Successfully raising chickens after TEOTWAWKI has a few important differences from raising chickens during normal conditions in the developed world. Changes in the availability of feed, day old chicks, and increased pressure from predators and thieves are the most likely factors to precipitate failure for many people who think they understand chickens, but are not prepared for these challenges. This article addresses the adjustments that must be made to successfully raise chickens after TEOTWAWKI.
Sustained reproduction of the flock should be the primary focus of the survivalist who wishes to ensure a supply of eggs and meat into the future. In order to maintain reproduction the flock must have a nutrient rich high protein diet. Under current conditions in the developed world obtaining an adequate diet for your flock is as simple as a visit to a trusted feed mill. However the survivalist needs a different solution as prepared chicken feed does not store well. Commercial feed goes rancid quickly, often in as little as two months, particularly if the feed contains extruded soy beans.
The best choice in storage feed for chickens is feed grade whole yellow corn or sorghum, whole oats, wheat and Azomite, a mineral supplement. Azomite is a highly regarded natural mineral product which is economical and suitable for use in livestock feed, as a soil amendment and a tonic for humans. The survivalist who is committed to the long-term survival of his poultry should store a one or two year supply of feed and seed to plant future crops of grain. Seed corn does not store well and germination rates decline rapidly. Annual rotation of the open-pollinated seed corn is strongly recommended. Some farmers in living in primitive and very remote areas of the third world store a two year supply of seed corn. Each year they plant their oldest stock of seed corn and replace the seed they planted when they harvest the new crop. This is a sound technique which encourages the trait of longer seed viability and at the same time ensures a reserve of seed in the event of a crop failure.
In order to economically meet the protein requirements of the flock’s diet, allow them to free range, use portable pasture pens or feed insects to the birds. The biggest problem with allowing chickens to roam free is the high, often devastating losses to theft and predators. It would be possible to feed soybeans for the protein and fat values they offer. However soybeans must be roasted or otherwise cooked before use as feed to deactivate growth inhibiting substances in the soybean. This additional step is labor intensive and therefore the use of soybeans is not recommended. Raising insects for your flock can be done easily with either earth worms or fly larva otherwise know as maggots. There are ample resources detailing earthworm production available elsewhere and so we will not examine this subject in depth here, in the attached supplement are directions for a controversial technique for producing fly larva under difficult conditions. Under normal or favorable conditions allowing chickens to scratch through compost, a manure pile or deep bedding will supply the protein needs of the chicken.
The final key to producing fertile eggs that will result in acceptable hatching rates is adequate vitamins. In most cases the best solution is to use portable grazing pens to allow the birds to eat all the grass and weeds they can. Two of the more common designs are wood framed “Salatin Pens” and portable hoop houses. The portable hoop house offers the advantages of easier access to the interior and welded construction with a light weight steel frame. A 10’ x 15’ hoop house is an easy to manage size. It is also helpful to soak or germinate grain before feeding in order to increase the vitamin content of the grain. It is best to feed the germinated seed while the sprouts are the same length as the seed.
Once your flock is eating a nutritious diet keep your eyes open for a hen exhibiting interest in nesting. It is best to have several experienced hens or female turkeys for hatching eggs. There is a learning curve both for the survivalist and the hen. The hen must have a safe place at a comfortable temperature with food and water available at all times and which is inaccessible to the other hens. Other hens will chase the setting hen off the nest to lay their eggs there unless they are denied access. There are several advantages to using a turkey for hatching eggs. In the first place the turkey can sit on more eggs than a hen can. Secondly a turkey can defend her nest and chicks far more aggressively than a chicken. A hen turkey will often give a beating to a curious dog or any other intruder that she sees as threat to her chicks. Also a hen turkey will not allow any other hen to peck or bully her chicks the way many non-dominate hens will, she is the biggest bird in the flock and demands respect for her chicks. As a result the mortality rate of hen turkey raised chicks is often lower than when raised by a hen. One consideration with a hen turkey is that she walks and runs faster and further than a hen will. In order to reduce stress and avoid over exertion of the new chicks it is advisable to use a hoop house or other pen to restrict the movement of the hen turkey and her chicks.
Within 24 hours of hatching the chicks should be offered food and water. Be very careful to insure that the watering pan is chick safe and will not be likely to drown or trap chicks. The chicks will readily eat crumbs and scraps from your table along with freshly ground coarse cornmeal, Azomite and finely chopped liver if available. They should have small gravel and sand available for grit. As the chicks grow they will be able to handle cracked and then whole grains. Sorghum and wheat are smaller and easier to swallow than corn and oats.
In primitive conditions the pressure from predators is frequently greater than in more modern situations. It quickly becomes obvious that everyone likes to eat chickens and their eggs; that includes neighbors, dogs, coyotes, house cats, rats, possums, coon, snakes, hawks and skunks. The protection that portable grazing pens offer is the first line of defense against predators and thieves. Dogs that are bonded with chickens and other small livestock are very helpful but you must back them up with traps and a gun. One of the most effective traps for feral dogs, possum and skunk is a Connibear trap in front of a bucket with bait in the bottom. It is very important not to set any of the larger Connibear traps where a small child could get in the trap as the 220 and larger connibears may kill or seriously injure a child. It is advisable to have a gun handy when caring for the flock because it is virtually assured that sooner or later it will be necessary to terminate the depredations of a feral dog or other varmint.
In summary there are challenges involved in raising chickens under primitive conditions after TEOTWAWKI. However with a little foresight and planning chickens can be a productive source of high quality protein, even under difficult circumstances. Supplement: Insect protein for challenging conditions.
Harsh dry conditions may make the common sources of insect protein unavailable. A prolonged drought can almost completely eliminate available insect life and turn compost in to lifeless piles of bone dry organic matter. In many tropical and sub-tropical climates with a dry season and monsoon such events happen every year. The end of the dry season becomes a time of suffering as the water sources dry up. Insects disappear and egg production all but ceases at the time additional food is needed most. Children become malnourished, sicken and die, when an egg a day would have saved their lives.
Cultivating fly larva on animal carcasses is one controversial technique that produces an abundance of fly larva under the worst of drought conditions. Under no circumstances is the production of maggots from poultry carcasses or offal recommended due to the risk of disease and parasite transmission. To produce fly larva simply throw any healthy animals or animal parts you do not wish to eat in a barrel with a scavenger proof lid on it, feral dogs are ideal candidates. At times it may be necessary to add a few cups of water as needed to keep things from drying out. This process stinks but produces a steady stream of fly larva, which when fed to the hens are converted into an abundant supply of eggs.
It is important to not allow the chickens to eat the decomposing flesh from which you are producing the larva due to the risk of food poisoning or disease transmission. The simplest method for separating the flesh and larva is to install a grate a foot above the bottom of the barrel. The carcasses remain above the grate but the larva fall through into the bottom of the barrel. By cutting a couple openings large enough to provide access to the larva a very low maintenance scavenger proof self serve feeder is created.
Several advantages are realized by feeding the larva to the chickens rather than directly feeding the animal flesh. First, insects of all types are a natural food for chickens. Second, the risk of disease transmission is greatly reduced by preventing direct contact between the chickens and the animal parts. Third, larva are a very low cost source of protein. Even in the best of times the protein component of poultry feed is costly, during a severe drought it may be completely unavailable. Fourth, by attracting flies to lay their eggs in the feeder and feeding all resulting larva to the chickens the local fly population is reduced thereby reducing the risk of transmitting fly-borne diseases to humans. Fifth, raising fly larva for poultry feed is a traditional solution to the problem of finding sufficient protein for a flock of chickens under difficult conditions. Other methods of obtaining protein for the flock are preferable but under extreme famine conditions this is a valid solution.
About the Author:
“Gospel Guy” has gardened and cared for chickens since childhood, and has raised pastured poultry commercially. For the last three years he has raised chickens for his family’s use just outside a small town in the mountains of a Third World country where he is a Christian missionary of the reformed tradition. One of his favorite ways to relax is watching chickens forage and play. His planning for TEOWAWKI is geared toward preserving knowledge and culture through a multi-generational societal collapse in the tradition of the monasteries of the dark ages. If you appreciate the author’s work, please thank him by collecting and preserving books, art and music.