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IMG 1222-400pxWe’ve had chickens for thirty-some years and have enjoyed watching their antics and appreciating the rooster’s cock-a-doodle-dos when we’ve had roosters. By the way, the roosters cock-a-doodle-do pretty much all day long, not just in the morning. Anything can get them going. And they’re really just a decoration. They usually look much more striking than the hens, and you don’t need a rooster to get eggs (a lot of folks ask us that), but you do need them if you are going to breed your own. We have never done that. We buy day-old chicks from hatcheries. But, there is nothing like fresh eggs for morning breakfast! They are delicious. Chickens start laying eggs when they are about five months old and each hen usually lays about five eggs a week, at least the breeds we have lay at that rate. If one has a dozen chickens, that’s a lot of eggs, but we’ve never had any problem using them of giving them to friends and neighbors. Since we’ve never had more than a dozen laying hens at any one time, we’ve not gone into selling the eggs, but there certainly is a market for them especially if they are free range and eating well. Chickens molt once a year, so for a couple weeks, when they are molting, they stop laying. The second year, their production rate may drop a little, the third year, a little more, etc. After the third year, we usually have had the chickens slaughtered and put in the freezer for some wonderful chicken pot pies or stews. Older chickens can only be used for those dishes, since the meat becomes a little tougher.

IMG 1220-200pxMeat birds, on the other hand are bred expressly for eating and they grow much faster than the traditional birds. It may take only 8-10 weeks from day old chicks to 8-9 pound roasters. This year, at the beginning of June, we ordered 25 chicks (usually the minimum from hatcheries), 15 meat birds and 10 hens of different breeds. We like a colorful brood of hens, so we mix up the breeds. The hatchery sometimes sends an exotic free one, and it’s fun watching them grow trying to figure out which breed is which. The meat birds are usually all white and grow much faster. A week ago, we took the meat birds to the slaughter house and they are now residing in our freezer, weighing in at about 8-9 pounds apiece. The laying hens are still growing.

If you want to consider raising chickens, you don’t have to start with 25. Most grain and many gardening stores now order them in bulk and you can buy just a couple or a half dozen, whatever you like. You will have to plan though, beforehand. Where are they going to live? What will their housing look like? What will their yard look like? What kind of fencing will you use? There are probably as many different types of chicken coops as there are farms. Will they have access to free pasture? What kinds of grain will you give them? Will they eat table scraps? Do you have a water supply near-by? Unless you live in a warm climate, September is not a good time to order baby chicks. In the animal world, birthing usually takes place in spring, so there is warm weather for babies of all sorts to grow before the cold weather sets in. The animals and the seasons are usually in sinc. God has designed the world in that fashion.

IMG 0490-300pxHere, we have experimented with various types of coops over the years, but seem to have settled on the movable types. Called “chicken tractors” or “chicken condos,” there are portable structures that are on wheels that can be moved from one grassy area to another. Many have yards attached that also move. Chickens are good at eating vegetation of all sorts and bugs of all sorts and leaving behind some rich manure that can be used later for garden fertilizer. A few chickens can clean a small area in a matter of days, so having the ability to move them where you want them is a wonderful advantage. Below are pictures of the two types of tractors or condos that we currently use.

There will be a Farm Animal Corner posted at MV each month. As far as chickens go, September and the fall are good times to do a bit of research if one is thinking about raising chickens. The September Corner will list some places to start, and each month we will highlight one breed that we’d had.   If you already have chickens, September may be a time to enjoy the eggs or preparing for the new hens to start laying. The monthly Farm Animal Corner can be found on the Writings page of the website.

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