Egg laying chickens are what most folks not raised in the country around different kinds of livestock choose as the first kind of animal to raise. Chickens are inexpensive to get started with, easy to raise, take up little space, and provide a relatively easy way to produce food for the family table.
Another advantage to starting your farm animal experience with laying chickens is the fact that transitioning from laying chickens to fryers for meat is easy…a LOT easier than going from rabbits to goats, for example.
You may or may not have a personal preference in what kind of eggs you eat, but in choosing a breed of chicken you want to raise you might as well raise an egg laying chicken that lays an egg that sells well for a good profit, and that means raising brown egg layers.
Another consideration for you is choosing a breed of chicken that is a prolific layer. You want to get as many eggs per chicken as possible and that means careful breed selection as the number of eggs laid by each breed can be quite different, with little difference in cost. Most chickens require about the same amount of food, regardless of if they are productive layers or not.
With these criteria in mind, I lean toward three breeds…Barred Rocks, Black Sex Links, and Gold Sex Links (also known as Golden Comets). Also in the running, though not QUITE as prolific, are Rhode Island Reds.
All these breeds will lay about 300 eggs per chicken per year in a healthy flock (the RIR’s a tiny bit less), all will lay well for about two years, and all are “easy keepers”.
I prefer to keep a mix of three or four breeds in order to make it easy to keep up with flock age, without having to leg band the chickens or closely inspect each bird to determine if she is getting old.
Also, some breeds get along better with certain other breeds, and these breeds get along well.
Since a chicken is ready to be “retired” at about two years of age, I find that having age groups that look different help me know which birds are getting ready for the stew pot.
I like to keep a flock that is a quarter to a third of each of the four above breeds, and I start age culling when birds are about 18 months old, first selling older birds to folks who don’t need high production but are looking for a few eggs for personal use. At two years I’ll make a final attempt to sell older birds and put the ones that don’t sell into the freezer, ready for the stew pot.
So, for a flock of 100 birds I might have 25 that are new (day old…bought, not hatched. I’ll cover that in a minute) Black Sex Link chicks that will start laying in about 4 months, 25 that are 6 month old Golden Comets that are laying well, 25 that are 1 year old Barred Rocks laying well, and 25 that are 18 month old Rhode Island Reds that are nearing the end of their laying life on my farmstead. In 6 months I’ll buy 25 more RIR’s and will have gotten rid of the older ones.
Why brown egg layers? Well, when you combine brown eggs with the chickens being free-ranged you increase the price you can charge for the eggs you sell…and you can increase it a LOT. In my area, a dozen white eggs bring about $1.50 to $2.00 at the farm while a dozen brown eggs bring around $4.00 (free range brown eggs go for $6.00 to $8.00 at Atlanta area Whole Foods).
There is no difference between a white egg and a brown egg once you are inside the shell, BUT folks want free range eggs and brown eggs just say “free range” by their appearance.
Commercially raised eggs like you normally see in the supermarket are white eggs, usually coming from white Leghorns or a hybrid of a leghorn, so folks tend to look for brown eggs just to be sure they aren’t from commercially raised chickens…and hopefully they are free range.
Why free range eggs? Because they are healthier for you than henhouse raised eggs, and because they sell for more…a lot more…even though they are less expensive to produce.
What is a “free range” chicken or egg from such a chicken, and what makes it healthier for you? Well…a free range chicken is a chicken that is allowed to roam during the day, either all over your property or in a pen, that gets most of its nutrition from its “range” rather than from commercial chicken feed.
A large part of its diet consists of bugs and worms, which are very high in protein and that make the eggs from such a chicken very high in Omega-3 fatty acids…which is very good for you. As a side benefit, having chickens roaming your property will give you free pest control…LOL. When I bought my property I had a serious scorpion problem, but within 6 months of having chickens roaming the property the scorps were gone…and I haven’t seen one since.
It’s worth taking care of chickens just to not have to worry about finding a scorpion…the hard way…in your shoe when you get dressed in the morning. Trust me on this!
You still have a coop, with roosts for the chickens to roost and sleep on, and you still have laying boxes for them to lay their eggs in, but you let them roam during the day.
For 100 chickens I had a coop that was 8×12 feet, with 90 feet of roost bars and 20 nest boxes, along with a 5 gallon waterer and a 25 lb feeder…in addition to the waterers and feeder that were outside for them to use during the day. That sounds tight, but it is plenty of room for them if its only use was sleeping and laying eggs.
I’ll post pictures and/or a diagram soon…I promise!
As far as the area where you let the chickens range, there are two approaches.
Since there were goats to go along with my chickens, and since I have predators including goat loving coyotes in my area, I had an Anatolian Shepherd livestock guard dog. Because of this, and because Nita (the dog) guarded the chickens as well as the goats, I let the chickens roam all over my property. They went in the coop at dusk and I locked them in, and I let them out at dawn. This works if you don’t have predator, neighbor, or road traffic issues to deal with.
If you are in a situation where the chickens must be penned for some reason, like a small property or no way to protect them, give them as much room as possible. Chickens, especially a good number of them, can make a mess of the ground and will eat every bit of your grass if they don’t have enough room. Build temporary, moveable fencing or build a chicken tractor (I’ll cover chicken tractors in a later article)…and if a part of your predator problem is birds of prey, cover the pen with chicken wire.
Also, if you have a garden, be aware when you get chickens that they will absolutely destroy a garden. You see a garden and food when it ripens…they see dinner today!
Chickens are a great way to get started with farmstead livestock, whether it is for personal food production or to sell for profit.
Next chicken article I’ll cover chick sources and raising day old chicks to laying age, with more chicken raising information to come.
Check back often…you never know when new info will pop up!