Raising Chickens for Eggs

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“We can see a thousand miracles around us every day,” said famous American clergyman and Christian radio broadcaster Samuel Parkes Cadman, “What is more supernatural than an egg yolk turning into a chicken?” Whether used to expand the size of your flock or for a regular supply of food, eggs are a miraculous thing. What other item can either turn into another laying hen (if fertilized), or become a protein-rich and versatile food source for humans? Raising chickens for eggs is a relatively inexpensive way to provide one’s family with a constant supply of wholesome, nutritious eggs. It can also be a good business. Organic, free-range chicken eggs are in high demand.

Make Sure It’s Legal and Build Your Coop

Before you order your first chicks, make sure that raising backyard chickens is legal where you live. Build a chicken coop such as those found at here on my site, prepare your chicken run, and gather all supplies. Make sure that your chickens have a safe, enclosed place to sleep at night and laying boxes for their eggs. Research the best type of chicken for your purpose and geographical area and do your homework on how to raise chickens. The Internet is a good source for information, as is your local library or bookstore. The better educated you are on the topic, the better your chicken raising experience will be.

Photo by: Bryan Jones
Photo by: Bryan Jones

Choose the Best Layers for You

There are hundreds of different chicken breeds in existence and one size certainly does not fit all when it comes to choosing the perfect breed for you. Some chickens are layers, some are broilers (meat chickens), and some are dual purpose. Even among layers, the variety is huge. Some breeds lay over 200 eggs annually, while others lay closer to 80.

Leghorn chickens are consistent laying birds that produce around 300 eggs annually. Rhode Island Reds, Red Stars, Light Sussex, Plymouth Rock, and Barred Rock chickens are also fantastic layers. Chickens that are great layers as well as great mother hens (“broody” hens) who will care for her chicks include the Rhode Island Red, Plymouth Rock, Cuckoo Maran, and the Light Sussex. If you do not have a rooster and only raise eggs for food, then a great layer who is not broody is a good choice. If you would like the possibility of baby chicks, a broody hen is a better option because she’ll readily sit on and care for her own eggs. 2-4 hens are a good amount to start out with if you want a steady supply of eggs for your family. Don’t buy too many birds in the beginning, as you can quickly become overwhelmed with the number of eggs they produce.

Caring For Your Layers

Chickens eat nearly constantly and enjoy a wide variety of foods. Chicken feed, vegetables, fruits, grains, and seeds are all healthy choices. Feed your chickens daily or use a large, self-feeding container that holds several days’ worth of feed. They’ll also eat bugs and worms from your yard. On average, a laying hen will eat ¼ lb of feed each day. This amount is variable and will depend on your specific hen. Regardless, chickens like to eat!

Chickens also need access to clean water, and a large watering container is a good option. A modern watering container can store 3-5 gallons of water and regulates the water into a trough that is not too deep to risk drowning while also offering a steady supply of water. These are available online as well as farmer supply stores.

Provide your hens with a safe home, sunlight, fresh air, and lots of room to exercise. Clean their coop regularly to reduce the risk of illness or disease or use a chicken tractor to keep their living area fresh and your yard fertilized. Raising chickens for eggs is not hard to do and, with a little bit of self-education and experience, you’ll soon be enjoying an abundant supply of fresh eggs. Good luck!

Raising Chickens for Meat

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Raising chickens for meat is easy to do. Economical and efficient, it takes only 10 weeks to raise a broiler (meat chicken) from chick to the dinner table. Hormone-free, organic chicken is in high demand, better for your family than factory birds, and raising your own chickens for meat puts you as close to your food source as you can get.

Make Sure It’s Legal Where You Live

No matter whether you want to raise chickens for meat for your own personal use or for business purposes, check your local laws and restrictions. It’s illegal to raise farm animals within city limits in some places and it’s forbidden by homeowner’s associations in others. If you’re planning on beginning a chicken business, make sure you acquire any permits before you get started.

Once you’re legal, prepare your property. Build a chicken hutch and a chicken run, buy food and watering supplies, and read up about raising birds for meat. The more you read on the topic, the better luck you’ll have.

Choosing the Right Birds for You

Certain chicken breeds make excellent layers. Some are great broilers. Other breeds are fine for both purposes and are called dual-purpose birds. When looking for a great meat bird, consider that some birds grow to full size and can be eaten much sooner than other birds. Some meat birds can be cooked within 8 weeks. Cornish Rock and Ixworth are two such breeds. The downfall of breeds such as these is that they have been genetically altered to gain weight so quickly that they cannot possibly live long or healthy lives. Past a certain amount of time, they simply cannot support themselves.

Heritage chickens are an excellent option if you’re opposed to modern, hybrid poultry. Heritage birds are classic chicken breeds which are hearty and long-lived but often passed over for rapidly-growing, genetically altered hybrid chickens. Raising heritage chickens for meat may take longer, but you’ll have healthier, longer-lived birds and will also help preserve heritage chicken breeds. Several great-tasting heritage chickens are the Dorking, Buckeye, Rhode Island Red, and the Dominique. Many of these breeds are duel-purpose, meaning that they will also be able to lay eggs before ending up on your dinner table.

Caring For Your Chickens

Clean your chicken’s coop regularly to keep them healthy, feed them a well-balanced died, and vaccinate your flock. Meat chickens eat a great deal of feed and gain weight rapidly. A Cornish cross-breed can be expected to eat 8 lbs of feed for the first 6 weeks. They grow extremely fast and are harvested when they are only 2 months old. As a general idea, a light chicken breed should consume about ¼ lb of feed daily. For a heavier bird, feed them more. In general, a meat chickens are allowed to eat as much as they want because the goal is for the bird to grow rapidly. Water is important too, and chickens drink twice as much as they eat. Keep that waterer full!

The exact amount of food your birds will consume varies. In general, provide your chickens with a constant supply of fresh food. Clean the feeder as needed and keep it free from moldy feed, which can contaminate the rest of the feed. Trial and error will teach you how often—and how much—to feed your flock.

What To Expect

Broilers grow rapidly, especially in their first weeks of life. Commercial chicken breeds will reach 5 lbs in approximately 7 weeks. Slower-growing heritage breeds will take about 11 weeks, or longer, to reach the same weight.

Raising chickens for meat can be a rewarding hobby, one that will put nutritious food on the table or increase your family’s income if you intend to sell your birds. Know your options, choose the breed that best suits your needs, and care for your chickens well. The rest will fall into place.


Photo by: Victoria Imeson