Sustainable Chicken Farming, by Sheila C.

I have been raising chickens for eggs during the past several years, and I would like to share some of the secrets I have learned for long term food production. I like free range eggs, but have found that chickens pose certain conflicts with other necessities that can be quite frustrating. And reproducing chickens can be quite a trick these days. Chickens are a very good source of sustainable food from eggs and meat and also have side benefits, but it’s good to know some of the tricks. I hope this article can help preppers get ready and give a couple good chuckles along the way.

First of all, I found that most varieties of chicks sold at a local feed store have been genetically selected for egg production and the “broodiness” has been intentionally bred out of them. In other words, they do not set on their eggs and hatch them. I grew up on a farm, and I just assumed that chickens would naturally have babies like they did on the farm. For several years I waited for my hens to set, eagerly looking forward to the familiar chirp of little voices following a clucking hen around. I finally visited with a woman I consider a “chicken expert” about my dilemma and she enlightened me. I am now raising reproductive chickens and encouraging broodiness in my little hens.

The secret [of reliable broodiness] is using bantam chickens. There are several breeds of full-size chickens that will set, but infrequently and unreliably. I have purchased some banties that run around with my full-size chickens. I try to cross breed as much as possible. I have some half-size chickens now that set on eggs and cluck around with babies. My reproducible chickens have become somewhat of an obsession for me, as I try to perfect the kind of chicken that we had back on the farm.

The next problem I noticed with the chicks I bought at the local feed store was the roosters. They are just plain mean. I’d never encountered such mean roosters before and I was baffled. I noticed that the second-generation roosters who were raised by a mama hen were gentler with the hens and less aggressive with everybody else. I have one little rooster from last year that is quite a romantic and the hens love him. I have established a no violence policy with my roosters and have been known to get the shotgun out and settle the problem a couple of times after watching the roosters beat up some poor hen.

I have tripled the size of my garden this year and the chickens were determined to make sure they had a taste of everything first. They dig up the seeds, they eat the seedlings and they generally wreak havoc. I love to have free range chickens, so this was a dilemma for me. I finally built a small fence out of a dog kennel outside of their chicken house and I “ground” my chickens when they start getting into things they shouldn’t. I know it sounds funny, but they seem to behave better after spending a good part of the day cooped up and they seem to understand that they should stay away from the garden now. When one of the hens strays into the garden, I notice the rooster tries to lure her out before she gets caught.

I have had several boxes added to the outside of my chicken coop with hinged doors. I really began feeling a sense of dread for walking through the poop to get the eggs. The hens seem to love the boxes, and the eggs are clean and easy to gather. I also found that adding perches up high encouraged to the chickens to stay out of the boxes for taking a nap and hanging out. Before I had the extra-high perches, I had chickens leaving a mess in the nesting boxes because they liked hanging out in them.

I have been using the chicken manure for garden fertilizer this year. People have told me that it is too “hot” to use like you would horse manure or cow manure. So I added a small amount when I tilled and then I have been scooping dried manure onto the ground around the base of the plants. My garden loves it. I have also found that the chickens are a wonderful bug brigade. I have almost no insect troubles. Even though the garden is off limits and fenced, the chickens have cut the bug population down and for the most part the bugs are gone.

I love chickens, and I believe that in a survival situation they will be a good source of wholesome food. I hope my pointers can help others.