Wednesday, May 6, 2009
Taking care of poultry, particularly chickens:
1) Traditionally, the keeper at home on a farm or in a rural area looked after the farm's poultry. She raised a flock to obtain chickens and eggs for her own cooking, as well as to sell eggs to others. The term "egg money" refers to the fact that women often used the proceeds from selling eggs as their personal allowance. From this allowance, they would buy little items they needed for clothing or for the household. Even after many people moved into urban and suburban areas, the term "egg money" was still used to denote a woman's personal spending money, particularly if she had saved it by managing the household expenses carefully or by earning a little extra money in some way.
2) In today's world, it is not always a given that a family will earn egg money by keeping poultry. Large, commercial chicken farms have made both chicken meat and eggs easily available and very inexpensive for most consumers. Most people now turn to their local grocery store than to a local supplier for their broilers, fryers, and eggs, and most stores buy directly from large outfits. Also, the costs of keeping chickens may outweigh any savings produced by keeping one's own flock. Thus, it is not necessarily economical for a family to grow their own flock of chickens, and it is not a given that a family will be able to sell any chickens or eggs if their desire is to make some extra money. On the other hand, many families who have enough land on which to raise poultry enjoy having their own flock, as well as fresh eggs. They are willing to put in the time and expense whether the endeavor is strictly profitable or not. Plus, it is possible, with careful planning to both save money and earn some money by keeping poultry. There are an increasing number of people who are willing to pay extra for home-grown, free-range chickens and farm raised eggs. If you can find a way to tap into this market, you might be able to duplicate the egg money of yesteryear's home keeper.
3) Some people enjoy keeping exhibition breeds of chickens simply as a hobby. There are beautiful specimens of roosters, and these breeds are delightful to see at state or county fairs.
4) If you are interested in raising chickens and have never done so, it's wise to learn all you can before beginning. Also, be clear about what your goals are. Do you want this to be a money-making or money-saving endeavor? If so, you will need to have a clear and realistic plan. Likely, your customers will need to come from among your friends and neighbors, as you cannot compete with the larger operations in carrying eggs to distant markets. If you live in an area where most people already keep their own poultry, you may not have many takers. On the other hand, if you live very near a suburban area where people would be interested in farm fresh eggs, you might be able to find more buyers. Investigate before investing in your laying pullets.
Are you merely interested in supplying your own family with a fresh supply of eggs or chickens? Do you plan to do this for your own or your family's enjoyment? If so, you will need a plan for these things, as well.
Also consider whether you want to produce broilers or layers or both. There are dual-purpose breeds that are adequate for both purposes, but they produce neither the most plentiful, excellent eggs nor the best meat. If you are serious about producing excellent home flocks, you
you might prefer to raise egg-type strains for egg production and/or commercial broiler strains for meat. (Note that roasters are broilers kept beyond the period of 7 to 8 weeks. They are kept up to six months.)
5) Among the cost of keeping chickens might be your initial investments in stock, housing (and possibly brooding and rearing facilities, as well), feed, liter, heating and light for fall and winter, and transportation expenses if you carry eggs or chickens somewhere to be sold. Intangible costs would be the time spent cleaning the chicken house, feeding the chickens, and caring for them in other ways.
5) The most economical laying hens for small flocks are generally small-bodied commercial White Leghorn hens.
6) With careful management, the owner of a home laying flock can expect to receive an average of 20 dozen eggs per hen. Of course, this varies by breed and by the health of an individual hen. If you are raising hens simply for your own family's consumption, you can figure out how many layers you need by counting how many eggs you use per week, adding some extra for damage, and by doing your research to find what breed and how many hens will give you the yield you need.
7) Good lighting is essential to encouraging your hens to maximum yield of eggs. The laying hen needs about 13 to 14 hours of light a day. Thus, from September to April, you will need to supplement natural daylight. One 25 watt clear, white, or frosted incandescent light bulb will provide adequate light for a space of about 100 square feet.
8) When raising poultry, be considerate of your flock, your family, and of your neighbors. Others may become concerned if they are bothered by odors, dust, flies, manure, noise, and dead birds that are not properly disposed of. With care, you can raise a healthy flock and minimize any problems. Also, remember that chickens, like all living things, are vulnerable to diseases and pests. Be sure to check your flock for these problems and to take care of any medical issues that arise.
Here is a good resource for the beginner who wants to build a small home flock. Here is an article about breeds of poultry. Here is another resource about how to feed broilers and layers.
Here is an article about sustainable poultry.