It doesn’t matter if you have 100 cases of Mountain House foods or a basement bursting at the seams with stored food, if you aren’t actively growing and raising your own foods, you’re always going to be reliant on stores or other people for your food supply. As preppers, we should be detaching ourselves from these systems of support to become more self-reliant. There is no better way to do that than raising chickens for meat and eggs. Today we’re going to go over all the commonly asked questions about the basics of raising chickens so you can make an informed decision on whether or not raising chickens is right for you.
Check the local laws and ordinances
First and foremost we need to make sure that raising chickens is legal on your area. Although I don’t put a lot of respect into local zoning laws and home owners associations, the micro-government code enforcers have a habit of making people’s lives hell when enforcing local codes and ordinances, especially when it comes to raising animals.
How do you find out what the laws are in your area?
Every city is going to have a municipal code regarding chickens. Usualy there is a limit to the amount of chickens you can have, whether or not you can have roosters, if it is permissible for your chickens to be free range and even how large your coop can be. Go to Google and search for “(your city and state) chicken laws”. Additionally there are many great sites out there that give information and links to municipal codes in your area such as BackYard Chickens.com
What about neighbors and HOAs?
If you live in an area with a Home Owners Association (Move!) you’ll want to get a copy of all the rules and regulations for the HOA and check if there is anything in there about raising chickens on your property. DO NOT ask a representative of the HOA, as these people are very quick to make up regulations when asked. As far as your neighbors, although it is your property, you may want to have a dialogue with your neighbors about the chickens. Try to quell any concerns they have about the smell, noise or any other issues. Even better, when you start getting some egg production, give them some eggs. This goes a long way in preventing any arguments you might have with them down the road.
Building or buying a coop
Obviously your chickens are going to need a home! Your two options are buying or building a coop. It doesn’t take a lot of material or construction experience to build a coop and could potentially save you a lot of money versus buying a prebuilt coop.
Is it cheaper to build your own coop?
This will depend on the type of coop that you want for your chickens. You could build a coop for less than $50, but it’s not going to house more than a few chickens, and may require some routine maintenance. The cost will really be determined by how much the materials will cost in your area. The best way to keep the costs down if you choose to build your own is to reuse materials. Wooden pallets are a great source for inexpensive framing wood for your coop.
Where can I get plans to build a coop?
Backyard Chickens.com has an amazing database of over 2200 chicken coop designs. You can check them all out (for free) HERE
How much would buying a coop cost?
This depends on the type of coop that you want. There are coops you can buy for less than $100, however these are going to be small wire framed coops without a roof. For a decent coops that will house at least 6 birds with a roof expect to pay somewhere around $400-$500
Where could I buy a coop?
If you’re going to be buying a coop, I would suggest looking for something used. Craigslist is a great resource to check. Google “(your city) Craigslist” and go to the “Farm+Garden” section. Chances are you can find a great deal on a used chicken coop any time of the year. If you want to purchase a brand new coop, Tractor Supply has a great selection.
How big does it have to be?
The amount of birds you want to have will determine how big your coop needs to be. The rule of thumb is that each bird will require 4 square feet of space in your coop to mak sure you aren’t crowding your chickens. Yes you can get away with less, but it is not advisable for the safety and health of the birds.
What can I do to make sure predators can’t get in?
Whatever coops you decide to go with, make sure it is solidly made. It needs a solid frame and cannot have any holes or openings in it near the bottom whatsoever. Chickens have a lot of predators, big and small. The last thing you want is to go check on your chickens and find out that a fox was able to squeeze in.
Giving them space
One of the biggest reasons other than self-suffiency that people raise chickens is to simply produce a better quality of food for their family. Commerical chicken operations are downright disgusting. They typically give chickens no more than a foot of space (at best) per bird, which studies have proved have a detrimental affect on the health, productivity and growth on the birds themselves. When raisiung your own chickens, its extremely important to not make the same mistakes as the big chicken farms out there and give your birds the space they need.
Why can’t I just keep them in their coop?
In reality you can keep chickens in their coop. However doing this will not only be detrimental to the growth and egg production of your birds, but can lead to some serious health issues with your birds as well if you are not careful. Not to mention, there’s something to be said about treating the animals that provide you with food with a little respect. I don’t know about you but spending my entire life in a 4’x4’ space sounds dreadful. However, there are some areas that have specific requirements that the birds cannot leave their coops. If this is the case in your area it is advisable to give the chickens each double the amount of space you normally would if they were allowed out on your property.
Will they hurt my property?
As long as you are not confining your birds to one specific part of your property for too long then not only with chickens not hurt your property, but they can actually help significant with weed control, insect control and fertilization of soil.
What’s a chicken tractor?
A chicken tractor lets you have the best of both worlds of a coop and free range. It is a mobile coop that you can rotate around your property to allow the chickens access to the weeds, grass and insects all over your property, while still keeping them technically inside of a coop. This is a great workaround if you are in an area that forbids free range chickens.
How much open space does each bird need?
The basic rule of thumb for this is 4 feet for every bird. This is easy to remember as each bird will also require 4 feet of space inside their coop as well.
What can I do to protect them when they’re out of the coop?
Protecting your birds when they are outside is extremely important. Outside predators like dogs and other critters can and will attack your chickens. The easiest way to avoid this is to use removable wire fencing around the area that your chickens are going to be grazing in. Just make sure that it is secured so that predators cant jump inside or move the fencing.
Deciding on a breed
Once you start researching breeds of chickens you’ll quickly find that it can be overwhelming. There are literally hundreds of breeds of chickens, each with thei own unique characteristics. It’s important to find a breed(s) of bird that is going to give you the best chance of accomplishing your production goals.
How much do baby chicks cost?
This is highly dependent on the breed of chicken, whether or not it is commonly raised in your area and where you go to source your chicks. You could get a great deal from a local farmer for $1 a chick or you could bring in an exotic breed that could run $20 or more a chick. It’s a good idea to keep your bottom line in mind during this whole process. Although spending a little more on meat and eggs than you would at the store might be acceptable, when you consider your startup costs, chicks, feed and all the time and resources involved with raising chickens, it can get expensive quick.
Does my climate make a difference?
Absolutely. Certain breeds of chickens will only be productive in certain climates. When choosing a breed, make sure you take in to consideration the USDA zones that breed does the best in. You want to pick a breed that will thrive in your seasonal conditions.
Developing a feeding system
The feed for your chickens is where the bulk of work and expense will come from, depending on the system you set up.
What can I feed them?
One of the great things about chickens is that you can feed them pretty much anything to a certain extent. Table scraps, bugs and commercial chicken feed are all great food choices for your chickens.
How much does feed cost?
This is going to be dependent on the type of feed that you buy. Some feed is made specifically with higher calcium or higher protein depending on your meat and egg production goals. 100 pounds of chicken feed will cost around $20-$30. Obviously table scraps and insects are free and you should definitely be taking advantage of that cost savings.
Can I make my own feed?
Absolutely! In fact, here’s a quick recipe to make your own organic feed that is much healthier and cheaper than store-bought.
Homemade Chicken Feed
– 2 parts whole corn
– 3 parts soft white wheat
– 3 parts hard red winter wheat
– ½ part Diatomaceous Earth (not the kind you put in your pool)
– 1 part hulled barley
– 1 part oat groats
– 2 part sunflower seeds
– ½ part peanuts
– 1 part wheat bran
– 1 part split peas
– 1 part lentils
– 1 part quinoa
– 1 part sesame seeds
– 1/2 part kelp
How much feed do chickens need?
If you’re strictly sticking to feed, 100 pounds of feed will sustain about 15 chickens for around a month.
How much water do they need?
This is going to be dependent on your location, but to be safe, I would start out with 1 gallon of water per day for every 3 chickens. You can always cut this back if there is leftover at the end of the day.
Expectations for eggs and meat production
It’s important to have some realistic expectations of what kind of production you’re going to get from your flock. This way you can determine how many chickens you will need to meet your meat and egg requirements.
How much meat can I expect to get on average per bird?
This is completely up to the breed of chicken that you decide on, how much you feed it and how long you wait until harvesting it. A safe number to estimate would be about 3 pounds. Just remember, you will lose about 30-35% of the total weight of the chicken in processing.
How long does it take until I can harvest?
A good mid-range estimate for this (again depends on the breed) will be 6 to 8 weeks.
When will they start laying eggs?
Raising Egg hens is a lot different than raising meat birds. While a meat bird will be ready in 6-8 weeks for processing, a hen will need 4 to 6 months to start laying eggs regularly.
How many eggs can I expect every week per bird?
This is usually determined by your breed of chicken, the age of the bird, their coop and your climate. Although the old standard of 1 egg per day may be accurate for younger birds, older birds eggs production will decrease over time, which is why it is a good idea to keep track of their production so that you can determine your true costs of feed vs. eggs.
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