Saturday, September 15, 2012

Squawkin' For Help - Large Chicken Flocks

The Question:
What is the optimum number of chickens required to reach sustainability?
What breeds are best.
What is "The Right Number" ?

We are mulling over the idea of expanding our chickens for both meat and egg production; however, there is a point where the costs of feed would exceed the returns.  Conversely, there is a point where we come out ahead- in dollars.  I know the health benefits of raising our own, but I need to think in dollars too.

If we expand enough, we can sustain the occasional loss by hawks or other predators.  Right now we have them under chicken wire to protect them from the raccoon and opossum plus the hawks that sit above them on the tree branches, drooling (well, if hawks could drool) at the scrumptious morsels below.

Does anyone have statistics?
Is there a formula?
And what prices do you pay for feed, assuming you purchase your feed.
What feed do you find best?
We can work our local prices into that.

Right now we have buff orpingtons, new to us and they are just starting to lay.
Our araucanas are nice but we have sterility issues with the rooster, which I hear is common. Never a chick.
The Rhode Island reds gave good eggs but not very broody.
We don't really prefer our wyandottss.
Our brown and white leghorns (in the past) - not sure if they are broody.

We were thinking about getting goats for milk, fiber and meat but those costs seem much higher, especially with the medicines and testing that come with goat raising- based on what I have seen on the blogs.  Our situation doesn't allow us much leeway with our budget.  (Plus, I don't know if I can eat my own goats after playing with them, they are just too cute) 

We've been keeping chickens for years now so we seem to have that down- for a small flock.
Can anyone help?

Linking to My Simple Country Living Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop


Gorges Smythe said...

Chickens were a thing of the past in my home, though one set of grandparents still had them. Wish I'd have paid more attention.

Sunnybrook Farm said...

We got chickens about 3 years ago and the price of feed has more than doubled and the price of eggs has stayed the same in our area. I am about ready to stop raising chickens as they can't cover their own feed costs. So the perfect flock size might be zero.

Candy C. said...

I love my Buff Orpington chickens for the entertainment and eggs they provide. I can't help with any cost analysis though. The Buffs are known to be broody and a dual purpose breed, big enough to butcher if you want. I think in the "old days" people kept a small flock for eggs, let the chickens hatch out chicks every year, and culled the older birds for the stewpot. To me, that is the way it should be. :)

LindaG said...

Those are questions we will be working on.
I am bummed our chickens may not be able to free range. We've started hearing coyotes and seeing them dead on the side of the road...
I am guessing that if you can afford what you have now, stick with that or add slowly.
Good luck!

Emily Cromer said...

I feel like our magic number here for what we have yard and scraps for is 9 hens. We currently have 13 though, because we have been supporting a few neighbors in the egg department. I went to 15 last year, and I swear those two extra made a huge difference in feed increase! Right now my girls average 2 1/2 pounds of pellets a day. (I noticed they go through less pellets than mash...) This is in regards to our egg laying birds.

As far as meat birds go, the cornish rock eat so much that I was going through almost 40 pounds of feed every 5-6 day and that was with them ranging in a chicken tractor. It is my opinion that the Freedom Ranger is the way to go with meat birds. You have to feed them out for 2-3 weeks longer than the cornish, but they don't eat nearly as much as they do. They also don't make nearly the mess that the cornish rocks do poop wise and they act like normal chickens: pecking, running, etc... We have enjoyed them much more!

Sorry this is so long! Hope it helps you out! :)

Beth said...

Chickens. I've been debating my chickens too.
Right now, I've got 7 hens and 1 rooster. (The rooster is here only because he fooled me into thinking he was a hen when I traded a bunch of them for some $ off my farrier's hoof-trim bill. haha.
The rooster will go down the road when the farrier comes back.
The cost of feed is really high. Sadly, this makes keeping chickens pretty much a losing game when money is the only consideration. However, I have managed to keep my feed bill down by using a moveable chicken coop. It's heavy, but I can move it myself, one side at a time. The hens scratch away at the yard, eat grass seeds, bugs, etc. They don't really eat that much feed for most of the year because the growing season here in South Carolina is long. If we didn't have so many predators around here (skunks, snakes, coyotes, feral and domesticated dogs, racoons, hawks, etc...) I would let the chickens roam. The only other reaon I keep them penned up in the moveable coop is because I'm lazy and don't feel like going on an egg hunt everyday. haha ...Oh yeah...and one last reason for keeping them penned up: They can't roost in my barn and poop on my horse's hay. haha
Good luck with your chicken venture. Right now I've got 48 guinea eggs in the incubator. I like to keep them around for tick control! I'll keep some and sell the rest. I have found that they don't need me to feed them...even year round. They are definitely a "take care of myself" kinda critter. =)

The Southern Peach-Girls said...

I'd say that Rhode Island Reds and White Leghorns are the best layers and that Silkies are the best brooding chickens. We own 5 or 6 roosters and 40 or so hens/pullets. They are a mix of White Leghorns, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons, Americanas, and Silver Laced Wyandotes. And we have 3 mixed breeds. And we buy their food for about 10 or so dollars.

-Jane at a Farm Girl's Diary

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

Thank you everyone for your comments! We're going to have to give this some thought.

Unknown said...

We have kept anywhere from 10 to 50 laying birds at a time, mostly Barred Rocks and Aracaunas. For the most part, they have always been free to roam our property. I give them kitchen scraps and laying pellets. I don't keep track of how much I spend on feed. I just give them enough that they can finish it in about ten minutes. Then they are on their own the rest of the day. I figure that gives them more incentive to hunt than if I kept a filled feeder. I can't put a value on our eggs to compare the cost because it has been a rare occasion indeed for any purchased eggs, even from pastured layers at the farmers' market, to have darker yolks than ours. That's why I have stuck with letting them roam even though they make a mess on the sidewalk. They sleep in the coop. When we are having possum trouble, I lock it. Yes, sometimes they go lay somewhere other than where they are supposed to.

I much prefer eating our heavy roosters than the Cornish Cross. Our roosters have the most amazing flavor. We're not big fans of all that white meat on the CC. I couldn't stand the mess those CC birds made, and all the trouble of moving them when it was raining, muddy, nasty, poopy. Plus, they were exceedingly stupid--if there was a puddle, they'd get in it and die. That said, I have never kept a cycle of roosters for the table going to have a steady supply of meat. I need to change that.

I have looked into growing our laying flock's feed. I found a package at Sustainable Seeds for doing it, but I am only interested, I think, in the ones that the birds can self harvest. Here's a link to the page: The package is out of stock right now, but the page does list the seeds that are included, so you should be able to put your own package together.

We have had good success with our Aracaunas going broody. We have a Barred Rock rooster. It's pretty risky just having the one. I prefer to have 2 or 3.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

Thank you! A couple of questions

How did you find the eggs? Our friends have a hard time since the birds lay them everywhere.

Also, our Aracaunas were broody but the rooster sterile! I hear that can be a problem. Any tips there? Right now we are thinking about keeping only the Buff Orpington rooster.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

See my reply beneath. Thank you so much.

Amy said...

I just fenced in my whole garden and let them roam there during the day (now that the garden is done for the season). Then I ran fencing to their coop so they go in the coop at night and I shut a little homemade gate (to keep predators out). In the morning I open the gate and they can free range all day w/o worry of local predators. I forgot to shut the gate one night and lost a chicken to a opposum, but as long as I shut the gate at night, I've had no problems. I used 4' tall 24 gauge fencing. You can check out the project on my blog:

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

I'd love to do this! Maybe we'll figure out a way. Not only is the ground hard but it's a rocky ridgetop. I can get a few fence posts in but not much. I saw another YouTube video where a man made all sorts of tunnels around his garden with diversion gates to herd them in the direction you want them to scratch around. He never has to till his garden. Thank you for the link. I'll see what my husband thinks.

Unknown said...

We have a nesting box attached to the side of our mobile coop. They mostly lay in there. I have used electric poultry netting around the coop in the past, but I was horrible about moving it every day; then the grass would grow over it, and it was a huge pain. The netting needs to be replaced now. If I ever had serious problems with chickens laying other place, then I would definitely use the netting and move the coop daily. For now, when I start missing eggs, I go looking. The dogs help. ;) Usually the eggs are under a bush around the house. Once I start collecting the eggs there, they stop laying away from the coop. I'm sure I miss some. Just one of the costs of having them roaming. On the other hand, going off to lay eggs in a secret place is also how I get broody hens. They like privacy. We have had an Aracauna rooster in the past, and he was definitely fertile. We incubated several batches of our eggs and got all kinds of multi-colored combinations because we have Barred Rock and Aracauna hens. He was a gorgeous bird, but I think a hawk got him. Now we just have the Barred Rock rooster.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

Thank you! I'll share this with my husband.

Unknown said...

We've got nine in the hen house right now Kathy and that seems to be a perfect number for us... keeps us in eggs.. I do feed them organic egg layer pellets and kitchen scraps.. I'm sure the cost far out weights what i would pay in the store, but I love my girls.. I want them to be healthy and that makes us healthy... so in that sense it's worth the extra cost for us...:)

Angie said...

Im in love with my Black Australorps! The girls lay an egg 350 days of the year! They are wonderful brown eggs, and protective yet mellow roosters. I have been told & plan to try to do broilers next year, they make great money, and are cheap to feed if you purchase the 500pound bag of grain , instead of the expensive 25lb bags. We just started doing this & are kicking ourselves for the thousands weve spent on feed so lasts forever! Im hoping to get my number of layers up to 15-20 at all times to supply our family & friends, and for meat birds as many as I can fit comfortable in the coop next year to sell becuse they go so quick, and the chickens are my mini composters!

SparingChange said...

We are going this this ourselves. With the original 3 hens we had, we felt they were "worth" the eggs they provided. They were consistant layers - 1 egg a day from each hen. Then...we had a broody hen. We got the fertilized eggs and now we have 17 chickens. I would like to butcher 10 of them and keep the others to make more chicky babies and more food in the future.

I am researching ways to make feeding the hens more self-sustainable. I purchased some mealworms which are a great source of protein and I am looking forward to breeding them to feed to the chickens. It is a $18 investment that will keep on producing for years and years to come. Also, I have a book out from the library entitled: Free Range Chicken Gardens by Jessi Bloom. I was thinking about doing a book review on it.

We are doing whatever we can to keep the feed cost of the chickens down, and that includes asking for uncarved pumpkins from those in our area that may be throwing them away. The way I see it, the more they eat OTHER food items, the less feed we have to purchase.

I have everything in a spreadsheet as to how much we've spent for the chickens, food, etc. One of these days, I will get it up to date, but it's difficult to do that until we start butchering.

Kathy Felsted Usher said...

Mealworms- I have seen these dried and they are expensive but you are raising them! That makes sense to me. Is that the Worm . been seeing? It look like a bee hive but it's for raising worms. Not sure if it is regular or meal worms. I gave my chicks left over pumpkin guts but I cooked the pumpkins for us. Maybe some of the stands will want to get rid of their old stock. I will look into that.