Raising chickens is one of the best ways to maintain a self-reliant lifestyle. They are so multipurpose! Not only do they give you wonderfully fresh, nutritious eggs every day, but they clean up bugs around your yard or garden, they sound an alarm when there are intruders, they provide meat for your table, provide pets for the family, eat many table scraps that would otherwise go down the garbage disposal or out in the trash, provide some of the best compost found, and for those who can have roosters, they let you know when to get out of bed in the morning. What animal is there that has so much to offer?
I find it interesting that many cities have changed their zoning ordinances and are allowing home owners to keep as many as 6 chickens within city limits. I’m sure this move to lift the controls on farm animals in the city has come because of a desire and push by citizens to be more self-sustaining in their lifestyles.
In fact, groups have organized around this unlikely pet, and they are gaining momentum as they take on cities all across the country. One such group known as the “Poultry Underground” was successful in changing the rule in Madison, Wisconsin that banned chickens in the city. In 2004 a group of “Crazed Chicken Ladies” in Oakland California took on a City Council member who attempted to ban roosters and limit city hens to two per household. The “crazed” group was not successful in overcoming the rooster ban, but there is no limit on hens. That is a victory!
The internet hosts numerous sites such as thecitychicken.com, backyardchickens.com, and madcitychickens.com, which encourage city dwellers to consider these feathered friends as a viable part of their urban world. They offer how to tips, information, and discussion. Magazines have picked up the craze and are offering their readers articles like “Chickens in the City.” New York City, Oakland, San Francisco, Houston, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, are just a few major cities that are now chicken-friendly. So if your city is not, and you would like it to be, I just gave you some ammunition. Get busy and DO something about it.
We purchased our first batch of 30 birds about five years ago. It has definitely been a learning curve! We successfully raised most of them beyond the pullet stage (a young hen less than a year old.) But, getting them to lay eggs year round was a challenge, and so was keeping them from pecking each other to pieces. Learning to make friends with them was helpful, and getting rid of mean roosters imperative.
In this tutorial I will be sharing valuable information with you that we have learned through experience and by asking numerous questions of mentors who have worked with chickens for many, many years. Mentors are essential if you want to shorten the learning curve. Hopefully we can be a mentor for you.
The first thing you need to decide, is what kind of chickens you want to raise. It used to be that chickens were kept mostly for their eggs. When the hens got a little older and weren’t laying quite as often, they became chicken stock. Roosters were generally eaten in the first year, as soon as they were big enough to provide a nice Sunday dinner. They were fed a lot of scraps from the table, foraged in the farmyard, and enjoyed grain whenever it could be spared.
In the early 1900’s, the industrial revolution hit the chicken industry and farmers began to specialize. No longer did they raise the dual purpose, medium weight birds. Heavy varieties of birds were being crossed to create broilers that were around 4 lbs. Millions were being produced every day in the U.S.
Similar specialization was going on in the egg laying industry. Brooding and mothering instincts were bred out of the birds and laying ability bred in. Additionally, the best egg layers were also skinny birds that didn’t eat as much as the dual purpose or meat birds. They also layed 10 times their own weight in just one year. In her lifetime, an egg layer will lay 20 to 22 dozen eggs. I am always amazed at the size of the egg that comes out of the white leghorn. She is the most prolific of the egg layers.
You can specialize in your own backyard as well. If you want the dual purpose bird that can be used for eggs as well as meat, there are many, many to choose from. If you are more interested in eggs and really have no desire to harvest a bird for their meat, there are breeds most suited to egg laying. If you want chicken to eat and are not particularly concerned about eggs, or perhaps you have some for eggs and others for meat, there are birds to meet that need as well.
This is our second year of such specialization. We raise birds specifically to harvest the meat and we also raise chicks that will hopefully be great egg layers. I also like to have some breeds that will do both. Here are a few of the most popular breeds specific to their function:
Dual Purpose Birds
- Dorking – They give nice eggs and meat. Roosters don’t attack. Great all around bird.
- Rhode Island Reds – All time popular breed. No other heavy breed lays more eggs.
- Black Australorps – Quiet, gentle, and take confinement well. One of the best of the heavy breed layer.
- Black Giants – Cross between Jersey Giant and Asiatic birds. Good layers of brown eggs, especially in winter.
- White Leghorn – very best white egg layer
- Red Star – brown egg layer, lays through hot and cold weather
- Anconas – white eggs, they are not setters
- Black Minorca – large white egg layers, not setters
- Jumbo Cornish X Rocks – Ready in 8 weeks and will dress out at 3-4 lbs.
- Cornish Roaster – Fryers reach dressed weight of 3-4 lbs. in 8 – 9 weeks. Roasters will reach weight of 8-9 lbs. in 12 weeks.
- Red Ranger Broiler – Outstanding growth rate reaching 6-7 lbs. in 8 weeks. Able to withstand the free range of natural environment well.
Take some time to decide what your goal is in keeping chickens, then choose accordingly.
Learn how to raise baby chicks by going to Lesson #12 How To Raise Chicks Successfully.