The Hen House
Managing chickens successfully starts with the right breed selection. No breeds are better suited or more efficient on a homestead "except " a breed that possesses the characteristics that a homesteader is looking for. According to the oldest chicken organization in the U.S., the American Poultry Association http://www.amerpoultryassn.com/ , hundreds of breeds of chickens exist today. The organization that was founded in 1873 may be able to assist in locating rare breeds today. A variety of chickens for small gardens, meat birds, colored egg layers, fancy show chickens, production egg layers and heritage breeds are available from hatcheries.
Choosing the right breed starts with 3 questions and evaluating the environment.
What are the chickens going to accomplish on the farm? Are they for meat, controlling bugs in the flower beds, eggs for income, breeding or will they be pets. Is your farm a working farm or a hobby farm? Do the chickens need to pay their way?
How much money can be invested in chickens. Not just initially. What is your outlook for 6 months, 1 year and 3 years down the road? At what age chickens are purchased will determine how long it will be before layers or broilers will generate an income.
How much time is available to tend chickens? Available time to tend chickens must be considered in decision making.
Conditions that affect housing, tending the chickens and safety must be considered. Not all breeds can survive extremely cold weather, or very hot weather.
Here is a guide we made to help you determine what breed to purchase.
Root Cellar Farm, 2006
- What are the chickens going to accomplish on the farm?
answer - weed and insect control, eggs for income
*RCF will need a GOOD LAYING BREED
- How much money can be invested now and for the next 3 years?
answer - None.
(Make sacrifices to reach this goal, use from the monthly household fund until egg sales start. $50 a month))
- How much time is available to tend chickens?
answer - M, TH - 1 1/2 hr W, TUE, 1 hr = 5 hours max (SUN, special projects) This should be easy, our sons can learn and help at the same time.
answer - Wildlife, high winds, freezing temps, snow, ice, and
HAWKS *RCF need's a LARGE BREED
Breed selection "Barred Rock"
* good layer
* harder for hawks to take when full grown
* dual breed, large enough to use for meat and a good laying breed.
+ plus they tend to have a nice calm disposition
Below are three examples of situations where a specific breed would be important.
You have limited space and need fresh eggs. The chickens will shelter in a hen house due to neighborhood cats. Then select a smaller egg layer (this is breed that is a steady layer of 4 or more eggs a week) such as the White Leghorn. Four Leghorns Hens can provide you with 20 -24 eggs a week.
You are 100% vegan and have no use for eggs. You would like to have some chickens to help control bugs in your garden. Check the Bantam variety of small chickens. They require less space to shelter then the larger breeds. This smaller breed tends to do less damage in planted areas. When feed needs to be supplemented the smaller breeds require less. Bantam's usually lay fewer eggs.
You like the eggs you see at farmers market that have colored shells.
These breeds are sold primarily through hatcheries. Search colored egg layers on the hatchery websites or give them a call. These breeds tend to cost more then other breeds. The reason is that these tend to lay much fewer eggs then the laying breeds. The exception is Barred Rock and the Rhode Island Red that lay brown eggs.
MY FAVORITE ONLINE CATALOG can assist you in determining what breed of chicken is right for you.
Meyer Hatchery post a descriptive "photo catalog" on their website The way the breeds are categorized and pictured is fantastic! This is an excellent website to gather the facts on the different breeds.
The page scrolls down to view the varieties by trait. Select a variety and the page opens up to a description of the breed. I highly recommend this site.
How many chickens should be in a flock?
Check for square foot shelter recommendations for the breed selected. Compare the recommendations to the shelter size that has been selected. How many chickens can be safely and humanely kept in the shelter?
An example would be that you have a shelter that is a total of 24 sq ft. One chicken needs 4 sq ft. Dividing 24 by 4 = 6 chicken
Chickens sleep/roost close together to keep warm. If you live in a cold region you should keep no less then 10 chickens. Large breeds do better in a cold climate then do small breeds. In mild climates, 4 chickens should be the very minimum.
Breeding flocks should have 1 rooster to 10 hens. There is no guarantee that a rooster will be a good producer. Roosters that are caged 24/7 with other roosters will fight.
Chickens that are kept in cages all of the time need to be given additional space. Additional space will prevent them from becoming stressed.
Chickens can not see after dusk. Secure them at or before dusk.
Barred Rock Hens healthy laying weight 6 pounds 5 eggs a week, average