Skip to main content

Getting started with Chickens - a series of interviews

Earlier in the year I ran a series of interviews with other bloggers who grow their own food.  We all had lots of fun reading each other's responses and got some great comments from readers.  The theme of the interviews was how to get started with growing your own.  The first series was such a success, I thought I'd start another, this time about getting started with chickens.

Chickens are one of the easiest animals to add to your home food production system.  You get eggs right away, and you can also raise them for meat if you want to.  You also get the advantage of pest management and manure.  Rabbits are another good option for small spaces, but not a possibility in QLD (the fine for keeping rabbits is a ridiculous $44,000).

Nearly all the bloggers that I interviewed for the first series keep chickens and agreed to be interviewed again, so over the next few weeks, I'll be publishing their responses.  In the post today, I'm going to answer the interview questions myself.



How many chickens (and other fowl) do you keep, what breed and what do you use them for (meat, eggs, slug control etc)?
Depending on the time of year, we usually have 12-20 hens and 2-3 roosters and some chicks of various ages.  We keep Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns.  The idea was that the RIRs are bigger birds and good for eating, and the WLs are better layers.  The idea was to keep heritage breeds rather than dedicated "meat chickens" or "laying hens", that way we can continue to hatch our own chicks and keep the pullets to replace the hens and eat any roosters we didn't need for breeding.  The plan is good, but we don't always get enough eggs over winter, so this autumn we bought 3 hybrid hens to supplement our egg supply.  At the moment we also have 9 guinea fowl, which we are hoping will help with tick control.

Where did you get your first chickens and how do you now replenish your flock?
Our chickens came originally from people selling "show stock" and we have bred from the original chickens, as well as occasionally buying a new rooster or hen to mix up the genetics.  I don't recommend buying show stock, they are usually bred to look nice rather than produce eggs.  The best option is to buy from someone who is breeding for egg-laying abilities.

Fixed chicken run or movable pen? Why?
We use chicken tractors, as I explained in my guest post on Lovely Greens, and in many posts on this blog.

How do you integrate your chickens into the rest of your garden/farm?
We don't integrate as much as we could, and I think we will do more when we move to Cheslyn Rise and really design the garden to work with the chickens and visa versa (see permaculture).  At the moment, we move the chicken tractors over our pasture, and we see an improvement in the fertility of the soil and the growth of the grass at the tractors move around.  I think that the chickens are

What is your biggest chicken challenge at the moment?
Our biggest challenge is having hens that lay over winter.  Our hens stopped laying in April and won't start again until September, this means we have nearly 5 months with hardly any eggs.  This year we bought 3 hybrid hens, even though I don't really like to support hybrid chickens (or pay $16/hen when we can breed our own).

What is the best thing about keeping chickens?
Keeping chickens has multiple benefits, we enjoy the eggs (even sell the extras over summer), meat, raising the chicks, the entertainment of watching them running around the yard, bug, slug and snake control, manure production and soil fertility improvements.  The best thing is knowing that we can produce our own food and chickens are an important part of that.

What is your advice to new chicken owners? What do know now that you wish you knew before you got chickens?
Chickens will get into your garden and scratch off all the mulch and destroy your seedlings at any opportunity.  Fence off your garden or fence in the chickens!  Chickens will also cross the road to scratch in your neighbour's garden, our neighbour was not happy with this.  Best to fence in the chickens if they will be near a road.

Don't buy "show chickens" if you have no intention of showing them, try to find someone who is breeding chickens as good layers and/or meat birds.  It doesn't matter what they look like, although a pure bred chicken will breed true (i.e. its offspring will have similar traits).

Next week I will have an interview with another blogger about how they got started with chickens......  Now, what do you think?  Any advice for getting started with chickens?




By the way, my chicken eBook is now available if you want to know more about backyard chickens and using chicken tractors.  More information over at the chicken tractor ebook blog.  Or you can get it directly from my shop on Etsy (.pdf format), or Amazon Kindle or just send me an email eight.acres.liz {at} gmail.com.




What's the eBook about?
Chickens in a confined coop can end up living in an unpleasant dust-bowl, but allowing chickens to free-range can result in chickens getting into gardens and expose them to predators.

 A movable cage or “chicken tractor” is the best of both options – the chickens are safe, have access to clean grass, fresh air and bugs. Feed costs are reduced, chickens are happier, and egg production increases. 

 But how do you build a chicken tractor? What aspects should be considered in designing and using a chicken tractor effectively? In this eBook I aim to explain how to make a chicken tractor work for you in your environment to meet your goals for keeping chickens. 

I also list what I have learnt over 10 years of keeping chickens in tractors of various designs and sizes, from hatching chicks, through to butchering roosters.


Reviews of the Design and Use a Chicken Tractor


Comments

  1. No, but a question. Im ready but on the other side of the fence is a dog that barks constantly. I cant talk to the owner as I am as petrified of him as his wife and children seem to be - big bully with a filthy mouth. Will this affect the girls from lazy.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I second the recommendation to avoid buying show stock. We purchased a show rooster and the breeder didn't say she only used him for AI (Artificial Insemination). So when we put him in with our girls, he didn't know how to mount them. He would peck at their heads aggressively, then do his "little dance" while standing next to them.

    He was beating up the hens pretty bad but when he turned on us, that's when he met his end. Poor thing spent his entire life in a show cage, so had no appreciation of hierarchy. He utterly confused our hens when he was meant to be leading the flock. Show stock are a whole other ball game, and breeders won't admit limitations of their breeding stock. Because for them it's not a limitation at all. Their set-up is geared to winning ribbons at shows, not giving chickens the opportunity to be a regular chicken. We only learned about the AI via an affiliate to the breeder. To get the full plumage that won shows, the chickens couldn't breed naturally - all those feathers got in the way. It was AI or no next generation of show toppers. Whole other ball game...

    When I read your recommendation, I was waiting to hear the same tale of woe - but you were lucky to get a rooster which knew how to mount a hen at least. Just not the same egg laying vigour, which is something you don't want to waste money on. People don't appreciate how expensive it can be to feed chickens over 12 months or more. A bag of chicken feed doesn't cost very much, but over time, does.

    I still think chickens make way better entertainment in the backyard than any other animal known to man though. They're worth trying out. A family of 3 which eats eggs regularly, only needs about 4 hens. When you're talking suburbia, that's not a bad size flock to keep without disturbing the neighbours or stinking up the yard too much.

    We live on acreage, and even we cut back our flock numbers. We can sell eggs but often it's not enough to make up for the time, cost and effort to keep them. It was a lot easier to keep a smaller flock even when you've got the land and Council bylaws on your side.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I'll enjoy these posts. I love my chookies! And ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl....... If it wasn't for Hubby keeping an eye on me we'd be over run!!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello, someone told me if you hatch chickens in July August you will have eggs right through winter due to the new chickens coming into lay. I did this last year and am inundated with eggs at the moment (15 is about normal). I've also got 4 hens sitting on eggs now and 2 ready to go.
    Michelle

    ReplyDelete
  5. I love keeping chickens. They are definitely one of my favourite animal on the farm! Unfortunately our pigs ate most of our free ranging chicken flock ( until we realised what was getting all the hens) so now I'm down to two (from thirty). As soon as those pesky pigs get butchered ( which better be soon~ we are waiting anxiously for the butcher to call) I am intending to restock our hen house. This is the first winter in years I've had to buy eggs :(

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Thanks, I appreciate all your comments, suggestions and questions, but I don't always get time to reply right away. If you need me to reply personally to a question, please leave your email address in the comment or in your profile, or email me directly on eight.acres.liz at gmail.com

Popular posts from this blog

What to do with eight acres

Behind the scenes of my blog I can see the search terms that led people to find my blog.  It can be quite interesting to look through them occasionally and see what people are looking for.  Most of them involve chicken tractors, but another question that comes up regularly is “what can you do with eight acres?” or “how much land is eight acres?”.  Today I will try to answer this question.

Of course it is a very broad question, there are lots and lots of things you can do with eight acres, but I’m going to assume that you want to live there, feed your family and maybe make a little extra money.  I make that assumption because that’s what I know about, if you want to do something else with your eight acres, you will need to look somewhere else.

If you haven’t chosen your land yet, here a few things to look for.  Focus on the things you can’t change and try to choose the best property you can find in your price range.  Look for clean water in dams, bores or wells, either on the property …

Growing and eating chokos (chayotes)

Cooking chokos (not be confused with another post about cooking chooks) has been the subject of a few questions on my blog lately, so here's some more information for you.
Chokos - also known as Chayote, christophene or christophine, cho-cho, mirliton or merleton, chuchu, Cidra, Guatila, Centinarja, Pipinola, pear squash, vegetable pear, chouchoute, güisquil, Labu Siam, Ishkus or Chowchow, Pataste, Tayota, Sayote - is a vine belonging to the Cucurbitaceae family, along with pumpkins, squash and melons, with the botanical name Sechium edule.


The choko contains a large seed, like a mango, but if you pick them small enough it is soft enough to eat.  If you leave the choko for long enough it will sprout from one end and start to grow a vine.  To grow the choko, just plant the sprouted choko and give the vine a structure to climb over.  In summer, the vine will produce tiny flowers that will eventually swell into choko fruit.  The vine doesn't like hot dry weather.  And it doesn&#…

Making tallow soap

For some reason I've always thought that making soap seemed too hard.  For a start the number of ingredients required was confusing and all the safety warnings about using the alkali put me off.  The worst part for me was that most of the ingredients had to be purchased, and some even imported (palm oil and coconut oil), which never seemed very self-sufficient.  I can definitely see the benefits of using homemade soap instead of mass produced soap (that often contains synthetic fragrance, colour, preservatives, and has had the glycerine removed), but it seemed to me that if I was going to buy all the ingredients I may as well just buy the soap and save myself all the hassle.  For the past several years I have bought homemade soap from various market stalls and websites, and that has suited me just fine.
Then we had the steer butchered at home and I saw just how much excess fat we had to dispose, it was nearly a wheel-barrow full, and that made me think about how we could use that…