Try Chicken Starter Livestock for the Homestead

Getting started with a backyard or homestead flock of chicken starter livestock is simple and inexpensive. If you have your own hens, you’ll get the freshest, most nutritious eggs possible! Plus there are so many ways that chickens (and other poultry) can help in the garden and around the homestead. Following this advice on housing, predator control and flock management will get you off on the right foot.

| December 2007/January 2008

Pasturing the flock is the best thing you can do for your birds’ health and for nutrient-rich eggs and meat. Pasture shelters can be designed in all shapes, sizes and materials to meet specific needs.

Pasturing the flock is the best thing you can do for your birds’ health and for nutrient-rich eggs and meat. Pasture shelters can be designed in all shapes, sizes and materials to meet specific needs.

Photo by Harvey Ussery

Try chicken starter livestock, these easy-to-keep chickens will provide delicious eggs and meat, plus bug control, fertilizer and tillage. Includes two viewpoints on selecting the right breed of chicken for your situation!

Try Chicken Starter Livestock for the Homestead

Eggs from backyard flocks are of a quality and nutritional density that those dependent on the supermarket can only dream of. Necessary culling (of excess males and non-productive females) graces the table with flavorful meat. But backyard flocks can contribute to self-sufficiency in more ways than simply putting food on the table. They offer bug control, tillage and great entertainment.

Poultry are incredible starter livestock for most homesteads, because their needs are easily and cheaply met, and the homesteader can start on a small scale.

Coming Home to Roost

One reason poultry are the easiest livestock is that their housing can be simple. All domesticated poultry are hardy and will do well if given protection from predators and the extremes of weather. Any housing that protects the birds from wind, rain and snow will be adequate for your flock. (Remember, too, their need for shade on the hottest summer days.) You should provide a minimum of 3 square feet per adult bird — 4 or 5 would be even better.

Chickens, guineas and turkeys all have an instinct to roost at night and will be more content if given perches to do so. Any structure that allows them to sleep perched above ground level will satisfy their urge to roost.

If there are laying hens in your flock, you should provide nests. I make my own (12 inches high and wide, 16 inches deep) and fill them with straw, leaves or other clean, soft material.

troy griepentrog_2
12/1/2008 10:12:10 AM

From the author: I can't address the question as an expert, since all my experience with poultry has been in much warmer climes--I'm in northern Virginia, Zone 6b. Couple of things come to mind: Northern "flocksters" often prefer breeds with minimalist combs--that is, combs (and wattles) that are much smaller than for example in the single-comb breeds. Those big exposed combs (especially on the cocks) tend to get frostbite in really cold winter temperatures. A good dual purpose breed you might consider: Chantecler. They were bred in Canada, and the combs are almost non-existent. They're also considered good winter layers. I've worked only with Partridge Chantecler, but there are other colors/patterns as well. PC hens have a tendency to go "broody" (set a clutch of eggs to hatch out chicks). You may or may not consider this a plus--some folks find broodiness a pain. An excellent source of info for helping make a choice of breeds is Barry Kofler's "feathersite": ~Harvey Ussery

hawaiian healer
11/15/2008 11:10:41 AM

what would be some good breeds for southeast idaho. In the summer it can reach 95-100 degrees in the winter it can reach -30F and I'm at 5,700 feet above sea level. I'm just wanting a few chickens around the yard for eggs mostly. thanks in advance for any help

8/21/2008 1:58:02 PM

Nice article and comments. We have been raising chickens for the past 4 years in portable poultry shelters(chicken tractors)We have raised several batches of broilers as well as keep hens for eggs. The best shelter on the market today is from Easy-Garden. See the web site at The shelters are used at Bee Heaven Farm in Florida as well as the 4W Ranch in Washington as well as several other sustainable farms and hobby farms.

1/22/2008 2:18:45 PM

I'm planning to start a flock in the spring. I am looking for a coupe that can be moved so that I can have my flock graze more of my land. I have a small orchard and a large garden area. They are not close to eachother so I was hoping to find a way to make thier coupe mobile. I had seen mobile coupes in this magazine I thought. I also plan to have a perminant larger coupe. I would consider open range if it weren't for the dogs and cyotes, racoons, owls and DOGS. My neighbor has to many! Anyway, we live in the very northeastern part of Washington, today it is in the single digets tempature wise. How do you care for your birds in this type of weather?? Where can I find plans or recommendations on building a coupe? Thanks!

1/2/2008 12:05:25 AM

I begin raising chickens 1 year ago.I have cucu marantz, white and black leggorns, and 5 other breeds.The biggest deal with chickens is they do not like change.If you change their feed, bring in a bunch of other chickens or move them they will quit laying eggs for a while.We keep ours fenced in and put wire over the top of the pen because here in arkansas the coons, possums or owels and chicken hawks will eat them all up.

12/8/2007 8:09:28 PM

I forgot to mention that our chickens were free-range. Their fenced yard was about 30' x 60'. We never had to worry about weeds in there. If anyone doubts that chickens are omnivorous, you should see what they do when they find a mouse nest in the compost pile, or a baby bird falls out of a tree. We also had a 3-super bee hive in their yard, and they ate the dead or dying bees the hive would discard. We have great horned owls here, and had to have bird netting above the whole yard. Otherwise we would find the wings of some poor hen clipped off, and her gone missing. Eventually our chickens fell prey over time to raccoons after our dog began to get old. But our RI hens lived for about 3 years and laid prolifically the whole time. Auracanas were also productive and long-lived.

12/8/2007 7:54:47 PM

It's been 20 years but when my kids were young and on a "we won't eat that because raising poultry is inhumane" kick we had a flock on purpose so that they could see that it could be done humanely. We started with 24 Rhode Island Reds (some "sex-cross" variety). We raised them for 12 weeks, at which time they were the size of small turkeys! At that time, we also decided to keep the "girls" because some had already started laying .... big brown healthy eggs. The "boys" dressed out at about 6-7 pounds after slaughtering and cleaning. We used a killing method from Mother Earth News in the past .... hang them upside-down in a cone, and bleed them out .... very calm. The kids helped with the slaughtering. Our 12 RI hens laid a dozen eggs most days. Later my son wanted more chickens, so we had a wide variety of breeds. At one time we had 50 chickens on a one-acre city lot, and supplied grandparents and friends with eggs. Our chicken coops were an a-frame elevated type with a deep litter area underneath, and a hinged nesting box on the back. The design was from 4H for use in our Tucson climate.

11/24/2007 1:52:10 PM

Re: Chicken Breeds We have a mixed flock of up to 60 chickens with 3 roosters. We have had buff orpingtons, wyandottes, (barred & white) rock, lakenvelder, australorpe, leghorns (brown & white) Rhode Island red, hampshire and a few other sundry breeds. The one we like best is the Transylvanian Naked Neck - often called turken. They have most of their neck bare of feathers. That are early, consistent layers and are the first out at dawn to forage and the last in at night. Despite their lack of neck feathering, in our higher altitude Oregon climate, they are the first to get under the snow to forage for whatever they can find. I thought that they would be cold sensitive but apparently not. They like to flock together (we have 2 groups - 5 in one and 9 in another) and they stay together - we have to clip their wings because they will fly over fences for better foraging opportunities. - Vivienne

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