Raising Poultry: A Mini-Manual for Getting Started

Consult this poulty mini-manual if you want to get started with chickens on your homestead.

| January/February 1971

The three main reasons to start raising poultry on your homestead, in case you haven't given it much thought, are: 1) fresh, fertile, organic eggs; 2) fresh, fertile, organic chicken manure; and 3) fresh, organic chicken meat (unless, of course, you're vegetarian—in which case the first two points are reason enough. And if you're a super strict vegetarian, No. 2 alone will still justify the project).

You might have thought that eggs—any eggs—are organic. No, they aren't. Most supermarket eggs come from egg factories where chickens are confined to small wire cages stacked in endless rows. The layers are never allowed to set their chicken feet on the ground, or even stretch their wings. (Learn more in Finding and Re-coop-erating Egg-Laying Chickens, a story about one family adopting and raising 50 sickly factory hens.)

Needless to say, such living conditions, even for birds, are BAD. Disease would run rampant were it not for antibiotics that are automatically fed as a preventative. The average life span of one of these chickens is 18 months and the eggs laid in an egg factory are—to say the least—tasteless. The nutritional value of factory eggs is lacking and their possible antibiotic content is deplorable. So, since one of the reasons for moving back to the land was wholesome, natural food for our family, we decided to start raising chickens!

Raising Poultry: Choosing Chicks

The little grocery-feed store in our area offered some special chick bargains last spring. One was 100 heavy-breed cockerels free with the purchase of 250 lbs. of chick starter. The store also offered other chicks at wholesale prices.

We decided on a heavy breed of chicken because we like big, brown eggs; we think the larger birds offer the tastiest meat; we wanted to look at chickens that were some color other than white; and we didn't care for the nervous little Leghorns, bred to be egg-producing machines.

We ordered straight-run chicks. This means that, at the hatchery, the baby chickens were boxed without being sexed. There's no guarantee on how many of either sex will be in any order of straight-runs, but it usually averages about 50-50—and straight-run chicks cost several cents less each than sexed chicks. If you'll be eating some (or all) of your chickens anyway, straight-runs are the best buy.

7/24/2009 12:44:45 PM

I have been raising chickens for many years; lived on my grandfaher's farm as a child and I am 59 now. I was concerned about a few things in this article, and thought I might point out some considerations for this relatively newcomer to the wonderful world of poultry. When you purchase sawdust, please be sure that you know what KIND of sawdust your are getting. Often times a mill will have a real mix of wood including plywood which uses glue and some landscape timbers and deck wood that are treated with chemicals. You do NOT want this kind of sawdust for your chickens to be pecking and scratching in as many of these unknown chemicals will be detrimental to your flock. You can purchase some really safe wood shavings from your local feed store. We actually use straw for our coop floors. This is a wonderful mulch for the garden after aging. The chickens are warmed by straw in the fall and winter and they love to scratch in it too. Some will make nests in a corner which we try to discourage unless it is a nesting hen. We have a wood floor to our coop and I would not use sand for the bottom layer due to the weight and the qualities of sand to retain any moisture that could then damage our wooden floor. Also, as a long time gardener, I have found that you MUST age chicken manure for at least a year before adding it to your garden. It is a very hot manure and will burn your plants if added raw. Horse manure also needs aging. We raise alpacas, sheep and goats along with donkeys. We have a separate pile of manure for the donkey and chicken manure and another pile for our sheep, alpacas and goats. The 3 latter along with llama manure can all be added directly into the garden without aging. We clean out our coop twice a year,(sometimes more) depending on how many chickens we have at the time. Once in spring to clean out winter debris and once again in the fall to prepare for winter. We live in New Mexico in the mountains and have mostly a dry climate, but our winters

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