Raising Chickens at Home

I'm afraid I'm not an expert (or even a beginner) regarding raising chickens at home, but I hope a few of our readers are. I know it is a popular thing to do, and not too difficult. There seem to be a lot of good web sites on the subject, and perhaps I can quote from a couple, to start the discussion.

Why raise chickens? Backyard chickens suggests this list of benefits:

  • Easy and inexpensive to maintain (when compared to most other pets)
  • Eggs that are fresh, great-tasting & nutritious
  • Chemical-free bug and weed control
  • Manufacture the worlds best fertilizer
  • Fun & friendly pets with personality (yes, you read that right)

There seem to be many sources of information about how to raise chickens available, from books to websites to friends with experience. One short list of tips I ran across is this one by Keeping Chickens at blogspot:

1. Keep chicken coop clean with fresh water, food and remove droppings.

2. Give chickens enough space to scratch and peck and perch. No cages!

3. Always check on the chickens daily to observe their behavior in case of sickness (and for fun!).

4. Collect eggs daily.

5. Obey the guidelines and regulations of your particular city. Check with your local city hall first to determine if you can legally raise chickens and what the restrictions are.

6. Never chase chickens and approach coop area calmly.

7. Quarantine sick chickens immediately.

8. Diversify their diet of regular feed with fresh table scraps, bread, fresh veggies (especially green veg) and the occasional treat of corn. Mixing in some ground oyster shell with the feed will add calcium, which makes their shells stronger.

9. Keep them safe from predators and offer them some cover from above (They don't like hawks). They will need a nice dark box for laying, perches for sleeping and a run for scratching.

10. Chickens “clean” themselves by taking dust baths, but the odd dusting of mite powder does no harm. By rolling around in the dirt, they’re ridding themselves of mites. So give them access to a patch of dry, loose soil.

Raising chickens without modern conveniences

As I look through some of the sites, it strikes me that the directions provided are pretty much for how to raise chickens in a BAU world. They talk about keeping babies warm with a light bulb, and buying 50 pound bags of chicken food, with different kinds of food for different ages of chickens. They talk about waterers to purchase, and various other equipment. The question I have is what one can do to make the process more sustainable.

What do people who do not have all of the modern conveniences do to raise chickens? I have heard they are quite common in Africa, for example. Do they all use metal fences? What did people do 200 years ago in the US or Europe to raise chickens?

Chicken on oil pipeline in Ecuador (photo from my trip in June).

Where do chickens grow wild? I know I have seen them in Hawaii. Ones that escaped from captivity were able to get along without farmers' support. How do wild chickens escape predators? Where do they lay their eggs? This may give us some ideas for how to imitate what works in the natural world.

One of the issues in raising chickens (or anything else) is energy balance. I have not researched energy balance for chickens raised at home versus commercial chickens, but my guess is that the home raised chickens use more energy, rather than less. Does anyone have figures on this? It would seem like the closer one can make the process to imitating what nature does, the better the energy balance will be.

Some other questions

How much regular attention do chickens need? If a person goes away on a week's vacation, what does one do? Find a neighbor who also raises chickens, and trade services? I don't think dropping them off with the vet (like people do for cats and dogs) would work.

What are good books about raising chickens? Good web sites?

What kinds of chickens do you prefer to raise? What is a good number to start with?

What tips do you have for beginners starting out?

My neighbors on 2 sides keep chickens and it's pretty normal for them to be running around in our yard, across the street, etc. A couple months back I noticed a flurry of excitement out in my neighbor's front lawn and watched a large fox dash across their yard and then mine carrying a chicken in its mouth. Later in the day I watched my neighbor rake up the feathers which were spread all across their front lawn.

We have been the beneficiary in the form of free dozens of eggs. I try to reciprocate by baking cookies with them. Ticks are a real problem in my area (I had lyme disease this past summer, the wife the summer before, etc etc- everyone gets it here at some point-) so any kind of tick-eating animal that wants to run around in my yard is a-ok.

Rhode Island Reds are popular here in CT. There are enough predators in the woods here (coywolves, foxes, fishers, etc) that you need a seriously secure coop to keep the attrition rate low. From what my neighbors tell me, once you get that set up, they are an extremely low maintenance pet. Going away for a week requires a pet sitter who can do the equivalent of feeding your cats and maybe letting them out to pee if you keep your cats "in the rough" (which is also popular in these parts, in spite of the coyotes. The prevailing local sentiment seems to be that an outdoor cat is a happy cat, and a happy life that ends in the jaws of a coyote is better than a fat sedentary life on a sofa.)

I wish I could offer more specifics but I have yet to get my own chickens. I'm planning on it though.

Geez, how close are they to the road? I also have chickens. And yes, there is a risk foxes and perhaps other wildlife coming up and taking one away. Ours never leave the property, and even with complete freedom, they never venture more than, say, 150-200 feet from their shed, most of the time staying closer.

As a reply to the poster, I don't think it's necessarily a big problem if you approach quickly. You might startle them and they will scuttle away, but they get over it.

While I'm here, I guess for some general points from my experience

- I wouldn't necessarily agree that they are low maintenance. It depends on how much space you give them. If their enclosure (outdoor but fenced) is relatively small, they will peck every green bud out of the earth and within a couple weeks it will look like Mordor.

- They will lay eggs anywhere they think resembles a nest. Or just anywhere, really. If they have a nest inside the shed they will prefer that.

- Where they go, they will poop. You will step in it.

- depending on the breed, chickens can be cruel to one another. They may pluck out each others tail feathers. So there might be personality issues, and if you don't pay attention, it can get so bad that there is nothing but a red rump on a chicken because it has been picked on.

- if you startle a rooster, it may attack you. The worst you could get is a few scratches.

- egg laying slows down significantly in the winter.

- you'll find that they will eat lots of the the leftovers you were going to throw out anyway. You might find yourself making a choice between having a compost or feeding leftovers to the chickens. Or the chickens might decide to make that choice for you if they get into the compost!

That said, they do look after themselves quite well. They don't get lost. They always come in at night of their own accord. They can't and don't damage property so far as I've noticed, unless that property is some form of palatable vegetation.

They are my mom's project, so I don't know how much of the above is common knowledge or not. And I haven't read any books on the subject.


You seem to understand your chickens pretty well!

Ours venture a litlle father out but stay within about five hundred feet or so of the house virtually all the time and usually within three hundred feet.

It has been my experience that experienced chickens seldom fall victim to automobiles if you live on a lightly traveled road-they are naturally cautious and can get moving pretty fast too.Ours cross the road in front of our house several times a day and it has been so long since one was hit by a car I can't remember when it last happened.

But our chickens are unusually wild.

You shouldn't ever actually chase your chickens but if you make sure to never feed them in spots where you don't want them and shoo them vigorously away from such spots -such as the sidewalk and front porch-they will learn to stay away.Mostly!

More than just palatable vegetation. They are hard on raised beds and even harder on the mulch around fruit trees. They will pull it all up, dig around and expose the roots, then set up deep dust baths there. Ours are in with the fruit trees, but each tree has a cage around it for defense. Truly free range is all well and good but you need a certain kind of neighbor, with relatively little at stake, to pull it off. So ours are behind quite a lot of wire.

I want to thank everyone for their neat chicken stories. I was at a meeting tonight, so wasn't around to comment much. Also, I am afraid I don't have much to add myself.

Raising chickens in the post collapse world will be a challenge. Some thoughts;

From the old school, chickens need greens, meat, and grain.

Raise as few birds as possible to meet your needs so your waste stream from the kitchen will go farther. Replace most (some) of your grain needs with human food waste (calories).

Use seasonably available food sources. Feral apples, road kill, insects, weed seeds, the possibilities are endless.

Start perennial greens such as alfalfa or comfrey for winter greens. Easy low labor.

I have yet to see a grain that a chicken can't thresh themselves, sunflower, wheat, corn, buckwheat, sorghum, etc. This takes a deal of space.

Free range at least 2 hours per day (in season) so they can fill in the niche nutrients you are not giving them. More than two hours and the birds will burn more calories and eat more store bought feed if you let them.

Start a meat program. Either, meat scraps from butcher, fish scraps from fisherman, raise worms, mealworms, etc. Only feed what will be consumed immediately or you will attract bad guys.

Chickens don't need heat period! Draft free, with good warm litter floors. Frostbite is caused by moisture not cold temps. Disease is caused by crowding (<4 sq ft / bird) and unsanitary practices. Ventilation is important. (-32F wind chill this morning and no problems)

Keep all feeders, water, minerals, nest boxes and roost off the ground for a sanitary operation.

As mentioned, barred rocks are a great bird as are orpingtons, wyandottes. They will brood a clutch. Ida Brown or leghorns for purely egg birds. Most new chicken owners think they will eat the birds as well as the eggs and then don't end up eating the birds. I give my extras away or compost for the garden.

After years of keeping roosters I don't now. It is easy to order new day old chicks or borrow a rooster from a friend. I replace half my birds every year, no significant problems merging after six months.

Consider six birds at 4.5 oz / day = 26 oz approx 2# x 365 = approx 700# If the feed is composed of whole grains and legumes, when tshtf keep the food for humans and feed the chickens from the land. A built in food bank with a refresh plan. I try to stock 1 year at 1 lb per person per day as a reserve. Watch for mice!

Local farmers are greatly interested in the small guy and will gladly sell you feed grains, they usually have lower prices, superior quality, and are great local contacts.

Supplement food with minerals, water, grit, and especially calcium. Ground limestone, zebra mussels and other sources possible.

Plan on at least 4 oz feed per bird and no profit from the enterprise using bau economics.

GIVE spare eggs to like minded food producers and encourage the development of trade agreements. I currently get about 20% of my food this way. Egg producers have the advantage here with a year round product.

Don't spend money you don't have to spare, you'll never get it back from eggs.

Yes, raise chickens. It is seriously fun, entertaining, and full of those warm fuzzy feelings to counter the rising panic of the status quo. It is a serious method of preparation and a signal to all your neighbors of your serious preparations.

Steve UP of Michigan

Great post, Steve.

Plan on at least 4 oz feed per bird and no profit from the enterprise using bau economics.

GIVE spare eggs to like minded food producers and encourage the development of trade agreements. I currently get about 20% of my food this way. Egg producers have the advantage here with a year round product.

Many people have asked to buy my surplus eggs. But I just have a few hens; I quickly realized I'm not really going to make much there, even from those willing to pay premium prices for the eggs.

So I decided to just barter. For example, a guy I know does a lot of ice fishing in winter. He grew up here in WI and knows the best places to go in rural areas. So we trade eggs for fish. The bass especially is delicious.


Joel Salatin. "Pastured Poultry Profit$". 'Nuff said.

Viewed your web site and noticed that you pasture beef. My wife & I would like to try our hand at
Management Intensive Grazing w/cattle next spring. We're leaning on a couple of farmers already engaged in the practice for advice. Both have free-range chickens follow their grazing cattle. The chickens pick through the cow dung for insects. They do a great job of spreading out the cow dung for even fertilization. The farmers are careful to gather the chickens into mobile coups every dusk. The chickens seem to know the coup as their evening refuge. We'll start with cattle and hopefully add chickens. Very impressed with your farminig and lifestyle doctrines

My wife & I would like to try our hand at Management Intensive Grazing w/cattle next spring.

If you do pasture stockpiling in the fall give us a report.

You may want to take a look at Allan Savory's pasture management work.

Pasture management using Holistic strategies. It's all about the system, not about the individual parts. Fascinating stuff, I hope to apply some of this knowledge once we get our homestead going.


Storey's Guide to Raising Chickens is a good book to start with.We keep twelve hens and two roosters. Our chickens are dual purpose but their primary duty is as layers.
My first recommendation is to get your facilities in order. My first task was to build a hen house (I see the coop as a hen house and a small fenced outdoor yard combined). I looked at a lot of designs for for a hen house and priced materials, etc. I finaly decided to get an 8' X 8' vinyl garden shed at the big box store because it was cheaper and quicker. Also, the vinyl is easy to hose clean and is resistant to pests, etc. I also got two 2' X 3' vinyl windows from the clearance rack (25 bucks each). The walls of the building are easy to cut with a jig saw. I cut holes, glued the windows in with caulk and framed the windows inside and out with 1X4 wood (screw right through the vinyl. I stapled chicken wire to the outside frames for security. For a chicken door I used an old 9" X 16" doggie door.

For nesting boxes I use 5 gal buckets. Take a snap-on lid for a 5 gal bucket and saw it into thirds. Use the outer thirds, snaped to the buckets, as a front to the nesting box (you get two fronts per lid) I attached a piece of wood to the cut edges of the lids to make our girls a more comfy perch. Attach the nesting boxes to a board using fender washers and screws through the bottom of the buckets. Attach the board to the inside of the building with screws or bolts about 30" off of the floor. We use three buckets for twelve chickens. I attached old curtain rods just below window height for a roost (one per side). The chickens like to sit and look out of the windows on rainy days.
With carefull shopping, our hen house cost us about $650 and should last for years. My estimate for a custom built was over $800.

Backyard Poultry is a good periodical for small scale poultry enthusiasts:


We have made a few nest boxes with 5 gal buckets for outside the coop for the girls who just don't like coming in to lay. Inside however is a bunch of thrown out coffee table etc topped with thrown out old dresser drawers. As you drive through town on garbage days look at trash with chickens in mind. Most of our chickens run loose - we use electrified poultry netting fences as does Joel Salatin. However we have pens to keep young chicks and their mommas in until they are several weeks old. They get repenned when weaned by momma until they are almost 6 mos. This has reduced our losses to hawks by about 90 percent. Old wooden kitchen type chairs that people throw out make excellent roosts in these pens. Of course if we crash big people will stop throwing out old chairs and fix them instead.

Several of our roosts for adult birds are old ladders propped on old dressers. Not ideal as they provide more little places for roost mites to hide but you can brush used motor oil on roosts to knock them back. Our coop in fact is an old abandoned two room cottage so we were making do right from the start

young chicks...weaned by momma

Had to laugh! Thanks Oxidatedgem.

Second the book and magazine recommendations. We were all gung-ho to get chickens, since they recently changed the ordinance here, but my wife got an unexpected increase in her hours at work and nixed the idea. We're still getting the magazine however, and I've been impressed at its quality.

Great topic! So can anyone hazard an educated estimate--how many hours a week of caretaking does it take to keep two to three chickens in an urban backyard? (Yes, it's legal in my city.)

My grandmother, who was a farm girl from Oklahoma, was delighted when some chickens got loose from wherever in her small city in the Central valley of California. They quickly became feral and gave animal control no end of problems. (Evidently the roosters annoyed people, leading to demands they be captured.) They were glamorous birds with long, handsome tail feathers. When they took refuge in her yard, she wouldn't let animal control come in and get them. Various generations of these chickens lasted three or four years until animal control finally got the last rooster and his harem. Lots of fun while it lasted.

Most weeks I spend less than an hour actually tending my chickens. My feeder holds 50# and I just top it off once a week. I use 5 gal waterers and change the water every 2-3 days, but they can go a week or more if we are out of town (I use 2 waterers for redundancy and have someone look in every couple of days if we're gone). We also spend time just watching them. In the summer we do "happy hour at the coop" 'cause they're so much fun to watch. I keep plenty of litter (pine shavings) on the henhouse floor which I change 4 times a year (we don't use cedar). Great addition to your compost!


Giving them food and water can be done in minutes and if you use one of those self-refilling feeders (I don't know the word for it, but it looks like this) you won't have to refill it for a few days at least. If you only have two or three, cleaning up after them should be pretty easy too. Instead of really cleaning, if you have regular access to hay, you can just clear out the old hay and replace it with fresh hay.

If they have a perch of some sort, piles of manure will slowly pile up below the place where they are perching. So there's that, too.

For hours of labor per week, to maintain them, I'm not quite sure, since I don't do much of it myself. Five, or three? Or maybe less? Unless I'm leaving something out.

I have a small flock (6) of hens which produce an average of 4 eggs per day. That is plenty for my wife and me plus giving away some to a few friends - who really love them. The flock was once up to 11, but I lost some to loose dogs and an illness that hit a couple of the younger pullets. I tried a fixed cage with an enclosed laying/roosting shed, but it is a pain to have to constantly clean out the daily accumulation of droppings. After doing a little research on chicken arks (moveable pens) I drew up some plans, bought the necessary materials and made my own. It is an "A" frame with a partial roof, elevated roosting poles, three laying boxes and a wire mesh floor. It can comfortably accommodate up to 12 hens. I let the tenants out early in the morning to free range on our 1.5 acre property and then hose out the debris from the floor. Once clean, I move the pen to a fresh patch of grass. The hens return during the day to leave their egg deposits in the laying boxes. Every evening about 4:00 p.m. the flock comes up to the door and waits to be put back in the pen. I hang a feeder with chicken feed inside the pen, and they rush in for evening desert. The pen door is then closed for the night. I can move the ark to wherever I may need some fertilizer.

-- How much regular attention do chickens need?

We check ours daily to ensure fresh water and collect eggs. We move our chicken tractor about every two days.

--If a person goes away on a week's vacation, what does one do? Find a neighbor who also raises chickens, and trade services?

Yes, or any neighbor who you can give basic instructions to will do.

-- What are good books about raising chickens? Good web sites?


Pasture Poultry Profits - Joel Salatin

-- What kinds of chickens do you prefer to raise?

Broad question. For purely egg laying, Leghorns are extremely efficient converting feed to eggs. Most of ours are dual purpose (meat, eggs) though, so we like those who can handle the cold without heating units (New Hampshire, Barred Rock) and others to see what they are like (Buff Orpington, Wyandote).

-- What is a good number to start with?

I would ask: How many eggs do you want on average? Are you raising for meat? What breeds? Do you have/plan for winter shelter?

-- What tips do you have for beginners starting out?

Read about the experiences of other, from first timers to old hands. And watch The Meatrix...

Yes, there are so many variables. We took over an existing one acre place and have gradually redesigned the landscape over 18 years.

Our birds occupy two pastures, with the small chicken barn/potting shed in between. The shed is a good size for a large mixed flock; everyone goes in at night, and the waterbirds stand around in an attached and covered chicken-wire pen, by choice, while the chickens roost indoors.

Currently there are two White China guard geese, eight aging Khaki Campbell ducks, a Buckskin rooster, and seven Rhode Island Red hens. There were eight, but one finally met a hawk the other day. In the other pasture, there are four Ancona ducks with their drake (a breeding attempt).

The pastures are narrow and extend along the property boundary on two sides, and are contiguous with the orchard, between two fences. The outer fence is a deer fence. The inner fence keeps the birds out of the vegetable gardens except when invited. They keep the area under the fruit trees and around the gardens relatively bug and weed free, and mowed, and take care of any dropped tree fruit we don't want for ourselves. We think of them them as a garden moat with feathers.

Yes, there's a lot of metal fencing involved, and there is bought-in feed, but we have neighbors with dogs on all four sides of us, and we're not yet grain-independent (and may never be; we just turned 60).

I remember there were self-sustaining flocks of Bantams at the San Diego Zoo when I went there. I was impressed. But I don't live in San Diego.

Chickens are Asian tropical forest birds by origin and here in the Pacific Northwest the breeds we have raised (Rhodies, Barred Rocks, Araucanas) are just not as at-home as the ducks and geese. They tend to need all the protections and attentions recommmended by the books that have been written under BAU conditions. The Araucanas are a primitive-minded lot and might make it, but we did not observe any broody ones in our flocks. Breeding back to something more like a banty, with strong brooding tendencies, would be advantageous if TEOTWAWKI comes, and I hope someone's doing it, but if push came to shove, our family might well stick with the geese and Anconas, at least over the relatively short term.

Two issues not mentioned yet, or not enough.
Winter in Wisco. will not be fun for chickens. Almost have to have a appropriate hutch to keep them content and it may have to have some minimal heat source--light bulb. Snowed like hell today and some of the white stuff got in the hutch, a bit of a lame hutch, so they just cooled it for the day as long as they have food and water--can't be frozen but they will eat snow. It is best to keep them comfortable, particularly if you want eggs in the winter. They are fun and easy. Actually, they are a scream. My wife is a painter so they are also a right-off as models.

A bigger issue can be preditors. If you don't want trouble, they must be confined with a lid on the pen. I lost three this year in town to a young hawk that dropped in from the top. Even in town there are many urbanized preditors all of which have a fond yen for hen. Young chickens can even be taken by your neigbor's cats. Cats should be tied up. I like cats but I can never finish a whole one.

In Colorado we had to have a coop capable of withstanding preditors up to and including Mountain Lions. Bears can not be kept out. All chickens should be in at night, locked up. In the day they can be let out but watch for killers from air, land and sea---maybe neigbors if they are hungry. Every chicken hoarder has great chicken stories. Go for it. D Wright

A bigger issue can be preditors. If you don't want trouble, they must be confined with a lid on the pen. I lost three this year in town to a young hawk that dropped in from the top. Even in town there are many urbanized preditors all of which have a fond yen for hen.

Very true- even in a city the size of Madison - we have hawks and raccoons..

Young chickens can even be taken by your neigbor's cats. Cats should be tied up. I like cats but I can never finish a whole one.

Love it!!!

I'm keeping a close eye on mine tonite; going to be very cold. My coop is not heated (but is insulated). I do know people here in Madison who do not heat their coop in winter.


I was the kid next door drafted for vacation duty. It wasn't hard -- 5 minutes before school, and maybe 10 in the evenings (checking for eggs -- I wasn't terribly thorough and sometime Mom found a present in the eggs!).

Here the coop stank to high heaven in the summer. Some was due to predators, esp neighborhood dogs. The folks worked and so cage-free mode was only for weekends. Plus, the coop had to be sturdy, and it wasn't portable though it was large.

I'd say a tractor and a portable fence would be a lot better.

Over the years one died on my watch. Was bloody in the morning and dead that evening. Still don't know why, but I think the others pecked it to death.

Edit: We had rabbits for a while. Even less work, and less smell. I could see raising rabbits for protein. Of course they don't lay eggs........

Here the coop stank to high heaven in the summer.

Where do you live?

I have been in or near some nasty coops. I have come to believe that if you are keeping them in the city, or in a situation where you can't let them out while you're at work, you MUST keep to higher cleanliness standards.

If you think it through, you can find ways to easily do that without spending a lot of time on it. One of the best is to have a droppings board or tray under the roost that you empty daily. That's what we learned to do.

NE Oklahoma, rural neighborhood. As a neighbor boy, it wasn't my problem to fix (simply to endure!), but I think you're exactly right.

I'm in Colorado as well, in urban Boulder with a dozen hens. My best advice came from a close friend who works on a small farm locally. You need to protect them from predators, especially in urban areas. I built a covered run about 12'x12' with chicken wire over top, sides, and buried 12" deep on all edges to discourage digging predators. This has kept them safe for over a year. I also have a 6' tall wood privacy fence around the whole yard but that only keeps out dogs.

I feed them about once a week, topping off the feeder with laing pellets. They get our daily food scraps. I have been convinced by wife and son to not feed them meat scraps, but they are pure omnivores and wreak holy havoc upon mice or other small creatures that happen to run through the coop. They are like small velociraptors actually. They can be great at keeping down pests, snakes, and rodents but are hopeless against larger mammals like evil cats. Chickens are not docile vegetarian pets like so many people think. They love grass, weeds and all my veggie scraps and make wonderful compost of it. All those leftover Halloween pumpkins? Great feed, and a natural de-wormer.

We've had sub-zero (Fahrenheit!) weather all week and the chickens are fine. I just have a 100W light bulb on a timer in the coop to add a little heat and to keep them laying during the winter. Very low maintenance. A heated waterer is invaluable this time of year, and I have one that works fine but I really prefer the water nipple waterer's for when it is above freezing as it keeps the water cleaner.

Some simple supplements that they like: add a few tablespoons of cider vinegar to their water to help their immune system and digestion. They love fresh veggies and greens, so save all your scraps during kitchen prep. Leftover spaghetti and rice are their favorites. Anyone who has access to waste from a Chinese restaurant would be set for feed.I also use straw to line the run floor and coop. This keeps it cleaner looking and adds some more airspace in the composting deep pile.

I've been really pleased at how low maintenance they are. I have had to cull the flock once though. Some Rhode Island Reds with bad genetics were attacking all the other chickens and had to be culled along with their unfortunate victim. All tasted fine in the pot though. Not tender young fryers, but great for soup and stew. Right now our flock consists of 6 Barred Rocks, 3 Golden Laced Wyandotes, and 3 Americauna hybrids. All are winter hardy and give great colored eggs. I sell a dozen eggs to friends for $3, mainly to keep the inventory moving and to build good will.

Some Rhode Island Reds with bad genetics were attacking all the other chickens and had to be culled along with their unfortunate victim.

You, too? I will never have RIRs again. Working up the nerve to cull one of our troublemakers...

I've already got an electric fence set up around my beehives to protect them from the bears. I am thinking that if and when I do add chickens, I'll extend the electric fence as an extra layer of defence around the chicken coop and fenced run.

The setup I have in mind would have the coop under the overhang roof of my shed (about 5 foot overhang, plenty of space under there). There is then about 12 feet of space between that and my other shed which I would fence in and subdivide into two sections. I would then set things up so that I could let the chickens out of the coop into either section, and thus allow each section a few weeks to recover while they are in the other section. I think that the English call this a "Morrison Plan" or something like that.

If you are raising chickens for sustainable use (decliners, survival types, local agriculture, and want to have breeding stock, heritage breeds like Rhode Island Reds, Dominicker and most of the older New England breeds have a better chance to breed true over several generations. Avoid hybrids if you are raising your own chickens for the long haul. Many dual-purpose old timey breeds are available that are "tried and true". Their feed conversion isn't tops but they are usually good foragers and generally low maintenance. There're reasons subsistance farmers kept some of these breeds for generations.


We have almost no standard breeds anymore - the only standard breeds we have left are a few game hens and they are left because they live longer. So much more fun to cross them and see what you get. We can tell almost every individual bird apart by sight ( a few have leg bands if they are too similar to others). This helps us know who lays best and we can adjust our breeding to laying, vigor, and any other qualities we want. All our chickens now live longer than the flash in the pan original breeds. We learned over time to not try to save sick birds but cull them. We have almost no Marek's disease anymore. We crossed game blood into our other breeds for the vigor it adds. Sometimes getting the most eggs has to be balanced by other characteristics. The breeds that have gone into our flock are Brown Leghorn, White Leghorn, Rock, Buff Orphington, Marans, Americauna, Brazilian Game, English Game, Mug Game, Java, Rhode Island Red, Blue Hamburg, Wyandotte Banty, and English Game banty.

BTW people who have studied them say the feed to egg ratio is better for banties than for standard sized. Of course will all our crossing we have sizes that range from small banty to full size meat type birds. One of the bossiest of our birds is our smallest banty and she can run almost anyone off.

Some low energy chicken tips I have seen in action:

1. Chicks in a cardboard box behind the wood stove instead of a dedicated enclosure with a light bulb. A mid-size child was delegated to fuss with the chicks. Any warm spot works. One 12 year old girl had the box of chicks in her room.

2. Chickens in a chicken tractor on the lawn or garden. They eat more bugs and greens and less grain.

3. Chickens fed garden debris, such as the outer leaves of cabbages.

4. Raising some small grains for the chickens, even in a garden. The grain doesn't have to be threshed and they love to play with the stalks.

5. Chickens running loose. They have to be secured at night, but otherwise they just run around. They learn to come to the sound of the grain pail for their evening feeding.

6. As noted above, the smarter layers and dual purpose birds are better at taking care of themselves. Some modern meat bird crosses have lost all smarts.

"otherwise they just run around." Yeah, they do. Another option, if you dont want your chickens crapping on your neighbor's deck is electric chicken netting:


Easy to move if you want to do pasture rotation. A good option if you have some land is a small chicken tractor and electric netting.

We live in an area where the temperature seldom hits zero fahrenhiet any more for more than a very few days but freezing weather is common.

Nowadays we just throw some feed out every day and put out pans of warm water several times a day when it is really cold.The chickens get any scraps the dogs or pigs don't and run entirely free.They seldom clean up all the feed except in very cold weather and doves and squirrels get some of it.We put out extra if it is really cold so there is always some left.

They roost whereever they like except for a few places I chase them away , like on the tractor, but mostly in a very thick magnolia tree very near the house.

They nest whereever they please and spend most of thier time in the woods.We don't get many eggs!

We do eat one of the hens occasionally and nearly all of the roosters.

We lose a lot to predators, but our chickens are kept mainly to please the old folks and just to have them around.We are unable to leave home due to my Mom being bedridden but if the creek at the bottom of the hill isn't frozen these chickens can fend for themselves for a week or two easily.

The hens with chicks seem to have learned(believe ir or not! ) to stick very close to the house but even so they are not really safe.One momma hen hovering her babies right against the house started raising cain one night back in the late summer and I found a big blacksnake had alarmed her and scattered her chicks.It was a wet night and most of them died as she couldn't get them back together in the dark.

It used to do Momma a world of good to see the chickens thru her picture window but now she is too far gone and can't turn her head or see hardly at all anymore so I have quit feeding them there.
The doctor says there is only the very slimmest of chances she will make it until Christmas.

We used to keep our chickens as farm animals as opposed to semi wild pets as we do today.

A well organized backyard chicken operation should not take over five or ten minutes most days- we kept a hydrant and hose handy and just fuushed out the water trough occasionally and otherwise kept it full, with feed in a covered barrel right by the coop.

So really all that is necessary on a daily basis is to gather the eggs out of the nesting boxes, run the water, throw out the feed and open the gate of the run most days-plus closing the gate in the late evening when they come in to roost.

Of course some days you have to clean the coop and maybe the run eventually and haul feed, etc.

If you are spending very much time on a couple of dozen chickens you are probably wasting it unless it relates to gardening AND chickens.

They can be easily tamed enough to handle them as pets and they are pleasant companions and sometimes I find myself sitting on the picnic table feeding them scraps of bread if it has been several weeks since I killed one for the table.

They may be pretty dumb but they don't trust ME very much.. But they gather right around Daddy ant time he calls them.

I've been raising chickens for two years. Started with 25 chicks - straight run - meaning hens and roosters. Ended up with about 10 roosters and 15 hens. Slaughtered the roosters - all but one which we kept until the fox got him. Slaughtering roosters is no fun at all - hard on the hands and the mind (real hard if you make the mistake of giving them a name). In the spring, a fox kitted in the woods near our chickens, which were running unfenced at the time and we went from 10 chickens to four in a week. We hatched another 6 including two roosters - which are now waiting for me to slaughter. Lost one to a hawk that also got tangled in our electric netting last week, so we now have 7 hens - four are molting and not laying eggs though they are still eating good amounts of feed. The other three are too young to lay eggs, so we've been running a deficit the past two months. When our hens are laying, I sell eggs at work for $3/dozen which covers our feed.

Some answers to your questions...

Where do chickens grow wild?

They are jungle fowl. Probably originated in SE Asia and/or India. The breed we know as 'chickens' are pretty far removed from those birds and even far removed from the fowl that scratched out a living on farms before the era of factory farming. The chickens that produce the eggs and make up the meat you get at the grocery store are mutants barely able to survive outside of the artificial world of large scale factory farming.

Fortunately you can get various 'heritage' breeds that do quite well with minimal care - provide them shelter and water and supplemental feed and they'll lay enough eggs for home and even breed the next generation. If you learn how to cook old chickens (look for French recipies like 'Coq Au Vin' and other traditional recipies), you'll get meat from the hens that have stopped laying (about 2 years) and the roosters. Tip - do not give them a name if you have to slaughter them yourself - it is pretty rough cutting the throat of a pet.

I have not researched energy balance for chickens raised at home versus commercial chickens, but my guess is that the home raised chickens use more energy, rather than less. Does anyone have figures on this?

Did you mean it the other way around? Commercial chickens are fed copious amounts of grain and raised in heated and artificially lit houses. The meat chickens grow fast and are slaughtered young. The egg chickens lay like mad for a year or less and are then sent off to the dog food plant.

Home raised chickens can get by with table scraps, the bugs and plants they get from your yard and moderate amounts of supplemental feed. You won't get the same lay rate as commercial chickens and what you raise for meat will take a lot longer to grow to slaughter weight. But, the energy inputs are fairly light.

How much regular attention do chickens need? If a person goes away on a week's vacation, what does one do?

Mine are contained within a 160sq ft electric fence that we move every couple of weeks (depends on the number of chickens). We have a 5 gallon waterer and a 5 gallon feeder; filled to the top, both will last a week for 10 or fewer chickens. The electric fence keeps out the foxes; tarps stretched between fence posts help protect against hawks, but aren't perfect.

What kinds of chickens do you prefer to raise? What is a good number to start with?

I would go with heritage breeds - which ones will be best for you depend on where you are - do you have cold winters or no winters at all... We live in PA and raise Orpingtons, Australorps, and Barred Rocks and they all do well. We're switching over to Dominiques, an old, somewhat rare breed.

What tips do you have for beginners starting out?

Keep the initial investment small. Start with 5-10 chickens and see how it goes for you. Don't plan to make money unless you have lots of land and access to cheap feed sources - if you are lucky, you can sell enough eggs to pay for your feed.

Chickens are fun. My 4 year old daughter loves them and they are teaching her about life in ways no normal pet can.

Sign up for the following email lists and listen and learn over the winter, then start up in the spring.



Where do chickens grow wild?

They are jungle fowl. Probably originated in SE Asia and/or India. The breed we know as 'chickens' are pretty far removed from those birds and even far removed from the fowl that scratched out a living on farms before the era of factory farming. The chickens that produce the eggs and make up the meat you get at the grocery store are mutants barely able to survive outside of the artificial world of large scale factory farming.

We have our home in a completely forested site, closed canopy in the Pacific Northwest of US.Our chickens were ' game chickens' and were free to roam all day and roose in the trees at night. Head rooster always at highest position in tree. (120 foot Doug firs). On a full moon night they would crow middle of night. A handfull of corn daily kept them close to the house. They nested in the horse/goat barn and we gathered eggs as we needed them otherwise the hens raised many flocks. They were as wild as covey of quail but were people friendly. Bugs in the forest litter was their main source of nutrient and the egg yolks were a deep orange color.

We kept the flock going for about 10 years. They are the best backyard pets there are in this semi wild situation if it is possible. Once in a while you eat a few and eggs are great. We had an aggressive rooster who came after anyone with his spurs. They hurt but were not serious and we called him chickasaurus. Until at least he broke my wife's arm by knocking her off balance, into the pot with him.

The predators seemed to come in cycles and the chickens were very wary , reaching a balance with the coopers and goshawks. At night though the chickens are at a disadvantage. They cannot see in the dark. The raccoons would come by now and then, find a tree where some were roosting and take a few. What ended our flock were the owls. Suddenly every night they would come in and kill the top chicken in the tree and fly off with them. We would find piles of feathers a few hundred feet away. We tried building a night shelter but could not get them inside in time and alas our last chicken was carried off by the great horned owl.

There are Red Jungle Fowl living in Fitzgerald , GA. For more information see http://www.cvpws.com/junglefowl2.html

Our CSA farmer had trouble with owls getting right into the hen house. Have others experienced owl trouble?

My Old Pa once kept losing chickens out of a very tightly constructed coop raised of the ground with a wooden floor, wire mesh over the windows, a tight fitted door,and a metal roof.Nothing larger than a mouse or a snake should have been able to get in or out.

He had just about decided that there was a Snuffy Smith in the nieghborhood stealing his chickens but after going over the coop a third or fourth time he found that one sheet of the tin roof was loose at one end and that a raccoon was raising this up like a trap door and grabbing a fast take out meal for HER babies. Coon air and a few small feathers caught on the wood gave away the game.

Coons have adapted fast to living in close proximity to humans and enjoy fast food as much as we do.
But so far as I know they have not figured out how to get us to deliver it for them yet. ;)

Raccoons are almost as clever as monkeys or chimps when it comes to opening latches and doors and such and a simple latch will not stop a hungry coon for very long.It will just keep manipulating anything that will move like a kitten playing with a sock until something gives.

It is very common for the nails to work out of a galvanized metal roof over a period of many years as the result of the wind pulling and pushing against the roofing and such roofs need to be checked for loose nails periodically.

Commercial meat chickens get to slaughter size in 6 to 8 weeks. Many die from heart failure and many others can barely walk due to getting large so quick. I notice the difference in the bones of commercial chickens vs our chickens. Commercial chickens bones are thin and weak. Locals from South of the border prefer yard raised chickens to commercial chickens - they say the chicken in the stores is slimy.

I agree about the difference in quality between commercial and home chickens.
When I was living in Cairo (Egypt) years ago all the poultry was sold from small shops. There was at least 5 within a 5 minute walk of our place and you chose your bird, paid for it and then they killed and dressed it. It was home and in the oven less than 10 minutes after slaughter. We had a choice between white leghorns (commercially reared) or brown "Baladi" birds reared in homes and peasant farms; they cost about 50% more but very tasty. Putting a bird in the oven just 10 minutes after slaughter was a wonderful way to enjoy fresh chicken.

Regarding high energy use, I was expecting that in city locations, one would probably have to fence one's yard (probably with metal fence), to keep out cats and to keep the chickens from going to neighboring yards/decks where they would be unwelcome (and would run into all kinds of pesticides on lawns). One would also need to have/buy a house with a yard big enough for this purpose. I suspect our back yard would be on too small, and city ordinances would not allow us to put chickens in the front yard.

Without much yard space, it seems like I would be buying a lot of grain to feed them. If I lived in a northern climate, I would be concerned about keeping them warm. I would also be buying a chicken house, waterer, food keeper, and various other items the stores sell.

One would need to carry chicken feed, chickens, housing materials, leftovers from grocery stores, etc. from appropriate stores to the house. While this could be done in a car, I suspect a lot of people would prefer having a pick-up truck, and would use it as justification for having one of them (and perhaps using it for other local trips, when a smaller car would work just as well). This isn't may not really be a necessary cost, but I could imagine a lot of people might think that it is.


There's a difference between access to a pickup truck and owning, maintaining, parking (in a city) and insuring one. A person engaged in gardening, home maintenance, chicken keeping or a laundry list of other activities might need access to a pickup truck once a month or so. This can be achieved by finding someone with a truck and making a deal. It's cheaper to hire infrequent hauling than to own a truck.

Agreed. But in the US, there seem to be a surprising number of folks who think this way.

I know I would have difficulty finding a neighbor to share a truck with (because they don't have trucks either). The home improvement stores allow you to rent trucks by the hour to take things home. I don't know where one would find things like chicks and food around here--I expect it would be a ways away.

For a family flock, there is no need for a pick-up truck. Three bushel bags of feed go a long way for even a dozen birds. I've had ten bags of feed in my Honda Civic. Not an issue.

Those in a northern climate should consider ducks over chickens. They don't require heated shelter, even during a Canadian cold spell. My ducks weathered a couple of -28C nights this last week and it looks like they'll do it again this weekend. They are in a 4'x8' "duck tractor"-type shelter. (Big enough for a maximum of a dozen ducks.) Just a 1/2" of plywood separating them from the elements. When the weather gets really cold, they hunker down, but are pretty boisterous when it's warmer than about -10C.

Owls can be hard on a flock that isn't securely housed, especially in mid-winter. We keep ours in the coop 24/7 from late November until late February. Wish we could let them run free, but half-a-dozen dead birds has tempered my thinking.

Egg-laying ducks are like clock-work and lay their eggs in the early morning. I collected eggs at about 7:30 each morning and, except for when they were just starting to lay in the spring, never saw an egg later in the day. From an eleven duck flock, I would generally see ten eggs a day. This would last from early in the spring until the first really cold snap (-25C). For a family of four, three or four ducks would probably produce more than enough eggs.

Ducks have the disadvantage that they go through a lot of water. Can't really be avoided as with chicken and nipple waterers. They also take longer to mature, twelve weeks versus as little as six.

On the other hand, ducks don't have the disease problems of poultry. I've never had to medicate mine.

No matter what kind of flock one has, the manure is great for the garden/lawn/pasture. When I kept four ducks in the city, I moved them around the yard in a movable pen. My lawn looked amazing. Using the deep bedding method provided wonderful compost for the garden. The great thing about the city is that people bag up bedding and leave it in the alleys for backyard bird-keepers.

On the sustainability front, I have experimented with barley straw, and the grain in barley straw as a way of reducing dependence on bought feed. The ducks dig around for every kernel and only eat about half of the feed that they otherwise would. Chickens would probably be even better gleaning the grain. One could grow grain, let it ripen, then cut it with a scythe and stook it for storage. I've experimented with this a bit and don't think it would be too demanding of space or labour for a family flock. I'd like to convince my neighbour to put up about 100 square bales of ready-to-harvest wheat or barley in this fashion, just to give it a try before I invest a few days of sweat in doing the same myself by hand.

I have a few Indian Runner ducks in a back garden. I would recommend them over chickens if all you want is a few eggs. I coop mine up at night to stop Mr Fox from getting at them, but all day they free-range. What I have found is

- they don't tear up the garden, unlike scratching chickens.
- they will eat all the nasties, including snails which they eat whole, and the largest, slimiest slugs, although they need to rush off and drink some water after that! They even chase flies.
- they eat lots of green stuff, mostly grass, but will happily gorge on broccoli, capsicum and other delicacies. We now have small barriers to keep them off a few vegetables. Elsewhere, they have free access.
- They are prodigious and reliable egg-layers. 290 eggs from one duck in a year, larger and tastier than chickens eggs.
- They need plenty of water, supplied in a bucket. Mine have a small child's playpool which they love, but I need to change the water twice a week.
- They will eat kitchen scraps, but lettuce is their favourite, HOWEVER, commercially grown winter lettuce can kill them (too much nitrate, apparently).
- They shit, a lot.

Best of all, they're great entertainers, they are real time-wasters if you're not careful. Otherwise boisterous noisy children become living statues watching ducks.

I got my first baby chicks this May, and it has been a huge learning experience. I never had a pet or livestock animal of any kind before. I never had any great longing for a pet, either, but I’ve really grown fond of these silly birds!

I started chicken-keeping for several reasons: I wanted to get a protein source in the garden (eggs), fertilizer for the vegetable and fruit garden, and help with insect control. A major problem I’ve found, that was well-articulated by our university poultry extension specialist, is that most research has been geared toward the large-scale producer. So, although you can get helpful tips at places like Backyard Chickens and in articles in the popular media, you also get a lot of hearsay, urban myths, and downright misinformation. Books tend to be more reliable, but also tend to take for granted practices from commercial operations that many of us question – debeaking, dubbing, long incubation of chicks under hot lights, etc. So, in some ways, the backyard chicken movement is blazing a new trail.

Re energy balance – this is a huge issue for me. We are trying to “power down” generally, so adding new energy requirements is something we try to avoid. Our goal is to avoid heating the coop this winter. This is a challenge, but, I’m told, can be done. As with everything in our contemporary society, it depends how lazy you choose to be. For example, many people on Backyard Chickens are enthusiastic about heated dog bowls. It’s not that hard to take out fresh water twice a day. That’s what we do; have two waterers, bring in the frozen one, and swap it out with the other one. I usually go out that often every day anyway to tend to them.

Another problem I see is backyard chicken keepers treating the birds as pets, buying all kinds of toys, treats, etc, and overheating the coop. We do buy commercial feed, but allow them out in the yard in a tractor, and more often now they're bigger,in temporary netting, to eat grass, weeds, and bugs (they LOVE Japanese beetles and will clean out an anthill in no time.) I also dig dandelions for them, give them kitchen scraps and excess greens from the garden (they like parsley, for example), and get discarded produce from Whole Foods for more free greens. My goal is to eventually learn to mix my own feed as well.

They really don’t require much work at all. I never spend more than an hour a day on their care; much less many days. I do enjoy watching their antics, so I might be around them longer than that. Vacations are a problem – one reason I never wanted pets. But I guess I’ll do what farmers do; trade chores. There are a couple of other chicken-keepers in the neighborhood; I’ll try to trade off with them.

I have four chickens - the max allowed in our city – two Barred Rocks and two Rhode Island Reds. I chose heavy breeds to better weather our Wisconsin winters and these particular breeds for looks. When I get new chicks, I’ll stick with Barred Rocks or maybe try a few Partridge Rocks. The BRs are friendlier to humans and less aggressive towards other chickens than the RIRs (based on n=4! So take that with a grain of salt.)

This post is getting VERY long, so if you’re interested in reading more about my first year of keeping chickens, check out my blog My coop page at Backyard Chickens is here.

aka Wisconsin Garden Chick

Glad we started relating energy inputs and backyard chickens. In my opinion, you're wasting your money if you are heating your chicken coop. I have a small flock, in Minnesota (-20F for a couple weeks at a time, dips to -30 or -35F on the occasional night.) and I've never heated the coop. The important part is to achieve the right balance of 1) a closed coop with no drafts and 2) enough ventilation to prevent excessive humidity. My chickens seem generally pretty happy.

To get any useable amount of eggs in the winter, I have found I need to supply light. A 26W CFL on a timer seems to do it. It needs to be on long enough to supplement sunlight to make 14 hours of light total.

To keep the water from freezing, either supply it twice a day and let it freeze, or use a 45W heated dog bowl. They sell units specifically for heating chicken waterers, but they take significantly more power.

I have had good success in raising chicks from eggs in the summer with no energy inputs, if I let a mama hen do it. Unfortunately, she needs to be in the mood. Generally, hens are not broody when it's completely convenient to you. In any case, in the summer I havn't seen the need for the proverbial light bulb after they are a week old regardless.

I have 24 pullets (young females) and five roosters- three more of which need to be eaten, for the poor pullets sake! I've tried many breeds over the years but the Barred Plymouth Rocks are my favorites; they're smart and I just like their color. I prefer a heavy over a light breed. They will eat a bit more but the light breeds can 'fly' to the top of a six foot fence and over.
The easiest way to save on food costs is to let them forage as much as possible. My chickens always seem to want to be where I am and they will end up on the porch if they can. I don't like the poop there so my dog is trained to keep them on the other side of the yard. The eggs and occasional tasty meat is nice but I would keep them for their use as composters anyway. I would find it hard to garden without them. Any bit of food waste, peelings- anything you can compost, goes in the yard. Throw a little scratch (coarsely ground grains) on it and they will keep scratching it up. Bags of leaves, weeds, etc. disappear quickly. I don't mind if a few tomatoes get soft as anything leftover from the garden is added to the pen and turns into eggs and compost.
I easily sell the extra eggs and break even on any feed I purchase. Twenty-eight full grown eat about 60 lbs each month. A bit less in the summer. I clean the yard out twice a year; dig out a few inches, manure etc and replace with fresh dirt. Their house was built out of scrap wood and windows from a neighbor's remodel, I only purchased tar paper and rolled roofing for the roof. I believe that chickens do best with a deep litter inside the house and only clean it out about three times a year. I use dry grass clippings, leaves and purchased pine shavings. Throw a little grain on the floor once a week and they keep the manure turned in. I lock mine up at night as we have a LOT of coyotes. If they can get up on a roof, they'd probably be fine.
Some people don't think that they do well together, but I've always raised turkeys with my chickens. They are more sensitive when little but once they're two months old, they are hardy. I butcher them before winter. Hens will lay well for only about two years. After that egg production diminishes every year and I find that they just seem to start running down. Warning...they'll be very tough if you want to put them in the stewpot!
In terms of time- very little. Five minutes a day. I usually spend more time with them, just because I like them! They can be fine for a few days by themselves with extra food and water but their eggs may get broken as the nests fill up. I keep roosters so that they can raise chicks for me. Every couple of years I'll bring in some new chicks to diversify the gene pool. My all time favorite livestock choice for the small landholder.

I've tried many breeds over the years but the Barred Plymouth Rocks are my favorites; they're smart and I just like their color.

I'm interested to see that someone with experience prefers the Barred Rocks. since this is my first year, and I only have experience with 2 BRs and 2 Rhode Island Reds. We much prefer our Barred Rocks, but I've wondered if the breed is better, or whether it just happened to be these two particular chickens.

Barred Rocks are as good as they get. We like them because they are friendly and lay well.

There hasn't been much talk about roosters. I have had many, some for fly tying hackles and others by default. Many roosters are very bad news unless you enjoy backyard cock fighting. They can be meaner than hell and will attack any human on sight. If you tolerate that behavior long they will be too tough to eat. The older they get the tougher they get. If your rooster count is high the hens will pay a heavy price. If you do not like killing chickens don't get roosters if you can help it. If you have in-town roosters you may end in jail or at least disliked. They do make great painting material and wonderful stories, however. Some are gentle and handsome and dress up any yard.

For those that don't want to freeze their butt off watering the chickens every winter day there are heated waterers :

(There are other places to get some of this stuff cheaper, but McMurray has great chickens and other stuff.)

I built my own with a trashcan lid and a one meter heat tape w/thermoststat that only uses 26 watts. It has worked well down to

I am starting on my fourth year with my little chicken flock. My parents raised chickens when I was a child, but we bought a batch of straight run chicks each spring and put them in the freezer in the fall so I have no background with a laying flock. It has been a learning experience for me!
I started with a batch of 25 chicks from McMurray Hatchery. Since I did not know what breeds I wanted, I ordered 5 each of Black Jersey Giants, Marans, Speckled Sussex, Aracanas and Buff Orphingtons. They threw in an extra Naked Neck Turken rooster. I wish I had some hens like him, as he is a really neat personable bird! I love the look and the temperment of the Speckled Sussex but they do not appear to be as hardy as the other breeds and I have only one of them left. The hardiest and best layers I have are the Aracanas. The Aracanas also have the advantage of having a rose comb which is less vulnerable to freezing in the winter. (My chickens have no heat other than their own body heat in an insulated garden house.)
I have been hatching blue eggs in my little incubator for a couple of years. However this summer one of the Jersey Giant hens (they are NOT noted for being a broody breed!) took matters into her own hands creating a secret nest and hatching out nine chicks herself. She has raised seven of them. Ubfortunately she was indiscriminate in her choice of eggs to hatch, so they are a mixed lot! I will watch for her to set this spring and choose which eggs she sets.
I had a dog kennel for a number of years, so I have 5 & 6 foot fencing and cross fencing on much of my property. The chickens have a 100' x 60' lot. They will eat almost anything but I do feed them scratch grains every day plus a lay mix when they are laying. The only predator loss I have had was one rooster who would not stay inside the fence and was killed by a neighbor's dog. I have seen hawks dive for hens in the run, but pull up short when they see 4 or 5 roosters converging on them from different directions. This made me feel a little better about my reluctance to 'off' the roosters. They always go into their house at night and I simply close the door on them.
I carry all yard and garden waste to them as well as any vegtable scraps from the kitchen. This fall I was able to buy leftover pumpkins from garden stands in the area which they love. Next year I plan to grow some pumpkins for them.
I have a friend who comes three times a day to take care of the dogs when I am away and the chickens are much less trouble than the dogs. However the addition of ducks, geese, goats and especially the guineas has him a little flustered.

Some coincidence: my daughter's watching the Myth Busters episode were they build the "Chicken Cannon". Chickens just don't get much respect.

I have 26 hens in two chicken tractors, and 10 in my greenhouse to add a little heat and as an experimental addition to
"four seasons gardening". The 26 are free range, except for chicks they eat very little of the commercial bagged food
i buy at the mill. They can range 1000 feet from their coop/tractor here on my little farm in south central pennsylvania. I keep a 15 watt
bulb going in each coop to encourage egg laying. During the winter we stop moving the chicken tractors and build a little fenced in
compound for them, with some motion detector lights etc.. We do rhode island reds mostly. and i take about 10 minutes a day tops dealing with them. I too find them very entertaining at time. At night all i have to do is close their door, as they will automatically
return to their roosts. They eat bugs, and since we've had tick problems in the past, this alone is probably worth the expense, but we like the eggs a lot. I'm thinking about just buying cracked corn which is cheaper given how much they forage, i also have big bags
of oyster shells, it's hard for me to believe in the spring/summer/fall that they would need much more than that. I am working my way towards about 100 of them, as I have an outlet for the eggs, and I really would like to cover the entire farm with their bug
killing capabilities. I also love their manure on my loan, and any concentrations i get in their coops goes right into my veggie gardens.

In Africa they seem to just run around and forage in the most godforsaken land/pastures, but they are still domesticated and give up their eggs for the use of the African families; however, they appear much skinnier than my reds.

Look for co-ops in your area. We have a co-op that orders excellent feed in 55 gal plastic drums. I think its 150# for 21 dollars (for laying mix) if you turn in your empty drum. They get scatch and broiler mix too.

Some friends of mine have a chicken coop in their backyard that they keep very clean and sanitary, with three chickens in a fairly large pen. Now they have to go to court against the city of Cambridge, MA because Cambridge doesn't want them doing it.

So, I'd add an additional step of checking with a lawyer to make sure it is permitted in your area.

I've been reading TOD almost daily for a couple of years and this is my first time to post. We have a flock of about 60 birds now and enjoy them every day. Our flock is Buff Orpingtons and Aracaunas so we get brown and blue eggs which our customers enjoy. We live in Central Illinois and it will be about 9 degrees tonight. I anticipate some discolored combs and wattles in the morning but it doesn't seem to bother them. Our coop isn't heated but the NW walls are insulated, we have an electric water heater which is a big help on these cold nights. Chickens need good amounts of clean water during cold weather. I change daily. Our birds free range and the results are seen in their deep yellow yolks from omega 3 in pasture. I raised some open pollinated corn this year and feed in the late afternoon so they go to roost w/ full crops w/ good heat producing corn for the night. Egg production really drops off during winter, but from keeping chickens you will learn why we have Easter Eggs, because they go nuts laying in the spring. I would encourage you to provide your birds with a good secure coop and fenced area to keep them safe from dogs etc. in town. Keep them clean for your neighbor's sake. Just this past week friends from town brought their 6 birds out as they were busted in town by an angry neighbor. We feed Purina Lay-ena and some scratch daily and our birds are very healthy. Don't scrimp on quality feed. Do take the time to read a book or two it will be very rewarding and will answer all kinds of questions. Finally regarding cold temps., remember they live in down jackets. Good luck and enjoy. They are amazing little creatures.

Let the Hen's appetite control their feeding.
Keep grits, greens and grains separate, they will eat what they need/want when they want.

Have had chickens for 20 years. They are easy if you have a secure nesting box area and a fenced acre or two for them to roam. I like Aricanas (or Americanas, as they have been genetically engineered). I feed scratch and lay pellets. We have a rooster now (bought chicks from feed store and one was a rooster). You don't want more than one rooster...and even one can be a problem. This rooster is OK, but I have sent all the others to "the river" (nearby water feature). Laying life is around 5 years or so...then they get old and don't lay as much. Usually they become sickly and then just die or disappear (as did our last sickly hen). Bury them in the garden. Predators to watch for are: fox, raccoons, hawks, and roaming dogs if you don't have a secure fenced area. They poop all over the place, but they really seem to prefer the front porch. Right now we have 9 laying hens and one rooster. More than enough eggs for us.

In France they use ladders (a beam with little stairs, changing left and right) for the chicks to reach their house on pillars. Apparently, foxes can not manage to climb this sort of stairs.
Also instead of taking out the main "flying feather", they take out smaller feathers, so they can still fly a little but not so high to go over fences (around a vegetable garden). Does anybody know, if this should be done each year? Which feathers? Is it more cruel to take feathers out, or to keep them in a fenced area.
Somehow, I feel it is more time efficient to keep chicks out of your vegetable garden, then to keep them in a fixed area. The chicks can feed themselves for a larger part, and take care of their own.

We've had chickens on a small farm in eastern Kansas for about three years now. When I have a question I go to Harvey and Ellen Ussery's website, http://www.themodernhomestead.us/ . Harvey and Ellen have done an amazing job of becoming relatively self-sufficient on about 2 1/2 acres in Virginia, and the site touches on much more than just chickens, but the care and feeding of fowl seems to be Harvey's passion. As an example, he details his experiments with feeding the flock with 'protein from thin air'--rotting roadkill in a hanging plastic bucket with holes in the bottom for the maggots to drop through that the birdies just love.

They also have sections on food independence, many aspects of gardening, cowshares, tools, forest gardening, and more.

Chickens are not the best option, they need wheat and corn that are energy and fertilizer intensive crops. Grow rabbits instead, the meat of rabbit is very low in fat, and rabbit eat grass the cheapest plant to grow, that is perennial and doesn't create soil erosion, if you plant clove you don't even need nitrogen. Last but not least rabbits can digest grass without emitting CH4 unlike cows and lamb. You can also feed your rabbits with your rest.

I know in the anglo saxon culture you don't eat rabbits, but it is a mistake in spain and france they do and it is really good, in civet, or "a la moutarde"

the only animal that can compare with rabbit in term of eco-friendly is wallabis

Good point, but I don't find the rabbit eggs to be very tasty;-}

How do ducks and geese compare as eco-friendly livestock?

Good point, but I don't find the rabbit eggs to be very tasty;-}

That's why all the store bought rabbit eggs are coated with chocolate.

How do ducks and geese compare as eco-friendly livestock?

Very well. They can tolerate more grass in their diet than chickens, geese especially, they eat lots of grass (about four lbs a day) and little else. They don't do so well on endophyte infected fescue though.

I found this article about endophyte infested fescue.

Rabbits also don't thrive very well on endophyte infested fescue.


In lab animals, such as mice, rats and rabbits, endophyteinfected
diets have caused lowered sperm counts, lowered egg
production, weight losses, abortion and absorption of fetuses, poor
lactation, smaller than normal litter sizes and stunted and slow
development of the young that were born.

The biggest advantage of rabbits as a meat source for those of us living in urban areas and small towns is that bucks don't crow. Rabbits are nearly silent, and thus the ideal "stealth livestock". Keep their hutch clean, and the neighbors need not even know that you've got them.

Biggest downside: You've got to really, really like rabbit meat!

The combiation of hens for eggs (and a very occasional soup or stew from an old bird), rabbits for meat, and bees for honey is probably what is going to be most feasible for most people living in a small town or urban area. Add in a milk goat if you've got a large enough lot and space to house them, can handle the time commitment of milking them daily, and can get away with it with the neighbors and local government. People living on the outskirts just beyond the city/town limits might even be able to add a hog to the mix, or upgrade the goat to a dairy cow.

AngloSaxon hillbillies like wild rabbit rabbit very well.

We have almost always had excellent fresh home grown meat of some sort available or at least frozen or cured.

We give chickens,pork, and beef as gifts but never a rabbit.We never have enough to get tired of it.

Domestic rabbit is pretty good.I expect that anyone with time on thier hands could raise rabbits for almost nothing by foraging for thier feed in most well watered rural areas with a moderate climate.

A couple of local people with kids have raised a few rabbits and had no problems but they soon stopped.My guess is that they just didn't want to butcher such cuddly fuzzy little animals that they raised by hand.It seems to be too much like eating a pet.

I have known of domestic rabbits lasting for months running loose in my nieghborhood, but when the weather turns cold they always disappear.This might be because predators necessarily become bolder or because white rabbits are too easy to spot against the background once the leaves are off and the grass dies down. We don't have a lot of hawks but some do pass thru in the autumn.

My gut feeling is that we would have very satisfactory numbers or rabbits, ground squirrels, quail and other small ground dwelling animals around here if we had a lot less domestic cats running loose.I see more cats out at night than any other kind of animal on night time drives.

Anyone who has a half acre or so of grassy forage-meaning a sort of untended lawn- tightly fenced could probably raise a few domestic rabbits by doing nothing but putting out water if cats and hawks can be kept out.They would need some shelters equivalent to a thicket to hide under.A couple of old packing crates or an inverted tub or something of that nature would probably be enough.

I taught a friend of mine who lives in city suburb how to catch rabbbits in a box trap in his back yard to keep them out of his tiny vegetable garden.He used to turn them loose a mile or so down the street but nowadays being short of work and long on time he is eating them and contemplating building more traps.I expect that I could trap three or four rabbits a day in an hour a day in most suburbs in Virginia.I'm not sure what the regs are inside city limits but in rural areas you need a cheap permit around ten dollars nowadays and a free booklet from the game and fisheries dept listing the open seasons. Plus the landowners permission of course.

"raising chickens at home" raises questions: who raises the small grain for their feed, who dries it and stores it, who roasts the soybeans, who hulls the oats, who grinds the feed? You? Is that corn in the feed there? Is that King Korn, or organic? Did you raise that too?

Since I'm more interested in how we start small farming ventures that actually sustain people on a liveable income than I am in personal household survival matters, these kinds of questions are of interest.

Here in central Wisc., it's hard to find small-scale grain equipment for instance. Custom farm services don't want to come out and combine your 1.5 acres of oats or buckwheat or whatever. Nobody has small-scale threshers around that are other than lawn ornaments, cute antiques that haven't worked in 30 years. You can't find a small-scale oat and buckwheat huller anywhere. Searching on the internet turns up some nice companies in India, but then, the shipping costs would be burdensome.

So, you have to buy the commercial feed. If you're trying to go into the small-scale poultry biz, well, I just don't see why you'd do it unless you can command an enormous price for the meat or the eggs. If you're commanding enormous prices, you're not making much of a dent in the issue of feeding the low-income working class population in your region. If you're not making much of a dent in feeding low-income people, I lose interest in the mission right away.

Just a couple comments there.

Bobby G
Central Wisc.

some folks say they grow their food and then say they buy their chicken scratch ,alfalfa pellets, hay, grain , etc from the feed store.

If you want to raise your food and want animal products in your diet remember they require daily calories also. They need to get those from the land daily in a sustainable manner or one needs to import calories for them.

A post earlier in this thread said that you don't need to thresh grain that you feed to chickens. I have no idea whether that is correct or not, but I suggest that you look for the post and decide for yourself.

I would suspect that the big issue there is storage. Threshed grain can be stored in a manner that protects it from mold, rodents, insects, etc. Straw can be stored in a manner that protects it as well. Storing straw with the grain still on it is quite a bit more difficult, especially for a whole year. If it wasn't commonly done by people in most times and places in the past, there was probably a good reason for it.

In the Land of TVA my PV panels will probably never pay for themselves, either (at least until the Big One). I do know folks who raise their chickens sustainably and grind their homegrown grain in a small handcranked feed mill. Combined with pasturing they do quite well. They also feed the grains whole. As you seem to be saying, they'll never acheive the numbers and conversion ratios of a commercial operation but they don't care.

About 10 years ago I contacted some "woodstove gurus" at various woodburning associations about adding a heat-exchanger to our 30 year-old Hearthstone stove, to heat our radiant floor and domestic HW. To a one they said it wasn't practical, that I would never get enough hot water to make it worth my time and effort. Naively unconvinced, I designed and built a heat-exchanger from salvaged copper and iron pipe and installed it. Its been "not working" for 9 winters. Not only does it produce lots of hot water but it also condenses the smoke which drips back into the fire to reburn, making for much cleaner stove pipe and smoke exiting the system. We calculate that we are extracting as much as 60,000 btu with a good burn, and the stove still heats the large living space it is installed in. Combined with passive/active solar and thermal mass the system as a whole works very well.

From this I learned a couple of things:

1. Think system, weather it is chickens, or anytime you try to do something sustainable.

2. Conventional wisdom isn't always wisdom.

1. Think system, weather it is chickens, or anytime you try to do something sustainable.

EXACTLY!! So many people ask me what it costs to feed the hens, how much they lay, and then start calculating whether I'm making a profit, based on the grocery store cost of a dozen eggs.

I have to keep reminding people that they are part of a SYSTEM for me. They produce both eggs and fertilizer, and help to reduce the pest insect population.

Another major goal for me is to produce high quality eggs. (Pastured eggs have been shown to be higher in some nutrients and in Omega 3 fatty acids, and lower in cholesterol.) My hens aren't "pastured," strictly speaking, although they do get out in a tractor or temporary netting for 1-2 hours/day. But I give them lots of greens and their eggs have the orange colored yolks. I also have the satisfaction of knowing that my eggs come from hens that have been treated decently.

You can lower feed costs by feeding them scrap greens, discarded greens from grocers, and letting them forage a bit. Although I can't grow grains for them in my backyard, I do grow sunflowers, which they love. They eat the flowers, seeds, and leaves.


Watch out for greens from the local grocery store. I once feed them to my ducks because they just loved them and the grocer had tons of leaves removed from the outside of the head. They were so filled with poison they damned near killed the ducks. Just a thought.

Watch out for greens from the local grocery store. I once feed them to my ducks because they just loved them and the grocer had tons of leaves removed from the outside of the head. They were so filled with poison they damned near killed the ducks. Just a thought.

By poison, do you mean pesticides? I'm getting mine from Whole Foods, with the organic label still on...

This a response to Lilith. I may have goofed on signing in because now that I am on I don't see your question. The leaves of lettice came from the local grocery. Whole foods may be fine. I later learned the chemical was arsenic. I am sure many pestisides are used on lettice. D Wright

The use of arsenic as a pesticide in the US has been outlawed for a long long time.I have heard that it is still used in some countries but if a supermarket chain were to be found selling arsenic contaminated produce they would be out of business in a hurry.

It is doubtful that anyone else will have this same problem feeding produce scraps.

Are you sure it wasn't excess nitrate in the lettuce? This is known to be a problem for ducks. Commercially grown winter lettuce has very high nitrate levels, in fact the EU has legislation regulating the amount for human consumption, and some northern growers have difficulty meeting the standard.
It's a shame, because lettuce is a ducks favourite food.

Could be a number of things I would guess. This was back in the 70s. It was the standard Iceberg lettuce. Interesting about the nitrates as we now have it in our water here in central Wisco. It comes from fertilization of crops. I enjoyed your post above about chickens in the next world. On the money and maybe the best post here. Chickens are tough and there are plenty of tricks. Don't forget grass hopper infestations and the fun chickens can have eating bugs and turning them into eggs. Lots of nutrients in insects--might keep that in mind for more reasons than one.

Corn (maize) is arguably the most feasible grain to raise on a small scale - you can do it entirely by hand. For a lot of the folks that settled my part of the country, that is the only grain they ever did grow, right up to modern times. Of course, that was also the only grain that the Cherokee here before them grew.

I would suppose that getting a scythe and learning to be proficient in its use is key to growing most of the smaller grains on a small scale.

Also the easiest to store and keep for long periods.

Other grains also are milled which takes energy and reduces storage life.

One of the concerns I have with raising chickens at home, is "What happens when the neighborhood store that sells feed grain is no longer available?" or you no longer have a truck to bring home the 50 pound or 150 pound container from the store (assuming that the grain that is fertilized, grown, dried, and transported to market is even available). Even cost could be a barrier. If you have no job, and are just raising chickens, would you be able to sell the chickens and eggs for enough to cover the costs of grain, especially if it is in short supply.

If you are going to be self-sufficient, it seems to me that you need to be raising the food the chickens eat, as well as your own food, or have nearby neighbors that are doing this you can trade with.

One of the concerns I have with raising chickens at home, is "What happens when the neighborhood store that sells feed grain is no longer available?" or you no longer have a truck to bring home the 50 pound or 150 pound container from the store (assuming that the grain that is fertilized, grown, dried, and transported to market is even available). Even cost could be a barrier. If you have no job, and are just raising chickens, would you be able to sell the chickens and eggs for enough to cover the costs of grain, especially if it is in short supply.

I'm not really getting this critique. For starters, grain has been grown, stored, bought and sold for centuries. I don't expect it to disappear. Become more expensive, yes.

I don't know where you live, but there are corn fields all around just outside my city. I could also grow a bit, as I'm getting an allotment in addition to my home garden, and I do grow sunflowers which they also love. They eat the seeds, flowers, and leaves. Chicken feed can also be supplemented with kitchen scraps. In poorer countries (which we will likely become) they wander around the neighborhood foraging for themselves. Left to themselves, they don'tjust eat grain. They eat mice, frogs, small snakes, bugs, worms -- they are omnimovores, as we are.


I bet they'll even eat MREs.

I bet they'll even eat MREs.

No doubt!!! :) You have to watch it with them, they'll eat about anything. Including the insulation in their coop if it's not covered.

There is some food grown around Atlanta, but it is pretty limited. The area is hilly, and the soil is clay mixed with rock, and not very fertile. The area is best for trees, so that is what you see a lot of.

We have a lot of pines and hardwoods. Fig trees grow here, and some apples and pears. I don't think the food grown in the area would come anywhere close to feeding the number of people here. Most yards are very shaded. That adds an additional challenge to growing vegetables.

"What happens when the neighborhood store that sells feed grain is no longer available?"

A very valid question. Chickens will eat grass and bugs, though both of those are in short supply over winter (as well as late fall and early spring). The hardier chickens with access to grass and bugs will still produce eggs, albeit at a reduced rate.

If it is hard to gain access to grains, one could question why chickens might deserve them over humans. And if food is hard to come by, the backyard chickens will be awfully attractive to others who are hungry.

Rabbits, on the other hand, can get by mostly on grass, and are quieter and less noticeable.

Bobby, I agree that the system isn't always kind to the little guy. In our area some small farmers have formed an informal co-op to purchase/repair/share/operate smaller scale equipment. They share the labor and the rewards at havest time. Also there is a group that has been finding older, often animal-drawn equipment. They restore it, make it operational and learn to use it. Most of it is then loaned to our local farm implement museum until it may be needed later.

In Appalachia it wasn't too long ago that the farms were operated with little input from outside the area and there are still oldtimers and their get, doing things mostly the way they always have. Hopefully we haven't lost too much of their knowledge and wisdom, 'cause we're going to need it. The "Foxfire" books are a wonderful resource of the old ways:


My brother was part of the early student staff and we still have all of the original copies.

You have nailed some of the issues on how hard it is to reap, I have about five acres of different grains and
do not intend to scythe it until i really have to. meanwhile i'm just working on it reseeding itself and viewing
it as a big food bank. when i do get ambitious with the buckwheat, i just throw it in the coop as hay, and the chickens
peck the seeds, so that is a easy process. Nude oats will begin this spring, i'm hoping that will work out, as i do
not want to dehull.

The low income working class population in my region uses food stamps, i'm focused on either the next level of US
poverty in the W we're about to see, or an outright crash. Already I have one neighbor who has lost his job who is
going to truck farm with me on five acres of corn and tomatoes to sell at a veggie stand to supplement his part time job,
he has come to the conclusion that having two "jobs" is the only sensible thing to do for his future, no longer will
he depend on one company, one vocation, etc to keep the lights going.

For a while, we converted one of our backyard raised vegetable garden beds to a caged chicken pen/coop. I loved having the three beautiful bantams nearby while I gardened. It was definitely a money losing venture, however! I see quite a few chickens in backyards here in Boulder and some, I've noticed, run loose unfenced in yards on busy streets (and seem to do ok).

The Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art had an Urban Chicken Coop Exhibit in conjunction with the Farmer's Market this past season. (It's located adjacent to the Farmer's market). I took photos and did a write-up of it here.

I prefer to keep the big breeds like New Hampshires for the good sized eggs. Those smaller breeds that look cute with furry feet are no good because the eggs are so small they are gone in one bite.

I found that mixing different sized breeds causes problems with the smaller ones getting overly pecked.

The chickens are really comin' home to roost these days.

I've just seen clips from a very interesting documentary by two brothers called Austin and Brian Chu. They pooled their meagre resources, bought a van, took a camera, and began an epic journy around the United States, apparently visiting every state, in order to see how the economic recession was effecting ordinary communities and how they were dealing with it. The documentary is called 'The Recess Ends' and they have website, Therecessends.com which is worth looking at.

The brothers felt that the mainstream, corporate, media, were not telling the truth about what was happening out in the real world, or giving space for the voices of ordinary Americans, as their world, and dreams, dissolved around them.

The images from Detroit are deeply disturbing. The waste, the destruction, the sadness. These are pictures that show a civilization that's crumbling and dying, and should be of great interest to TOD readers, as they are the shape of things to come, as they show the creaping impoverishment of the American working and middle-class, the beginning of the end of the American Dream, what the American Nightmare will look like.

City workers are scratching out guidelines to allow residents to raise chickens, rules modeled after ordinances adopted in communities across the country..

One of nearby communities had quite a debate this summer about raising chickens in the back yard in town. http://www.record-eagle.com/local/local_story_156225644.html

Chickens like company, they are sociable. They tend to fall out in the groups we force them into, but they like other creatures. My mum always has some and they live with a house of cats and dogs happily. When it was cold they used to come in the house and squat on an old German Shepherd to watch TV. Shame they poop everywhere..

A practical ( and fun) post on chicken raising. I'd like to link this post to my blog in a few weeks when we will be talking about "recovering ourselves" and the basics of rural life that our generation has permitted itself the luxury to forget. So many centuries of knowing how to milk a cow, raise chickens or make a loaf of bread and we've completely abandoned those skills as if we're beyond the age of ever needing them again. Thanks Gail.

I feel the main issue is roosters bothering the neighbors ... so no roosters in the urban area.

that means buying new chicks , pullets , or hens when needed.

Free range chickens without imported food take more land than you might think



As a farmer with chickens in Hawaii, i've been studying the issue of how to raise chickens sustainably, locally, with low-carbon-footprint. All my notes and research are online:

The focus is on Hawaii, but it's similar in the sub-tropics world-wide. Nearly every tropical developing-nation village has flocks of semi-feral chickens scavenging, which are useful, but that's a small number of skinny birds that produces very little eggs or meat. Meanwhile BAU chickens in the North which consume vast amounts of grain are highly productive, but almost completely unsustainable. The challenge is to find a middle ground, with good production and low inputs, and my experience shows that this is a matter of crafting a solution very specific to your location, your local resources.

I have chickens but also realize that if you are into growing your food , raising animal products requires additional photosynthesis.

A more energy efficient diet would be to eat the plant life from photosynthesis and skip the animal step ... unless you have access to lots of land.

Has to do with ENTROPY

Maybe it is time that we acknowledge that we need to learn skills from the folks we thought we had to teach skills to. I am referring to peasant farmers. Most of the folks in the US from south of the border have experience in handling chickens and processing them for food. Just by watching when we sold some chickens to Mexican workers here I learned a better way to tie there feet if you are transporting them without a cage. If I knew more Spanish I could learn more. Peasant farmers the world over would be amazed that we are so challenged to raise poultry. They have been doing it for centuries. We have forgotten how in a century or less. Often when I talk about slaughtering chickens to folks around here they will relate tales of their grandmother who would grab a chicken, give it a quick swing and off comes the head. I don't dare try that but it would be quicker if I was sure I could do it right the first time.

We are trying to figure out how to go backwards and hoping that back is just a baby step so we can keep some of the trappings of the industrial age (such as heated water bowls). Yet all over the world, amazing as it may seem, folks with little education but survival smarts are raising poultry and donkeys and surviving and reproducing. We have to shed ourselves of our book learned superiority and humbly learn from the peasants of the world.

Maybe it is time that we acknowledge that we need to learn skills from the folks we thought we had to teach skills to. I am referring to peasant farmers . . . Peasant farmers the world over would be amazed that we are so challenged to raise poultry.

This is what I think. The question of high energy use, heavy grain inputs, etc above betrays our ignorance. I include myself in this. For example, I just learned a few months ago what all chickens can eat (mice,frogs, etc.)

Peasants the world over raise chickens on the "cheep." (Sorry, couldn't resist the bad pun. :)

lilith, I love the pun. Yes, in fact not only do peasant farmers know more than we do about chickens, chickens know more than we do about themselves. By and large they know what is safe for them to eat and what not. True if you pen them up with no greens and then throw in some tomato leaves they might eat them and get poisoned. But as long as they get their greens and a good diet they are quite discerning. In fact they have helped me identify edible wild plants. Before we fenced our (on 1 acre) they ate day lily plants. Hmm looked it up. All parts of the day lily are edible. They eat chickweed (surprise surprise). It is a wonderful addition now to our salads. Best of all here in Alabama it grows all winter and self seeds for the next winter.

Besides mice and frogs they eat lizards, small snakes (lots of shaking and dropping and shaking and dropping I guess in case it is poisonous). And they adore Japanese beetles and their grubs. For fun throw some grubs into a pen of chicks and watch them run around like bumper cars trying to get the grub that that other chick has. Take a small container with a little water in it and hold it under branches with Japanese beetles on it. Tap it - they drop down before flying and can't easily get out of the water. Then throw them to your chickens. They stay stunned long enough for the happy chickens to gobble them....hmm if times get bad maybe Japanese beetle grubs will work for a protein snack for us too.....

By and large they know what is safe for them to eat and what not. True if you pen them up with no greens and then throw in some tomato leaves they might eat them and get poisoned.

I've thought about this. That they start eating bad stuff, like insulation in their coops, when they're constantly penned up. Allowed to forage, they know what to eat and what not to eat.

Somebody wrote a whole book on chicken brains, claiming they're smarter than we think, IF they are allowed to free range. Then they problem solve, he says, among other things. I meant to make a note of the author and title when I stumbled across it once, never did, and now can't remember.

Our chickens went crazy for our Japanese beetles last summer. They also go nuts over ant hills and clean them up in no time. They are hilarious to watch when one finds a worm and the others chase her around trying to steal it out of her beak. At Backyard Chickens, they call that chicken football.


Yeah, they really scramble for a shiny beetle, but the one that really turned our heads was when one saw a tree frog in the grass. As it jumped into the air, one of the hens snatched it mid-leap and walked around with the frog hanging by one leg. Seeing the other hens running toward her to compete, she raised her beak to the sky, opened wide, and in an instant, swallowed the frog whole.

I'll agree chickens are pretty smart, and they do communicate with us. Only while molting to they act goofy and that's just for a few days. I suspect it takes a lot of energy to push out a new feather coat.

Hmm ... when I moved here, one of the tasks I set for myself was to gather up all the packing peanuts that were scattered all over. .... it was a big job but I got most of them, the rest the chickens, who run around everywhere, ATE. They scratch around, break 'em down, and eat the pieces of them. We also have a young rooster who eats FEATHERS. There were a lot of small fluffy feathers around here but now they're gone, he eats 'em! It's funny to watch, how can anyone swallow something fluffy and dry like that. ...

They ARE pretty smart but they don't seem to be exactly health-food freaks.

Some of the packing peanuts are actually made from corn. For chickens sort of like eating refined white bread. Feathers are high in protein. This explains eating the feathers and being in sort of a funk when molting. Chickens eat small stones too. These go into the gizzard to grind up grain. Our prefer quartz chunks found in the soil around here. That is almost all I find when we slaughter. Our dog who lives with the chickens (rat terrier) supplements her food with chicken poop. I never see any dog poop around so I assume the chickens eat it. While it sounds gross in fact they are recyling to get what they need that the other didn't. Dog is healthy and active and so are our chickens. Chickens also prefer muddy water when it rains to clean water in bowls. I imagine they get minerals from the dirt mixed with the water. In fact modern humans in their quest for cleanliness miss out on the minerals they might get from a bit of dirt in their food. There is even a school of thought that believes that our cleanliness makes us prone to asthma and auto-immune disorders. Our body deprived of anything to defend against turns on itself is their belief and some studies point in this direction. Another researcher noting that folks in countries that had higher parasite loads didn't have ulcers gave patients with ulcers some parasites (presumably not very nasty ones) and their ulcers improved or disappeared.

We humans have desires for high calorie, high fat, high salt because we need those things but for the hunter-gatherer they would be short in supply. So our body rewards us when we get them. Now that they are easy to get we gorge on them. We are animals and should not be surprised if animals also eat poorly when offered foods for which they have high rewards systems because they would be scarce in nature. And don't forget that even game chickens are not the chickens that nature bred, only wild jungle fowl are that.

BTW in the wild jungle fowl would have little grain and more other seeds and bugs and small amphibians and reptiles. Grain would only be available on the edges of the forest. Our chickens love sunflowers, pumpkin seeds and gourd seeds. These are probably more suitable and had we more extra cash we would increase the sunflower part of our scratch. They pick the sunflowers out first of our mix of grains (wheat, corn, white and red milo along with the sunflowers). Hard to understand how a sunflower swallowed whole can appear any different than wheat whole, but they know. Perhaps their sense of smell picks up the oil in the seeds.

Gail and other posters,

A great topic close to my heart.

My family and I have had chickens on our small farm for many years. Though we buy some commercial chicken feed, we have made quite a few discoveries on the path to "sustainable chickens".

We live in a very wooded area, with the full spectrum of predators. (No bears, however.) We've found that the best protection for our poultry is the presence of well-trained herding dogs. While I don't know of any dogs bred for herding chickens, we have chosen various standard livestock breeds and then acclimated them to living with and protecting--not eating--our chickens. Some puppies that we've tried, though, cannot seem to overcome wanting to play with the younger chickens--which almost always results in a broken chicken neck. These puppies have to be sent out to live with neighbors who don't raise chickens.

Unless you want to be buying new chickens every few years, it's helpful to raise breeds with good mothering instincts. We bought breeds where the hens were supposed to have good mothering instincts, Dorkings and Orpington's, but they didn't seem to read the same magazine articles that we did. So we hatched out eggs by incubator. (Incubators, of course, are dependent on the electric grid.)

We found over time, however, that many of the hens from our Dorking / Orpington crosses made great mothers. I suspect that this may be true of many other crosses of the older breeds.

There was mention in some of the posts of chickens, rabbits, and fat. If you are trying to raise your own food, both chicken eggs and meat are good sources of fat, as are ducks and geese.

With our dogs, we don't need to do much to protect our birds from predators, except for mothers with babies. Left to their own instincts, once the baby chicks are a few days old the mothers just wander around the farm, and bed down for the night in any comfortable looking spot. On more than one occasion, we found several baby chicks huddled together in the morning, with no mother in sight.

We suspect that a predator, perhaps an owl, or a raccoon, carried the large, tasty entree, mother, off into the night, leaving the relatively meatless babies to fend for themselves. So now we lock up mothers and new babies until they are about a month old.

While our chickens don't need much protection beyond the dogs, the gardens certainly do. Any unfenced garden bed is quickly picked clean by the birds, or dug up into a dirt bath for sun-bathing. So we use a great deal of chicken wire to keep the birds out of the garden. On the plus side, the birds eat many of the bugs that might feed on our garden plants, and leave a sizeable deposit of good organic fertilizer in the garden pathways. In the fall we rake the composted manure onto the garden beds.

I would love to know how farmers (and village dwellers) in the old days kept the chickens out of the garden without chicken wire. I know that they had walls and hedges. These barriers, along with clipped wings, might have been sufficent to protect their gardens. A few dogs WITH chicken eating tendencies kept within the garden walls would probably do the trick as well.

I want to mention two very helpful websites, as well.

The first, http://poultrybookstore.blogspot.com/ , is an excellent source for information about the different chicken breeds, and of many other topics of interest to chicken owners. The author, Christine Heinrichs, has written a book about chickens, and has obviously devoted a great deal of time and energy to her blog.

The other website, noted by another poster, is http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Home.html . This website, authored by Harvey and Ellen Ussery, is one of the best sources of information about sustainable food raising that I've seen anywhere. The authors write for Mother Earth News and other homestead oriented magazines.

It is well worth your time to look at their article http://www.themodernhomestead.us/article/Growing-Poultry-Feeds-1.html , titled "Feeding the Flock from the Homestead's Own Resources." There is information here for both the back yard flock owner, as well as for those that live on a small farm.

For example, they write about feeding chickens sprouted grains, beans, or peas, which in the sprouted form may have more nutrition than the purchased feed. Mustard greens, dandelions, dock weed, and nettles are all great sources of food for poultry, and all easily grown in both country and city gardens. (Though in some towns the neighbors might frown on your growing dandelions and nettles.)

They describe other garden crops that chickens love as well--potatoes (sweet and white), beets, and squash. All these crops might substitute for grains if the latter were not available.

For those with room for trees and shrubs, chickens love fruit and nuts, though they might need help cracking the shells. Fruit such as mulberries and persimmons, that may not be well used by humans, is happily devoured by the poultry.

My email address is in my profile if you want to contact me after this Campfire post becomes inactive.

--Fingers in the Soil

Keeping chickens out of the garden.

Back in the 40s of my youth we had 'chicken wire' around the garden. I have several rolls of it behind my barn even now which I used to try to keep the deer out of the garden. They jumped it and tore it up anyway.

Yet back then the farm chickens ran free during the day but we took a handful of cracked corn and threw in the chicken yard enclosure. Safe then for the nite. Out in the morning.

So that 6 ft. high chicken wire will do the trick. It did back then. A bitch to set the posts and we used small diameter cut down saplings for that,from the woods.

The chicken hawks were bad to fly right down in the yard and capture a hen. The farmhouse was on pillars as most were and the chickens would hear the hawk's whistle and run under the house.

I learned to mimic that hawk whistle and would bedevil the chickens by making it.

To this day when I get near some chickens I find I still have the knack. However for a long time the hawks had been cut back but for the last 10 yrs around here anyway, they have come back with a vengeance. A few always followed my haybine as I cut hay. Sometimes flying almost across the front of my tractor to catch whatever came out as I made smaller and smaller circles in the field.

The chickens will tend to mess with your garden. Scratch in it, peck the vegetables and do forth. Maybe catch a few bugs along the way but we always kept them out with the wire.

I don't do chickens myself. Always wanted to but ...well its hard to be tied down to take care of them. When we all become more or less rooted in place then it will be easier. Yet I will be far too old at that time.

Today I have a hard time consuming store brought eggs. They have a funny smell that is very offputting. Even those who raise them and whose eggs I buy still have that odor. I think its from the feed and what is in it.

But for those I buy from a friend I don't much care for the rooster 'spunk' inside them.
Just kidding. But I do always scrap that whitish stuff off. It never cooks anyway and I am fussy about it. Sometimes I notice that the worse eggs are those hardest to get out of the shell when you break them. Again perhaps cold storage is the cause. And some have a hazy aspect to the whites I don't much care for.

I could likely get by forever without eggs. Thats how fussy I am about them. So likely I will never raise any. If I was going to raise anything it would be a few hogs. Sausage, bacon, ham and BBQ pork is enough for me. As Davy Crockett (Billy Bob Thornton) said in The Alamo, "When someone passes me the taters, I pass em right back." Same about for me with eggs.

As far as the meat. I can only eat the breasts. The dark meat I pass right back also.
I guess I saw too many killed as a youth. Or too many bad storebrought eggs.

I can usually fix a decent omelet with a lot of other ingredients and consume that, but ..."Pass me those grits please and that red eye gravy and keep those eggs down there. But I will take a biscuit from you. "

I tend to be a picky eater. I once shot a wild rabbit and there was a 'wolf' in its neck. That did it for me and rabbit. Deer also. I can't stand the taste of deer, try as I might.

Airdale-sorry to be so negative, I think there are chicken folk and those who really don't like chickens..like me?

We lost a lot of chickens to the local foxes (mostly in the spring when they had cubs), and without a concerted effort I was unlikely to be able to kill them - which I did not want to do anyway. We solved that problem with a livestock guardian dog. In addition to being one of the most wonderful animals I've ever been around, she has been absolutely effective. No fox sets foot near the house or barn now, no matter if she appears to be asleep, if something comes around she is instantly aware.

At around 100lbs she certainly eats plenty, so I doubt she'd be sustainable guarding chickens alone. However, she guards all the animals on the place, including us. If a new animal arrives (which can happen at any time with my wife around), she must be right there all the time and you can tell she treats it as her new charge. Watching her work you can see one clear reason dogs were domesticated and why they have been man's companion for so long. There is no other method that could possibly be as effective.

Beyond that, I have a very special affection for this dog, as she is not just a pet but performs an important function that we would have no other way of accomplishing.

Tks Gail, Yr post brings back memories of childhood downunda. Chore was morning feed of Mother's hens by hand cast. Practiced what I called "socialist distribution of corn". Over many years noticed that this enabled lower caste ladies to get a little more food, but perhaps at the cost of 1-2 more tail feathers .

A great item with lots of interesting points. As a lifelong, intermittent chook owner (for you yanks who use the word "chicken" for all ages, to other English speakers chickens are just those little bitty fluffy things that hide under a chook or hen.), I would like to add a few things that seem to have been missed so far.

Smell from droppings. Spraying the deep litter, droppings boards, perches, etc with EM (Effective Micro-organisms) will greatly reduce or eliminate offensive odours and increase the value of the resultant compost. Is also better that disinfectant for spraying the henhouse when changing the flock.

Grit. All birds need a good supply of varying sized stones in their gizzard. A lack of grit can result in poor nutrition and higher feed requirements, as much of the ingested food passes thru without proper digestion. Oyster grit alone is not enough, as whilst it does supply needed calcium for eggshells, it is too soft for effective grinding of grains, insect carapace, mouse bones, etc

Dust baths. These have been mentioned but are not easy in places with frequent rainfall. I have found that an old glass door propped up on bricks or logs is great. Just dig a bit of land by inverting the soil or sod, and place the glass over it. In a few days the ground beneath will be dry and perfect as a dust bath. Move frequently to avoid mite buildup in the dust.

Chicken sexing. Some crossbred chickens can be sexed as day old chicks. Most of these are crosses with the Barred Rock breed. If you only want layer hens and no meat birds, using a barred rock rooster over other breeds of hen can allow you to kill off the cockerells as day old chicks, rather that feeding them for six months. (Google autosexing)

Worm farms. These are great for providing a natural, high protein food for chooks. Whilst chooks will eat a fair bit of kitchen scraps, a worm farm will process almost everything if it is properly presented. An old undersink waste disposal unit is great for preparing all kitchen waste for adding to a worm farm. Don't let it go down the sewer, feed it to the worms; feed the worms to the chooks; feed the chooks and eggs to your family.

Another great system is to cage rabbits on half inch mesh above a worm farm, feed grass and other greenstuff to the rabbits, the droppings fall into the wormfarm which then provides worms for the chooks.

Uncontrolled chooks can destroy a vegetable garden if allowed free access. I have found that they seem to prefer silver beet (AKA swiss chard) to any other fresh green "Human" vegetable. This beet is easy to grow, hardy, tasty and nutritious for humans. Planting a good row or two of it between the chooks and the main vegetable garden can reduce the damage to the lettuces, cabbages, etc.

Protection from raptors. By choice, free range chooks will not spend long periods out in open paddocks. They prefer to be close to trees where they are safer from hawks, falcons, etc. A relatively cheap form of protection is to zig-zag monofilament nylon fishing line between chicken wire fences. A bunch of old CD's strung on the line also helps to warn the raptors of the danger. (NB Not suitable for guys over 6 feet tall)

In a free range situation, chooks can survive on forage foods, but will always do better if fed a range of grains and seeds to supplement the natural diet.

Updating the flock. Unless you have a permanently self-replacing flock with hens, roosters, chicks, all on the go, it is best to replace all birds at the same time. (The old Trade Union principle "One out, All out"). Kill all the old boilers, and bring in a fresh bunch of pullets. Otherwise you will have some major battles as they try to sort out a new pecking order.

A final point: many folk have mentioned that old chooks are tough. This is only true if you treat them like supermarket produce. An old chook, slowly roasted in a covered dish in a moderate oven can be just as tender and far more tasty than any commercial product. Those dark meat legs are delicious.


I would take broken coffee/tea cups outside. Go to the anvil and with a hammer bust the crockery into small tiny pieces which the chickens would avidly devour for their craw.

Also living near a gravel road seemed to allow for some fine gravel that worked as well but they sure loved that what I broke up.


I'd suggest Rule #11- If the laws regarding chickens in your town don't make sense, get together with others and change them.

We did this in our town. We took a slow and patient approach, and in the last month got some folks on the team that had (newly minted) planning degrees and someone who had served on a greenways commission.

We spoke softly (lobbied with rational planning language) and carried a big stick (we had 60 well-behaved people, twice, at two hearings-- who council sensed could act as precinct walkers in the upcoming election.

This coalition also acted as practice for other peak oil legislative changes we need to make.

At the last minute, the animal staff suggested that all coops be inspected, at taxpayer expense (tens of thousands of dollars) before approval. We quietly but firmly let it be known that that would not be acceptable; and got it changed to complaint-driven. We didn't get everything we wanted, but we got most; and set a precedent for returning in a year or two if need be.

This is happening in many cities. Next step: Tour de Coop!

I've had chickens for about five years now. My biggest surprise: that brooding (sitting on the nest to hatch eggs) has been bred out of the modern US chicken. If you want to make your flock "sustainable," buy at a Silkie (small, furry-feathered chicken) which normally will brood - and she will brood the eggs of any hens.

Chickens are trouble-free. I read all the books but my chickens pretty much just take care of themselves. I have large dogs so when I had the young chicks I made sure the dogs knew they were MINE and once the chicks are feathered out (about 3 -4 months), the dogs and cats left them alone (and chicks need to be kept warm until they are feathered - they can go down to 45degrees at the end of 3 weeks but before that need 80 - 90 degrees.) The big dogs do keep the coyotes away and I always (most of the time) shut and lock the door on the coop (outhouse) at dusk.

My chickens have the run of the place and when my son decided to go into larger flocks and took my coop, I re-housed my 3 layers in an old outhouse (seat covered, of course) and they are doing fine there.

It takes a marketing machine and a profit motive to make raising a few laying hens look complex.

Lauren lots of breeds go broody, you don't need a silkie which is cute but not an ideal brood mom. Their feathers are unnatural and not ideal for dealing with all sorts of weather. I don't mean to insult your silkies, but just to point out that these birds are not what nature designed. Since they are used for show and not meat or eggs no one bothered to breed the broodiness out of them. Most banties of any type are more broody than their standard counterparts for the same reason.

Game hens of have also not had broodiness bred out of them, but our first broody hen was a Buff Orphinton who lived 10 years and dropped dead after weaning her last brood. Her name was appropriately Broody.

What we found is that as we crossed breeds back and forth more and more broodiness appeared each year. The leghorns even when crossed seem to be the least likely to brood. We got some banty Wyandottes from someone who showed birds and one of them was our our best all time mother. She raised standard chicks and they finally weaned themselves when they towered over her. She tore up every scratch area out in the yard hunting for tidbits for them. Our half Rock half game hen Greta was a super mom, eventually standing up to a fox that was after her chicks and losing her life. Several half game banties have flown out of the chicken yard, laid their own eggs (instead of the ones we want them to set on), done without any food from us, successfully hid from us despite much searching and come out at day 21 with lots of healthy chicks.

Our problem now is breaking broody hens that exceed our need for broody hens so they get back to laying. We have a few roosters penned due to misbehavior or just excessive numbers. These are ones we want to keep to breed but don't want in the general yard. Putting our broody hens in the pen with them for a week knocks them out of brooding but usually just caging them alone works too.

Most books on raising chickens say that the temperature needs go down by 5 degrees a week. While we have noticed that they can deal with cooler weather than that, 45 degrees at the end of 3 weeks sounds extreme.

Oxidated Gem,

Your observation of how broodiness increased over several generations of crossing is very helpful. As I noted above, I observed this in my chickens but didn't know if it was specific to my breeds (Dorking and Orpington), or a pattern that could be repeated with other crosses. For those wanting some broody chickens, it sounds like they could breed in broodiness to some of their hens in a few generations.

For those with enough space to keep some breeding pairs or trios isolated for part of the breeding season, it might be worthwhile to keep a separate population of hens who are better layers, with less broodiness, along with the broody line. This should provide you with a steadier supply of eggs, but reduce the need for an incubator or having to buy new chickens every few years.

Fingers, we think that because broodiness is as important to chicken reproduction as sex, it is hard to breed out and that is why it comes back when you start crossing. Don't know if that makes sense genetically but it is my current theory!

Birds that run free can be bred by any rooster who is free and if you can't identify hens eggs it is hard to do selective breeding without penning. What we do is pen a hen with a rooster and collect 7 eggs that we do not set before collecting for setting. This is because the sperm remains active for a while after a mating. (I understand that rabbits can store sperm for 6 months). Sometimes if we are trying to breed a broody hen we have her go broody again before we get much past those 7 eggs. Timing can be a problem. Also if we are using a rooster that runs free we find it works best if we put him in with the hen at night and take him out in the morning. If a roo is penned too long and then let out it disrupts the balance of power in the chicken yard.

We have one part wyandotte banty with short legs, coloring is blue, comb is walnut. He is low ranking. Yet several times we are certain that he was a father even after the hen was penned and 7 eggs collected before we started collecting setting eggs. His stamp on his offspring is unique. I like the fact that low ranking roo often wins the reproduction game!

Are you crossing your Dorks and Orphingtons?

Oxidated Gem,

Again, thanks for that explanation. I'm a pretty good gardener, but have no background in animal breeding.

My Dorkings and Buff Orpingtons are all crossed now. I started out about 10 years ago with pure breeds, ordered from two different hatcheries.

The hens from both breeds were fairly unsuccessful hatching out chicks. Of course the roosters were unconcerned as to who they mated with, so the fertilized eggs were often mixed breed. We hatched the eggs in an incubator, and these crosses occured over the next few years. Eventually all of the pure breds died out.

You can tell the breeds are mixed because apparently the 5 toes of the Dorkings are a dominant trait. This trait is now found in most of our chickens. And the pin-striped coloring from the Dorkings neck feathers still is fairly strong in the hens. But many other characteristics--size, leg stockiness, coloring etc. are all over the map.

It's interesting that many of the chickens are black--I understand this was the color of the original Orpingtons--but none of our original birds were black. But ours are 5-toed black chickens--again the Dorking characteristic.

And now a great majority of the hens are great mothers.

Hmm, what color were your original Dorkings. At wiki they show a picture of a white dorking which actually looks like a black bird with a strong dose of silver. We have had birds with so much silver that they look virtually white. There is also a color called blue. They have one gene for blue. If they get two genes for blue in a cross they are colored white with blue splotches which is called splash. If you cross two blues and get no blue genes passed the resulting bird is black and will never pass blue on. So a cross of two blues would give you 1/4 black, 1/2 blue (actually more gray) and 1/4 splash. But I don't really know if this black is the same as other black breeds. I have some pictures here http://community.webshots.com/user/rustyjewell1 - haven't updated it in a while. We have read a lot on chicken genetics but seem to get results that are not mentioned elsewhere. Our buff orphington when crossed with a blue hamburg gave us birds that were blue with tons of concentric penciling. A professional geneticist said they couldn't come out of a buff orphington but they did. Remember that chickens are typed by their appearance, formal lines documented in the way dogs are documented don't happen. If you show up to a show with a bird that came out of an entirely different cross but looked like a buff orphington no one would know the difference. If you read the history of the various breeds they are all the results of multiple crossings and then fixing the result. But under all that can lurk a variety of stuff. People like their white birds to be all white and barring takes of most of the black specks but doesn't show up as barring because the white is dominant. So when we crossed our white rock we got some barred birds - was that a surprise, but not once you know the genetics. The buff in the Orphington probably covers up lots of stuff just like white does - BTW there is a recessive white and a dominant white. We seem to have lost all our recessive whites although the genes may lurk and is some cross a chick might get two lurking genes and pop up unexpectedly white.

This book has been helpful. It is not up to date but useful for starting to learn genetics - BANTAM CHICKENS
Author: Fred P. Jeffrey.

Here is a site that has discussions groups http://www.the-coop.org/cgi-bin/UBB/ultimatebb.cgi

And one that shows pictures of breeds

"As I look through some of the sites, it strikes me that the directions provided are pretty much for how to raise chickens in a BAU world."

I hope you don't mind but there is quite a bit of chicken info from the PO perspective here:

best supplemental feed for chickens ....sprouted seeds(grains)

Instead of cracked corn .. sprout it.

Milo , barley , wheat, sunflower , etc

Very good campfire post.

Oxidated Gem, Where in Alabama do you live? I used to live in Huntsville, my brother still does, I should be heading that way in a week or so for Christmas.

Here in Central Arkansas, Little Rock just recently allowed chickens to be kept in backyards, I don't know the particulars but it was a step in the right direction.

I live in the smaller city of North Little Rock, about 65,000 people more or less, and we could have chickens if we wanted too. In fact the next door neighbor got a hen and a rooster this past spring. Rooster woke us up one to many times, we are all getting to be late sleepers. Roosters are not allowed in the city limits, hens are if kept penned.

A few decades ago there was a law against rabbits being kept, I don't know if that has changed or not.

Both my parents kept chickens when they were growing up. My dad would use a 22 rifle to kill the chickens his mother wanted for supper(head shot). But he is an expert marksman with a rifle or pistol. I've heard lots of tales of chicken woes and stuff.

If you have only a yard to grow the food in, plan well and a few chickens should be able to be fed off the food available without buying to much feed from outside. I'd think that the more chickens become common some areas will have more resources for the home chicken keepers. Ask around locally and see who grows grains and such and see if some deals can be struck up.

Tree seeds like acorns, broken open and mashed a bit seems to be another source of food.

Lots of good sites to add to your reading lists, thanks ALL.

I won't be able to fit chickens into my yard, unless I can figure out a zero cost budget. Maybe later when riding the bus to the store gets to be a problem, I'll have to figure out how to keep a few hens for the eggs.


Charles, we live in a rural area outside of Lanett, AL. We have given much thought how to sustain our chickens post crash. Right now they are a retirement hobby more than anything. Better than golf. Certainly we can not sustain 100 on an acre without outside inputs. We grow greens (sorrel, wheat grass, collards, kale, garlic chives) for them in our garden (and ourselves of course), but we are aging and not feeling like we can grow grain. I turn over dirt to let them get at worms. I put old planks on the ground and then turn them over to expose worms, termites and other bugs. We keep trying to get our flock numbers down, but we so enjoy crossing our birds to see what we get that we keep getting the numbers up again :) Most of our crosses have so much crossed blood in them already that every chick is different from the others in the brood in some way. Heresy for many chicken breeders.

After crash we will probably slaughter all but the ones that are the most functional which will mean by and large those with the most game blood. Maybe we will invite our neighbors over for a crash chicken stew and have one last good communal meal!!! Or perhaps our neighbors, suddenly realizing that they need to grow their own food will gladly take birds from our flock to start their own.

I have cracked pecans in pecan lush years for the chickens. Also black walnuts. I will have to try acorns, thanks for the idea. It is pleasant to sit down and crack nuts with stones and enjoy feeding them by hand.

While being old means bodies not up to the tasks ahead it also means that an earlier than expected death will not be as much earlier as it will be for many. Less future to resent losing.

You can forage for acorns to make up chicken feed. Mix 25% unleeched acorns or 50% leeched with regular feed.

I dont know how it is further south but in Sweden where the winter nights are long you need artificial lights to get the hens to lay eggs in the winter.

One of telltale signs for a rare original rural electrical installation is the wire from the indoor light switch in the home to the chicken coop. Timers were to expensive during the first half of the 20:th century. But I have not seen one for quite a while although the porcelean insulators use to be left in place on the walls, three or five on the living house and two on the chicken coop.

I'd like to make a plea for Muscovy Ducks.

They're descended from a South American wild duck, so not derived from Mallards, as so many Western domestic ducks are. This gives them some advantages, specifically a different quality of meat, which is less greasy than ducks and geese as we know them, something between veal and venison in flavour. The drakes in particular get big and heavy, with plenty of meat.

These are hardy birds -- in the British and similar climates -- and need little weather protection. And of course you can expect them to be more waterproof than chickens. If you have waterways and standing water right by your place, as I have, Muscovys will use them as a resource, and bring home the results of their foraging outside the boundaries of your own ground, in the same way that bee colonies and pigeon-lofts do.

My birds are kept with minimal protection either from weather or predators, and are allowed constant free-range. Their only -- partial -- defence apart from their own watchfulness and ability to get up high in the air within a second or so, are my dogs. (The dogs -- especially my LGD Turkish Shepherd Dog --would do a lot more, but have to be kept within a boundary fence, whereas the ducks can roam at will)

I'm working a broad plan which allows the birds all the freedom they want, with their flight feathers never clipped, and allows the foxes to take any who aren't sharp enough to evade them. Already, in the second generation since set up, the fools and the sharpies have been well sorted. Naturally, only the sharpies will be around to breed next Spring -- to pass on their sharpness to next year's ducklings.

I also give only token amounts of food, just to keep the birds around and make them dead easy to round up and pen whenever I want to, just by going to the feed bins and calling: "Come on, little ducks!" This works like neverfail clockwork. They come running and flying from wherever they are, even if they're out of line of sight. It does seem to me that Muscovys are quite intelligent birds, and soon learn the ropes of your place. They also seem to be great stay-at-homes, without the need of fencing. The saying is that they fly around, but they don't fly away.

This management plan, such as it is, means that I spend next to nothing on concentrate feeds (probably about 120 kilos for the whole flock for a year) and that they get an excellently healthy free-range diet for free. I have a good deal of neglected land all around my place, nominally owned by a cement and quarry transnational. Much of it is not in any kind of commercial or agricultural use at all.

I also have a lot of comfrey plants (Bocking 14 variety for preference) from which to make high-grade poultry food from the wilted foliage. Some of these plants are on my own place, but a lot I just planted out on footpath verges, canal towpaths, and on the sides of a cycle-path nearby, where they grow like wild 'weeds' and are universally ignored. There are also quite a lot of self-sown, genuinely wild comfrey plants in these places too, so I have access to tons of dried feed material annually, just for the gathering. Comfrey will take six, eight, even ten cuts a year easily. Expert farmers in its Victorian heyday as a fodder plant were reportedly getting 120 tons per acre (sic!) a year of green foliage. Contains excellent natural balances of nutrients and minerals for both plants and livestock.

In practise I've never had to use this for bird food yet, since the flock at its present size has a super-abundance of wild forage free for the taking. So far the comfrey just goes into making mulch and comfrey-tea for feeding my raised vegetable beds. But wilted comfrey, and the meal which you get by roughly grinding it up a little when dry, is famously good animal fodder.

I reckon there are at least five benefits to my permaculture system coming from the ducks. (Thats just to mention the ones I've realised so far; I'm sure there are more that I haven't noticed yet; that's usually the way with a permaculture web) I get eggs, meat, down/feathers, high grade fertiliser from the droppings harvested in the communal night-coop, and population-control of slugs, snails, rat and mice infants, and other potentially troublesome neighbours.

Initially, I let the birds roost where they liked at night. Another of their South American oddities is that they are tree perchers, and have strong claws on their webbed feet for this purpose. (Also useful for gralloching foxes! Mature drakes have been seen to do this, successfully driving off their attackers) But it was soon clear that I was losing out on the night droppings from food brought in from their daily out-foraging, and it was just getting spread around everywhere. So now I lure them in with a bit of supper, and close them in till morning. They perch on broad, flat timber perches, above a heavy wire-mesh floor, with collection floor below.

These ducks are excellent mothers, and will raise broods and bring them home without help, if you just want to leave them to it. But to gather at least some of the eggs, just provide them with nest boxes at home, and they'll use them willingly. You can get two broods a year easily, as well as eggs, in Spring and in early Autumn. To cut duckling mortality drastically, without too much extra work, just keep mother and chicks on grass for the first couple of weeks after hatching, in an open floored ark with half-inch mesh covering on the topsides, and slide them to a new patch of grass each day. This will need water and food feeders, and the ducklings appreciate a splash in a very shallow pan of water most days. Do watch newly-hatched ducklings, though, for waterlogging and chilling, as they seem not to be quite so waterproof as Mallard-derived chicks. This soon comes, though.

There is a rare disease that seems to be associated with chicken feathers and dust--Boeck's sarcoid. When my mother was diagnosed, we were told that sarcoidosis tends to affect 20-30 yr. olds, females, and Afri-Amer. workers in commercial-size chicken houses. We never had more than 30 hens at one time. The disease was first diagnosed as T.B.

With respect to as to what to do with roosters. You can eat them as well. So, I don't see what the problem is with getting too many roosters. Also, even if the many municipalities reject the raising of chickens within their boundaries, the eventual rise in food prices will prompt the local citizenry to approach the leadership and demand the right to raise chickens. Also, rabbits are good for meat, and produce a very good fertilizer as well. They don't take any more space than a regular size chicken coop does. However, you may have to cull the rabbits more often to reduce the population. Rabbit pelts also make good insulated materiel for clothing, gloves, hats, Etc. Fish can be raised in used bathtubs that are buried in the ground and have aerators in them to keep the oxygen levels up. Beekeeping can be done on a small scale as well. One or two hives will provide pollination services for the backyard garden and provide honey and wax. The beeswax can be use to make candles and used in woodworking. Beeswax can also be used to waterproof the rabbit pelts for footwear. The backyard can be used to supply a good amount of things that families can use, along with raising chickens.

Last year I joined an Egg cooperative. There were 7 families that raise about 35 chicken. We were fortunate to have a local farm that gave us some space (The families live in a housing development). Each family had a day they feed and watered the chickens and then occasionally, all the familys would show up for a cleaning party to muck out the coop.

We had a variety of breeds and it was obvious that some breeds produced better than others. It seemed that the breeds that were bred for egg laying produced according to expectations.

As far as production; Winter you normally would get 12 to 15 eggs a day. Spring and Fall I got a high of over 30 eggs one of my days, but the average was about 2 dozen. In the summer when it got hot, the production dropped off again (It drops especially during molting.)

The other side benefit was all the high nitrogen fertilizer you can use.

Lessons learned:

The bigger the area you can give them the better. They eat anything green and given more space you get less 'picked on' chickens.

You could let them out during the day to forage after they were accustom to their coop. They would return in the evening to roost (or you come to feed them).

As mentioned, Roosters can be mean. They will attack children.

They have to be cared for, so it can put a crimp on vacation plans unless you get a chicken sitter.

It's an urban legend that home grown eggs taste better than store bought eggs. Growing chickens is costly, so unless you already pay through the nose for 'cage free' and 'organically grown' eggs, I will actually cost you more than the store.