Chickens have become a main stay for many off-girders and homesteaders a like as a natural source of nutrition. Growing up on my father’s homestead one of the very first animals he got was chickens because they are such a valuable animal to have. Since those days I have always told myself that if I ever owned a stretch of land that I would have my own set of chickens and as with tradition, my chickens were the very first animal I got for my homestead.
Why are they so valuable? Well when a hen is grown, they produce eggs typically on a 24 hour schedule that are high in protein, have less fat and cholesterol and more vitamin A, E and Omega 3s and are so much tastier than the eggs bought are your local grocery store.
Of course those hens that have stopped laying, the roo’s or if raised specifically for it can be butchered for meat. When you taste one of your own pastured raised chickens, with its juicy, tender and tasty meat you will wonder why you ever bought a store bought chicken, plus you will also know that your chickens are free from chemicals, hormones and antibiotics.
Some of the other benefits of having chickens on your homestead is:
- They aerate your pastures – Chickens doing what they do naturally by digging and scratching looking for bugs and worms is the best aerating tractor in the world. By loosening the soil they are helping to get air and moisture into the soil which in turn helps in creating a healthier pasture.
- Fertilizer – Chicken poop is one of the best organic fertilizer you can get, unlike cows when a chicken eats weed seeds and such it is full digested so you will not have to worry about weeds in your fertilizer.
- Natural Insect hunter – Chickens love bugs and worms and by having them able to move around and dug they will be helping to keep the pesky bug population under control.
What kind of Chicken is good for your homestead?
Well of course any chicken is good for your homestead, however there are many many different kinds of breeds of chickens. Some breeds are better egg producers than others, some are better utilized for meat birds than others, some are large and some are small, some lay white eggs and others can lay colorful eggs.
So the question should not be what’s good for your homestead, but rather what is the overall purpose the chicken will fulfill?
So as with anything on your homestead, you need to plan and decide just what their intent will be. Once you have your plan then you can begin doing research into the different kinds of breeds and what they are best suited for. Homesteaders typically go with a dual purpose breed, like a Rhode Island Red as they are good egg producers and have a decent amount of meat.
Now if you just wanted a chicken solely for the purpose of egg production, one of the best breeds to get is the White Leghorn.
These beautiful birds are fantastic egg layers and typically weigh in at about 6 – 7 lbs at maturity. We are currently raising 15 of these from baby chicks and I can already tell you that they are very skittish. They see me every day, hear my voice everyday and I spend a lot of time with them but they still run away like there the sky is falling.
Their eggs are x-large and white in color similar to what you would normally see in a grocery store, but of course we all know that homesteaders eggs, far surpasses that of regular store bought eggs.
Now the Rhode Island Reds are they first breeds of chickens that we got here on our homestead. This is typically a go to bird for any homesteader do to their great laying ability and the great tasting meat you get from them. Their first year of laying is usually their best at approximately 312 eggs per year, while the 2nd year they slow down to about 223 per year.
The hens normally come in around 6.5 lbs at maturity and lay large to X-large brown eggs.
One of the best pound for pound chickens you can get for the best meat production is that of the The Cornish Cross chickens. These birds we developed by the commercial chicken industry because of how fast they get to weight naturally. A Cornish roo can get upwards of 10lbs at maturity, rapidly reaching 4.5 lbs by 6 weeks of age. Now these birds are horrible layers so keep that in mind as they are not a dual purpose bird. These birds grow so rapidly that unfortunately without regulating their feed, they can out grow the muscle and tendon strength in their legs and render them immobile. It is best to harvest these birds between 4 to 10 weeks of age depending upon the desired weight.
How many Chickens should we get?
This is a fantastic question because if you are anything like me, you will have a tenancy to get too many birds to start with and this is not a good idea. Now we currently have 8 Rhode Island Reds and 15 White Leghorns but we also utilize the eggs as barter with several other homesteaders, neighbors and friends. So the best way to decide just how many birds you need is to see just how many eggs your family eats, or if not utilized for egg production then how much chicken does your family eat.
So as far as egg production knowing that you typically get an egg a day depending upon the breed, health of the bird and whether or not the bird is molting or not is a good way to estimate your family needs. Do you all typically eat 2 or 3 eggs per person each day? or once a week? do you have a small family or large family? once you can answer these questions then you will easily know just how many chickens you will need.
Before you run off after thinking about your chicken needs and buy your new flock there are several other things that you need to take into consideration before you even purchase your first bird; however those topics will be covered in another article so stay tuned.
Until Next Time