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Chickens: The Gateway to Self-Sufficiency

It has been quite a while since I've made a blog entry so before I get started I'll give you a quick update. I retired with 23 years of service last April. I hung up my Green Beret and multicam uniform for a set of bib overalls and a hoe. More than that, we sold the 10 acre farm we had in Cadiz, Ky and I bought 20 acres 60 miles to the south in Erin, Tn. As part of that deal, we gained some great neighbors, access to their 200 acres and a singlewide trailer, timber rights to build a log home, and a cooperative homesteading arrangement. Needless to say, there were many tons of household goods, tractors, implements, tools, a bulldozer, guns, ammo, stored food, livestock and more that had to be moved. We have been so busy. I barely have time to read friend's posts on social media, much less write an article. Somehow I also managed to teach a few classes for our www.cagmain.com members. Maybe this article will help to break my work rest cycle and get me motivated to blog about the progress of the log house and general homestead activities. Anyway, on to chickens. I've had chickens most of my life, except for a few years as a single soldier in the Army when I lived in the barracks. My Grandfather raised game birds and that's how it started. Eventually, we ended up northwest of Fort Campbell, Ky where I was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group. Like many, we started out with a few birds just for eggs. A couple years ago we were maintaining a flock of 100 layers and I had plenty of Cross Fit customers that loved our free range eggs. We also raise about 50-75 broilers, turkeys, ducks and heritage pigs on pasture each year for our own consumption. Raising chickens isn't all that complicated. You have two choices, buy baby chicks and raise them to sexual maturity or buy birds that are already laying eggs. Baby chicks can be ordered from a hatchery, purchased from your local farm store, and often there is someone on craigslist hatching them for sale. If you order from a hatchery, typically there is a minimum order of 15. The day old chicks need each other to keep warm on the journey from the hatchery to your door. Often there will be a few dead chicks, especially if you order in winter and the delivery man puts them next to the wall of the delivery truck. In all honesty, this is not my recommended method for getting your first egg layers. It will require that you provide some feeders, waterers, heat lamp, a brooder and chick starter feed (unless you grind your own). The chicks will need to be kept under a heat lamp in non drafty area at 95 degrees the first week. The temperature can be lowered by 5 degrees per week. Once they are fully feathered they will be perfectly fine, even in winter. It will take 4-7 months to get your first egg from these chicks. That's a lot of time for things to go wrong. It's also a lot feed and time. With an initial cost of around $3 per chick and several bags of starter and layer feed, you can buy birds that are laying from someone on Craigslist for $10-$20 each. Of course they will need feeders, waterers and some sort of living space. We save eggs and hatch them in incubators. The cheap and easy method for brooding the chicks is to buy a 2ft x 3ft x 18 inch tall plastic tote from the Dollar Store. Build a frame from 1 inch square wood with legs that keep it a few inches off the floor of the tote. Cover it in 1/4 inch hardware cloth so when the chicks poo it falls to the bottom of the tote. We line the tote with old newspaper to absorb moisture and easy clean up. You can transfer the chicks to a cardboard box for a few minutes while you roll up the soiled newspaper for compost and clean the tote and hardware cloth with the garden hose. You can keep them in the garage, outbuilding or a spare room. We keep them in the house for a week or so after they hatch and then move them to the greenhouse. The 250 watt heat lamp not only keeps the chicks warm but helps with heating the greenhouse. After a another month we move them to their own pen. Since we keep a few roosters in our free range flock (so all are eggs are fertile for hatching), we don't put the smaller birds in with them until they are of similar size. The roosters will mount them and possibly kill them. Once they are big enough they all go into the eggmobile. The egg mobile is an old 32 foot camper frame with a chicken house built on top of it. The floor is old fence wire so the droppings fall through the floor and onto the ground. This is how we fertilize the pasture. The eggmobile gets moved around once every few days. Our chickens free range during the day and go back in the coop to lay eggs or get water. The eggmobile has milk crates for nest boxes, several roosting poles, waterers and feeders. I have 55 gallon drum mounted on the tongue of the trailer with a spigot and hose to fill the inside waterers. They can get about 30% of their food from grass and weeds and a little more from bugs and worms. We supplement their feed with some type of crop we grew, corn, sunflowers, wheat, kitchen scraps etc. Or you can buy pelleted layer feed. The chickens are trained to the eggmobile.  As long as I move it at night, when I release them in the mornings they go right back in that evening. If I move it during the day, the majority of them will stand around where the coop was, even though it has only been moved forward 32 feet from there, it confuses them. Chickens are pretty resilient and if kept fed, watered, given space to roam and a dust bath, will rarely get sick. The most common problem is lice. Don't worry, they don't like humans. Occasionally they will get worms. Diatomaceous earth in their dust bath helps with the body parasites, I don't really think it does much for the worms. If its really bad, I mix up some permethrin in a spray bottle and treat them individually. If I detect worms I'll mix piperazine in their water and confine them until they drink it all. When we raise meat chickens they start out the same way but they end up in 10x12 foot pens on pasture. they get moved daily and eventually free range during the day. They have a 21% protein feed in the mornings and in the evening when its time to lock them up. At 10-12 weeks we process them for the freezer. I have successfully bred the Cornish Cross meat birds with each other and improved the meatiness of Heritage breeds by crossing them. Don't let the internet hype fool ya. They can be a sustainable meat bird if not overfed. I had a Cornish Cross hen for 4 years and she laid enough eggs to keep us in broilers without buying chicks. The only reason she died was because the neighbors dog killed her. There are no dual purpose breeds, at least not in my opinion. I'm spoiled. When I see a chicken ready for the pot, it needs to have some big breasts and thighs. A typical dual purpose breed has sunken breasts and is just too scrawny for my liking. There edible but if I have a choice, I'll raise Cornish Cross or one of the politically correct variants like Red Rangers. Hope you enjoyed this article. If you want some chickens for eggs, just do it. Once you get a few chickens, you'll want some meat chickens. Then some ducks. Eventually a couple goats. Then you'll sell that house in town or the subdivision and move out to the country, where real freedom awaits. De Oppresso Liber AL    
Last modified onThursday, 20 April 2017 06:32

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