smaller than ours so a little can have a big impact. That said, I’m guilty of giving my birds leftover birthday cake (it was going to get thrown away!). So we don’t have to be the food police but do use common sense: obviously, I’m not giving them cake every day.

Any scraps you don’t eat, are perfectly fine to give them, including chicken. You should also include any of the scraps you create from preparing fruits and vegetable. They can have the peels and the bad spots (as long as there’s no mold). Keep a bowl, small bucket, disposable foil pan – whatever works for you – in your kitchen and make a habit of throwing all your scraps and plate scrapings into it. Stick it in the refrigerator and feed them some every day.

If you have more eggs than you can use, cook them up and feed them back, shell and all. Just crush them up so they don’t recognize them and end up becoming egg eaters. If you can get yogurt or any other fermented dairy product cheap, I’m a big believer in the benefits this brings to chickens. I’m not talking about the Yoplait stuff with the sugar and flavors added but the plain yogurt that contains live active cultures. I start my chicks on it and swear by the benefits. 

chickens-874507_640What They Can (and Can’t) Eat  

The only things you have to completely avoid are banana peels, avocado peels, coffee grinds (use those in the garden instead), green tomatoes, uncooked beans and chocolate. Yes, it is okay to feed them cooked poultry although some people find it a bit creepy. In fact, any cooked meat, even on the bone is fine; just throw away the bones when they’re done so you don’t risk attracting rodents.

If you’re a hunter, you can feed your birds anything your family doesn’t eat. I’d say the same if you fish but just watch because “they say” that eggs and meat can take on the taste of what they’ve eaten. I’ve always fed my birds a LOT of garlic and no one’s ever said, “These eggs/meat taste garlicky”. But maybe it hasn’t been enough to affect that. I don’t know how much is “too much” but if you have extra fish (or fish scraps) go ahead and feed them as a good source of protein and minerals, especially omega 3.

If you have a good sized flock, you may want to look into getting scraps from a local restaurant, deli, grocery, co-op or farmer’s market. One great idea I’ve heard is asking for the leftover pulp from juice bars (think of the nutrition there!). The trick though, is to be able to use these up before they go bad. Some businesses can be too overeager and end up giving you what should have gone in the garbage – spoiled, rotten, moldy food which, same as if you ate it, will make your chickens sick. So the responsibility falls on you to go through those scraps and make sure they’re safe. If you do make a partnership with a business, you have to keep up your end of the agreement to pick up the food on the set day and time. This can be beneficial but can also end up making more work for you as well. Weigh it out carefully or maybe see if a friend will split it with you if there’s too much for you to use.

DSC03397Add in Vitamins – Cheaply

Another trick is stretching your feed by adding other vitamin-rich things to it, like sunflower seeds, whole or rolled oats, whole wheat, or millet. Check with your local feed store or co-op and then figure if it saves you money to supplement with these. You can also feed them as “scratch” – toss them on the floor of the coop or run or outside and they’ll have a good old time pecking for them. And by the way, make sure your feed is pellets rather than crumbles; they’ll waste a lot less.

Plant a little extra in your garden (or start a garden if you don’t have one) of the high producing things like squash and give the leftovers or the ones that are too big to the chickens. If you have anything with a hard outer rind, make sure you cut it in half for them to get at the inside. Hit up your friends who garden as well – everyone is sick of zucchini after a while and they might be happy to find someone to unload a few to! Greens and turnips are also good choices to plant. Kale will winter over plus you can cut it and it will grow back as will a lot of other greens. You can’t go wrong though with greens, melons and squashes. As an added benefit, during the hot weather, the melons will help cool them down and the greens provide them with entertainment, year-round. Potatoes and sweet potatoes are good cheap fillers, too.

9303178020_531542966e_nTake Them Out to Eat

Let your birds free range, if they can do it safely, even if it’s just for a short time every day while you supervise (and laugh at them. I promise, you’ll enjoy it!). If not, toss them your weeds and grass clippings (as long as they’re not sprayed with pesticides, of course) or consider a movable coop.

And think of your chicken run as a way to help, too. A lot of the “chicken experts” point out a dirt chicken run is bad: it ends up completely covered with droppings and becomes a breeding area for disease. Instead, cover it in a thick mulch (leaves, hay, straw, grass clippings, wood chips) and the area stays cleaner, the droppings turn into compost which then give you worms and other insects for your chickens to eat. Plus they’ll be much happier with an area to scratch in.

A lot of people I know feed their flocks cat or dog food because it’s high in protein and you can get it cheaper than chicken feed. Chances are you’re trading off more junk for the lower price. Something very important to consider is that pet food is not made for animals we’re going to eat – it’s got meat in it, usually in the form of “animal by-products” (could be bones, feathers – who knows?). And this could carry disease. If anyone remembers “mad cow disease” that’s how it began. Better safe than sorry.

And don’t forget to always feed oyster shell separately for the calcium laying hens’ need. Otherwise, they’ll tend to overeat their feed to make up for the calcium loss and cost you more in the long run.

And For Those Who Want to Experiment… silkworm-931555_640

I’ve read a lot of stuff about how you can completely do away with store bought feed. So for those of you with more ambition, here are some interesting resources you may want to check out:

Harvey Ussery has been around for years advocating the “grow your own feed” idea. He’s pretty scientific in his research:

Justin Rhoades is more of a newcomer to the chicken movement but he’s got plenty of ideas you may not have thought of (like growing your own maggots):

Good information from a farmer who’s been doing it for years:

Fermenting your chicken feed:

Using Sea Buckthorn:

Using Comfrey for chickens:

Sprouting grains for chickens:

Growing fodder for your chickens:

And some of our older posts on feeding:

There’s a lot of ways you can use to save some money when feeding your flock. Let us know what’s worked for your flock.



Winter Poultry Care

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Now that most of us are starting to feel the chill of winter we’ve made sure we have a cozy warm environment for ourselves. But what about your chickens? How are they holding up?

Ideally, your chickens have gradually gotten used to the cold as temperatures began to cool down throughout the fall. Overall, chickens are pretty hardy and naturally well insulated enough to handle winter. It’s the extreme – or sudden and unexpected temperature drop – that can really cause the problems.

That said, you do want to make sure your coop is draft free but still has some ventilation to get rid of moisture that builds up. If there are drafts or you get hit with a couple of sub-zero days, consider covering the north and east facing sides with temporary insulation, such as the plastic you use for windows, old tarps, blankets, quilts, corrugated cardboard, or bubble wrap (I’ve personally found that bubble wrap works better than the plastic kits sold at the hardware store). You can get inventive here and experiment with different materials you might come across. If you have a chicken run, put up a temporary wind block on the north and east sides as well. Again, this can be as simple as cardboard. Do keep in mind: chickens love to eat Styrofoam (go figure – never been tempted to try it myself) so if you use it, cover it with something. It won’t hurt them but you’ll end up with no insulation very quickly once they discover it!

If you’re desperate and don’t have electricity in your coop, you can fill plastic bottles or jugs about 75% full with very hot water. Don’t fill them completely so they’ll have room to expand if they freeze. Secure the lids and put them in the coop. They’ll provide a little extra heat for a short time.

Make sure your coops are predator proof since there’ll be hungry varmints on the prowl this time of year and make sure your feed is secured from rodents. If I was a rat and I knew there was a big bin of chicken feed I’d go for it so lock it up tight and in something that is chew proof, like a galvanized metal tin of some sort. Usually they are easy to find at the farmer supply stores.

Your chickens may not be able to get their usual dust bath due to frozen or muddy earth, provide them with an area filled with either wood ashes or sand. Throw in some diatomaceous earth to further help prevent parasites. If you’ve got the space, a shallow kid’s swimming pool works well as a container.

Since daylight hours are so short, birds spend more time on their roosts. If you use dropping boards, clean them more frequently.

Open the coop door and give your chickens the option of going out on sunny days, even if it is cold. Be aware that too much time spent standing or walking on the snow can cause frostbitten feet. You’ve probably heard before that applying Vaseline (or Bag Balm) to your birds’ wattles and combs can prevent frostbite. But according to University of Kentucky, it works in mild cold but does nothing when temperatures are sub-zero for a few days. When you do apply it, use just a thin layer. You can even coat their legs if you feel they’re at risk.

One of the most difficult aspects of winter can be dealing with frozen water. You can keep a spare one or two inside and switch them out as each becomes frozen. You can also add a mix of boiling water and cool water every few hours (the end result should be warm – not hot). Another trick is to put a warm brick or rock inside the waterer. It’s also okay to remove the waterer from the coop overnight to keep it from freezing. Your flock will be asleep and they don’t get up in the night for a snack or drink! Add a few tablespoons of apple cider vinegar to their water to boost their immune systems. Vinegar freezes at 28 degrees so it may also slow the water from freezing.

Happy hens are healthy hens. And food treats and diversions do make them happy. Not that we’d ever spoil our birds (wink!) but if you’re so inclined, cook them up a nice hot mash or some oatmeal. If you’re using the oven, roast them a squash or pumpkin. But you don’t have to cook specifically for them. Just warm up the leftovers you were going to feed them anyway. Plain yogurt (especially if you can get it cheap when it’s near the expiration date) is good. Throw in a bunch of kale, which is extremely nutritious and winter hardy plant. Hang up a cabbage for them to peck at. Offer healthy treats like sprigs of millet, sprouts (easily and cheaply grown on your kitchen counter), whole or rolled oats, and sunflower seeds. Scratching for these in the litter provides hours of fun as well. Throw in an armful of hay. You can make a homemade suet block like you’d give the wild birds by using leftover cooked fats mixed with seeds, nuts and/or dried fruits. Give them a little snack before they roost for the night and they’ll have a bit more fuel to keep them warm. Sprinkle some garlic and kelp powder on top of their food for an immune system boost.

For more ideas, check out some of our past articles and tips:

(Ventilation and Insulation Tips):

(Fall and Winter Checklist):

(How to Winterize Your Waterer):

(Raising Chickens in Cold Climates):

Wishing you good luck this winter,


Busting Chicken Myths

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I’d like to bust some of the chicken myths I’ve heard folks tell me before. On the left are the things I’ve heard and then on the right I bust the myth with modern fact and explain why the myth isn’t the best for this particular case.


‘My grandpappy used to just dunk those chickens in turpentine or gasoline when they had mites and lice. That fixed ‘em right up!’

Yeah, I’ll bet it fixed the chicken right up. I’m sure it did also kill the mites or lice involved. Aside from being a literal walking fire hazard for a few minutes to an hour, dunking chickens in gas or turpentine is toxic to all involved. What you put on your skin gets absorbed so eggs wouldn’t be safe to eat for days. If you’re keen to use petroleum products, try Vasoline instead!

‘My grandma said that you have to have a rooster with the hens to get them to lay.’

Nope. Hens will lay all on their own. No rooster needed unless you want baby chicks. Even I used to think that roosters stimulated hens to lay more often, but I recently read that it is a myth. After doing some numbers on my own coops and compared rooster to rooster-free ones, I discovered it really is a myth. Which is a good thing for folks considering urban coops where roosters are usually forbidden.

‘Granny fed ‘em dog food. It always worked for her. We ate those eggs and we were fine! Don’t need no stuck up, city-folk… mumble-mumble…’

Dog food is not something chickens should eat on a regular basis as it is not formulated for a chicken’s nutritional needs and can make them ill after a while. I wouldn’t worry if the chickens get a few bites of your dog’s kibbles, but don’t actively feed it to your chickens. Aside from that, processed pet food is awful for just about anyone’s health. Would you really want to eat eggs from chickens who eat dog food? Most of it is made in China, where health standards are very low and a lot of profit is made by greased palms who look the other way. Anyone remember the scandal where melamine was found in dog food and baby formula?

‘We’ll just use the chicken poop straight from the chicken. Worked great for my PawPaw.’

I doubt it. I think PawPaw probably aged his chicken poop on a compost heap first before using it in the garden. Otherwise, it would burn all the plants up and he’d have a brown veggie patch.

‘We always used a light to keep chickens laying all year long. Never had any problems when I was growing up so we still do it now. The chickens are just fine.’

This one is kind of a personal bone with me. Again, I don’t believe that tradition is always right, but nature usually is (not all the time, but that’s Natural Fallacy and we can talk about that later). This is sort of a reverse example of Granny’s wisdom because if Granny had been around 120 years ago she wouldn’t have even had lights. Whereas most Grannies were born in the 40’s or 50’s and post-post-industrialization. Using lights goes way against nature. With chickens I believe the hens involved will have a shorter life, but I don’t have hard evidence on that one yet. I do know that most factory farms run through a hen as hard as they can, don’t let them molt sometimes, and perhaps this is why using lights bothers me so much. Just like keeping bees awake 24/7 with lights so they can keep producing, it’s plain wrong. Humans should be the keepers and caretakers of animals. Forcing production is not caring for our animal brethren. Every farmer has to make a personal decision about this. I strongly recommend a lot of research if you choose to use lights with your hens.

‘My granny always bought the brown eggs from the store. Said they were healthier. So I reckon I should get a brown egg layer!’

Nope, sorry. No difference between brown and white or any other color eggs.

‘Eggs are bad for you. Everyone knows they’re full of cholesterol!’

Even our own wonderful USDA has finally twigged to the fact that food sources of cholesterol do not raise blood cholesterol levels. Like much of dear Granny’s wisdom, it’s 1950’s science for a 21st century world. Even most doctors are estimated to be 17 years behind on current science discoveries.



Vaccinating Your Chicks Against Marek’s Disease

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Photo by: faungg’s photo

Marek’s disease is a highly contagious and frightening phenomenon, characterized by paralysis of the legs, wings, and neck, vision impairment, weight loss, and raised and roughened skin around feather follicles. This herpes virus infection shows up in various manifestations: neurological, visceral, and cutaneous. It is also highly fatal and if your chickens get the disease, there is no cure. What can one do to protect their flock against Marek’s Disease? Vaccinating your chicks against Marek’s Disease is a good place to start.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate

While it is common practice to vaccinate all newly hatched chicks in large factory farms, it is not always done in small flocks. Vaccination is an excellent way to prevent the adverse effect of diseases, but even greater is careful sanitation and effective flock management. Small backyard farmers may not vaccinate because they have never had a problem with disease in their flock. That is entirely possible and this is the case with many backyard chickens. Or perhaps they are not aware  disease is present, don’t know how to diagnose a disease or get the disease diagnosed, don’t know where to buy vaccines, or don’t know how to give a vaccine.

Introducing new birds into your flock greatly increases the risk that your birds will be introduced to a new disease as well. If you buy birds from an outside source, it’s a wise idea to vaccinate. If you take your birds to poultry shows or have had problems with disease in the past, it’s a great idea to get your chicks vaccinated.  While it is entirely up to you whether or not to vaccinate your birds, it can save you a whole lot of heartache and hassle later on.

When To Vaccinate Against Marek’s Disease

Chicks are generally vaccinated against Marek’s Disease on the day they hatch. This is done at the hatchery and is given subcutaneously at the back of the chick’s neck. If you order chicks from a hatchery, they should already be vaccinated for Marek’s Disease. Be sure to ask just in case!

Chicks between the age of 2-16 weeks are quite susceptible to Marek’s Disease, so if your chicks hatched at home or you purchased them from a supplier that did not vaccinate before delivery, consider vaccinating yourself. The vaccine can be purchased online from livestock supply companies such as Jeffers Livestock. Here is a link for Marek’s Disease vaccine for day old chicks: read more here.  Since it must be administered to day old-chicks, order before your chicks hatch. Your local farm supply store may also have the vaccine.

Common Egg Layer Health Problems

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Photo by: HA! Designs – Artbyheather

No one buys chickens imagining images of sick birds, death, and heartache. Yet this is a real risk involved in owning animals of any type. If you’re ever owned a pet, you know firsthand how traumatic it can be when your beloved friend becomes seriously ill and/ or passes away. Yet, don’t let the fear of sickness and losing birds keep you from keeping your own flock of chickens. Prepare yourself that things might happen and that a chicken death will happen eventually (even if it is just old age). Also, educate yourself about common chicken health problems and how you can avoid or alleviate these issues. There’s a good chance you’ll never run into chicken health problems of any kind. It’s still a great idea to be prepared. Here are a few common problems to get you started.

Egg-Bound Chickens

Sometimes, in humans, a baby grows too large to easily and naturally fit through the birth canal. Before the advent of modern medicine, this was often a fatal complication. A similar conundrum sometimes occurs in chickens. Sometimes, an egg becomes too large to fit through the chicken’s vent. A chicken who is egg bound will often be lethargic. She may be straining and doesn’t feel that great. If the bound egg is not removed, she will die. 48 hours is as long as you have. It’s time to act.

Fortunately, it’s not hard to help your hen out of this painful situation. Wearing a glove, lubricate your finger and gently insert it into the chicken’s vent, gently squeezing or massaging the hen’s abdomen with the other hand to help ease the egg out of the bird with slow and steady pressure. Be very careful not to damage your chicken’s insides! If at all possible, avoid breaking the egg. Egg material left inside your chicken can cause infection and/ or death.  If you have any questions or cannot help the egg dislodge, call your vet or an experienced chicken-raising friend.

Prolapse Vent

Sometimes, such as if a hen has laid an unusually large egg for example, the lower part of a hen’s oviduct turns inside out. It protrudes visibly through the chicken’s vent. A prolapsed vent is quite serious and likely to recur, but it is also quite treatable if treated immediately. Should the prolapsed vent be left out, it is possible that the chicken’s oviduct and/or intestines will be pulled out  or that it will become cut and infected. The chicken will die. Sorry for the graphic nature, but it is true. Exposed wounds simply ask for trouble; your other chickens will peck at her. Should you notice a protruding area of pink or red behind your chicken’s vent, manually push it back inside and apply hemorrhoid cream. Carefully watch for a reoccurrence and handle the issue immediately.

Respiratory Infections

Just like people, chickens can suffer from a wide range of respiratory infections. Severe respiratory infections can be fatal if not treated (others clear up on their own). Infectious bronchitis, fowl pox, avian influenza, infectious coryza, and swollen head syndrome are just a few of many examples. This is a great source of information about chicken respiratory infections and diseases: read more here.  The Poultry Guide also offers an excellent guide about common chicken diseases: Poultry Guide.

How To Keep Your Flock Happy

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You’ve finally set up the chicken coop of your dreams. Your chicks have arrived, your chicken run is clean and ready for action, and your mind is brimming with idealic thoughts of pecking backyard fowl dotting your perfect backyard. Likely your visions don’t include sickness and death, birds who will not eat or can’t stop fighting, or sneaky predators taking out your favorite birds. Yet these are dangers every backyard farmer faces. Here are a few handy hints to keep your flock happy and avert hen heartache.

Who Wants Chicken For Dinner?

Dogs love to chase chickens. Cats love to catch them too. Coyotes, raccoons, foxes, opossums, bears, weasels, hawks, owls, fishers, and snakes all enjoy a good chicken dinner too. Make sure that your property is securely fenced, if possible. Your chicken coop must be securely built to keep predators out. Holes invite snakes and rats inside. Poor fencing risks dead or injured fowl. If birds of prey are a threat, consider a covered chicken run. It’s highly beneficial for your chickens to have plenty of room to roam, but that area must be safe from animals and birds who wish to turn them into a tasty meal.

Plenty of Space Makes For Friendly Neighbors

Factory farms may keep their birds in tight, confined quarters, but this is terribly unhealthy. Give your flock plenty of living space. The bigger the better. Aim for at least 4 square feet in your chicken coop for each bird but if you can provide 8-10 square feet per bird, that’s even better. Provide each of your birds with a roost too. In addition to a spacious, ventilated coop which you’ll clean frequently  (of course), give your chickens a safe, enclosed chicken run so that they can walk about outdoors and enjoy some fresh air and sunshine. A chicken tractor is an excellent option; one can move the enclosure frequently to provide the chickens with fresh ground to peck and forage. Fresh bugs, anyone?

Good Food and Fresh Water Does a Body Good

Along with a clean, ventilated living area, some sunshine, and room to roam, chickens thrive when given good food and a constant supply of fresh water. High quality feed and good table scraps create a healthy bird. The statement “You are what you eat” can apply to your birds just as it applies to your family. Quality chicken feed and a variety of table scraps does well. Don’t over feed either. Too much food isn’t healthy for any species. Also avoid giving your chickens rotten food, raw potatoes and potato sprouts, chocolate, and raw meat. Keep their water container full of fresh water and make sure it doesn’t freeze in the winter. These simple steps will go a long way toward a happy, healthy flock of birds you’ll enjoy for years to come.

Keeping Your Flock Cool in the Summer

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Summer is here! Summer is a time for relaxation, trips to the beach, and vacations. Summer also brings a new set of challenges to your backyard chickens. The heat can truly take it out of your birds! Here’s what you should know.

Heat Causes Lots of Problems

As the temperature climbs, your chickens’ productivity drops. Egg laying decreases or stops altogether. Broilers stop gaining weight. Chickens get lethargic. Given too much heat, chickens die. Heat is a serious issue for backyard farmers, especially in hot climates.

Some Breeds Fare Better than Others

Did you know that birds without combs are more susceptible to the heat? Certain breeds, such as the white leghorn, do better with heat. Large, heavily feathered birds are more susceptible to heat than their smaller, thinner counterparts. Males tend to fare better than females and non-laying chickens do better with heat than layers.

Other heat-tolerant breeds include the Ancona, the Plymouth Rock, the Catalana, Golden Campines, Blue Andalusians, and the Rhode Island breeds. Avoid large, heavily feathered breeds.

Summer-Proofing Your Coop

Before you construct your coop, keep in mind how the sun will fall on it. Use wide overhangs, put windows and the open side of the coop from the east to the west, and consider evaporative coolers and fans to keep air moving. The best spot for your coop is somewhere with adequate shade and plenty of ventilation. Windows are your friends!

Keep a ready supply of cool water available for your birds and remove much of the coop’s litter. A mister can keep your birds cool too. Provide them with shade and try to keep the chickens out of direct sunlight as much as possible. Keep a lookout for panting and signs of lethargy and avoid feeding your birds corn or scratch during the summer months because your chickens will create body heat trying to digest these things. Fruit and vegetable scraps are a much better option. Add ice to that water to keep it cool on the hottest days.

Raising Free-Range Chickens

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Free-range chickens are all the rage. If you check out the organic eggs at your local supermarket, the container will likely read “cage free” or “free-range.” There’s a growing market for free-range meat of all types. Free-range is touted as the natural way to keep chickens and it certainly is purely organic if done right. It also poses a range of risks one must be aware of before committing to the free-range movement.  Free-range may bring to mind idealic images of chickens roaming free in a green field, the sun shining brightly. Unless you’re a small farmer, however, that’s likely not the case.

What Exactly is “Free-Range”?

If chickens are raised free-range, it ideally means that they are allowed to roam freely and are not confined in a cage. While a large yard or pasture may still be fenced-in, these birds are allowed a considerable amount of exercise, sunlight, and opportunities for foraging. This is wonderful, in theory. The US Department of Agriculture, however, merely requires that meat chickens have access to the outdoors to be labeled as “free-range,” meaning that they may have access to dirt or gravel. There’s no requirement that a “pasture” be available.  Small-scale farmers are more likely to be truly free-range, allowing their birds plenty of space to roam. If you want truly free-range eggs or meat, make sure that your poultry comes from pasture-fed flocks.

What are the Benefits of Free-Range?

True free-range hens that have access to a healthy environment and eat a natural, healthy diet produce more nutritious eggs than their factory-farm counterparts. Rather than eating grain alone, free-range birds are able to dine on grass and bugs too. This does a lot for their eggs. Mother Earth News reported that pasture-fed, free-range chickens produce eggs with 1/3 the cholesterol and ¼ the saturated fat as their conventional counterparts. They also  have more vitamin a, vitamin e, and omega 3 fatty acids. Free-range chicken meat is higher in protein, higher in good fat, and lower in bad fat than conventional chicken meat. These chickens are also free from unnecessary antibiotic consumption, a true problem in factory farms. Free-range, pasture-raised meat and eggs taste great too.

Considering Free-Range Birds

Ideally, free-range chickens are allowed to wander as they please. Depending on where you live, this could be idealic or dangerous. If you live in a city, you simply can’t allow your birds to wander down the street and into your neighbor’s property. Predators are also a huge threat. Make sure that your birds have a safe place to take shelter from predators and inclement weather and don’t put your chicks out while they are still very young. Free-range birds can be healthy and natural, but they can also be an easy meal for a lurking predator or run over by a passing vehicle.

If you have the space, free-range is absolutely the way to go. Just make sure that you have the vegetation to sustain your flock and adequate protection. Even free range birds must have a clean coop to come home to at night. Keep away from hormones and antibiotics and keep a careful eye out for danger. Your flock with thank you.

The Truth About Roosters

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If you order or hatch a batch of chicks, you’re likely to end up with a mixture of hens and roosters. While that may be the natural outcome, many backyard farmers prefer hens to roosters. Some cities even ban roosters! Loud, aggressive, and territorial, roosters don’t offer many of the benefits of their egg-laying, quieter female counterparts. Do you want a rooster in your backyard? Here’s what you should know.

If you want fertilized eggs and therefore a larger flock, a rooster is a vital part of your farm. He’ll also serve as a watchful eye, keeping the hens safe from most predators.  He will cry loudly to warn the flock from dangers. In fact, crowing is one of the rooster’s most distinctive features. Crowing begins around the time he is 4 months old and continues for the duration of his life, multiple times a day. The belief that roosters crow only as the sun comes up is a farce. Roosters crow whenever they feel like it. They crow to claim territory, assert dominance, or just because it appeals to them in the moment. The noisy nature of the rooster is one main reasons why they are not allowed in many towns.

While a rooster is not required for a hen to lay eggs, it’s required for her to lay fertilized eggs that will hatch into new chicks. This is a fantastic benefit. You most likely won’t want more than one rooster for a small flock, however. He’ll provide adequate fertilization and protection. Roosters can be aggressive and territorial, especially toward other roosters. They can also be aggressive toward people and other pets. Their beaks and spiny legs  can do a lot of damage, so be careful! Poultry live in a social hierarchy, and a dominant male will make it well known that he is the head of the coop.

What’s one to do if they end up with a handful of roosters along with their hens? Egg-producing facilities kill males shortly after hatching. There’s no need to be that cruel. If some of your chicks are male, raise them for meat or list them for sale in the classified ads. There may be someone else in your area who would like a rooster. Raising dual-purpose birds will give you excellent layers as well as meat birds. If you order a fair quantity of chicks, expect a good portion of them to be male. It’s best to have a plan beforehand.

Roosters have been vilified in modern culture, but they can be very rewarding and wonderful animals to raise. Do your research, use common sense, and keep the number of roosters in your flock low. Raising roosters is a whole new experience.