Best Sustainable Farm Animal – Chickens
We are now in week 6 of our 2017 Sustainable Living Topics and it’s time to start talking about farm animals. Chickens are definitely one of my favorites and provide multiple resources for your (urban) farmstead at a minimal cost: 1. Eggs provide food high in protein 2. Chicken manure (properly composted) provides some of the best organic material for gardens 3. Chickens provide pest control by eating bugs from yards and gardens 4. Chicken meat is high in protein 5. Chicken eggs provide a source of income…everyone wants farm fresh eggs and don’t mind paying a premium for them 6. Chickens provide enjoyment…they are so fun to watch, pet and feed!
So how do you get started? That depends on the area you have available for your birds… If you have a backyard in an HOA or live in the city, then you will need to make sure your HOA rules or city ordinances allow chickens (and how many). None will allow roosters, because of the noise factor (crowing at 2 am). Otherwise, you can have a rooster, but be aware that roosters really do crow at really weird hours and you don’t need a rooster unless you want to fertilize eggs for hatching baby chicks. We do not hatch our own eggs; we order our baby chicks from Murray McMurray Hatchery (https://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com )…and have for years. McMurray guarantees their baby chicks just in case something happens during shipment by the Post Office. In all the many years that we have used McMurray, we have never had to use the guarantee policy until recently. We ordered 30 chicks a few weeks ago and they must have gotten cold in delivery or jostled badly, because we had 7 that did not make it. McMurray credited us for these poor baby chicks…no questions asked. They have superior customer service, so as you can tell, we highly recommend them (and this is not a paid or solicited advertisement from them). They are just good business folks. The chicks come in a well ventilated box marked ‘fragile’ and ‘this side up’ and are shipped overnight. When we order the chicks we do order them to be vaccinated for coccidiosis because we continue to raise them in the same area year to year, but that is a personal preference.
They keep each other warm with their body heat and they hatchery provides come gel food in the bottom of the box to sustain them until they make it to their new home. Once the chicks get to their new home, you will need to have a waterer, feeder and a heat lamp that will keep the chicks at least 95-100 degrees. You can reduce the temperature by 5 degrees after the 1st week and thereafter. It is extremely important that the new chicks are kept warm the first couple of weeks because they do not tolerate cold at all.
If new chicks are stressed, occasionally, you will see something called ‘pasty butt’. The vent (butt) will get clogged with poop, turn brown and cake on, which eventually doesn’t allow for little gal/guy to poop very well. Just as you would clean your own baby’s bottom, you simply use a wet warm cloth to clean off the caked on poop, so that it doesn’t cause problems for the little one later on. Be sure to be gentle…they are already stressed. Afterwards, I hold them for a minute and stroke their back to make them feel safe, and put them under the lamp for their little butts to dry. Ok, maybe I nurture a little too much…. Now, you just play with them and watch them grow. The more time you can spend with them, the more gentle they will be. I usually try to feed them out of my hand and hold them at least a few times a week. If you have the time, it’s well worth the effort. There are many breeds to choose from and it depends on what the purpose is for the farmstead. If you want to raise chickens solely for meat, there are meat birds like Jumbo Cornish X Rocks, or Red Ranger Broiler. If you are wanting to raise them for eggs and meat (combination), then the Delaware breed may work for you. For strictly egg layers you may want Rhode Island Reds or the Pearl White Leghorn. If you are like us and want to raise your farmstead birds for mainly eggs (and end of life stewing chickens) then we suggest a sex link breed called Red Star, which is considered the best brown egg layer of all the breeds.
Red Star Hen
A sex link chicken is one that can be identified when hatched whether it is a male or female bird. For instance, the female Red Star has a reddish tint and the male is yellow/white. This identification allows for an exact number of hens to be ordered rather than guessing whether it will be a rooster or hen. On a typical order of Rhode Island Reds I would get at least 3 roosters, so we would have to either slaughter or give away the other 2 roosters…because you only need one for 20-30 hens.
Next week we will cover more on their Life Cycle: “Chickens have Teenagers Too…Thank Goodness They Grow Up!”
If you would like to learn more about Farm Animals and Sustainable Farm Living, check out our book, “Dirt Rich” available on Amazon, Kindle and www.stoneycreek.farm