Most people start raising chickens out of a desire to be more sustainable through egg production. There are plenty of towns and municipalities that while they do not allow most livestock, they do allow a set number of backyard chickens so long as some basic rules are followed.
Chickens are a wonderful way to get started raising animals. Chicks are inexpensive and it doesn’t take that much feed to produce eggs.
Before we get into the breeds, lets go over some basic questions and know how about raising chickens for eggs that can help you decide on the variety that is best for you and your family.
– What are the rules for keeping chickens?
If you are out of town then keep as many as you want and can take care of properly.
If you are in town then you may be restricted to less than 5-10 hens and not be allowed to keep any roosters due to the noise issues they can cause, especially if multiple house in the area have them and the crowing contests begin!
– How many eggs do I want to produce?
You may just want to produce enough for your family to eat and have a few extra to give away to friends or other members of your family.
Some of you preppers out there may want to produce enough to preserve for hard times. Still others may wish to produce a small income with egg production.
Add up how many eggs you go through in a week in your household and then add a few in for good measure. Hens don’t always lay an egg in a 24 hour period. Also in the winter time and when daylight hours get short, they can stop laying entirely so having some preserved in waterglass or similar can help get you through those times without going to the grocery store.
Check out our article on Top Ways To Preserve Eggs for more information on saving your excess for later.
– How much free ranging can I do?
Egg production can be better on free range with some breeds than others. If you have to keep your chickens put up in confinement than a breed like the White Leghorn may suit your needs better.
Keep in mind that if you do not provide green stuff or at the very least the right type of feed, the yolks on the eggs from confinement hens are going to be lighter in color. Crack a store bought extra large white egg next to one you get at the farmer’s market and you will easily see the difference.
You will notice that you do not have to feed as fancy of feed or as much of it if you have some room for chickens to forage and supplement their diet. This can make a real difference with even just a small flock.
In addition, you can have the added benefit of having less insects around your property. Spiders and ticks are not near as much of a problem on properties that have chickens. Over the years there is even a reduction in things like snakes because chickens will eat them when they are still small and not reproducing at all.
1. White Leghorn
Averages 280 eggs per year
When it comes to production, it is is hard to beat the White Leghorn. This is the chicken that most of the eggs you see in the store comes from. These are a production bird and not really a friendly breed nor are they aggressive. If anything, this is a bird that is stand offish when it comes to socializing with people or other animals. I am not saying you can’t tame them down a lot but I am saying that they are not naturally the best chicken if you want pet like chickens.
The egg size is extra large and eggs are always white in color. These chickens don’t go broody or sit so you will have to use an incubator or just buy pullets as you need to in order to keep your flock replenished over the years. Egg production decreases with age.
While the Leghorn does much better in confinement than a lot of other heritage breeds, it is also a very good forager and a naturally active chicken so if you have the space you can make this breed work very well for you. The bright white color does make them very visible to predators though so if you have an owl, hawk, or active small varmint population then making sure they are locked up at night in a chicken house is advisable.
2. Rhode Island Red
This very common heritage breed is a fabulous layer. The egg size is larger than average and you get 250-300 of them each year. The red color is actually closer to orangish brown which makes this chicken less visible to predators than the typical white chicken.
The hens are known for making great pets and being friendly but the roosters can sometimes be more aggressive so you might want to exercise some extra caution if you are keeping a few roosters. Rhode Island Reds will go broody so you can raise some chicks yourself.
Having an incubator on hand if you want to raise a few chicks for selling to supplement the profitability of the whole egg flock project!
These chickens are an interesting egg layer producing about 200 colorful eggs per year.
Eggs have a blue tint to them causing a lot of people to call the Ameraucan “The Easter Egg Chicken”. They make wonderful pets and since they only get to be 4.5-6 lbs they are a reasonable size to manage. This is a chicken that comes in different colors such as red, black, lavender, and blue. The bearded front gives them a very fancy appearance that is hard not to love.
Ameraucana’s are a popular bird for those that like to show. Since they are such a specialty bird they usually have to be ordered from a hatchery and they are one of the more expensive chicks you will buy.
Egg Laying Crosses
1. Red Sexlink
When breeders cross a Rhode Island Red Male and a Rhode Island White Female, this pretty red chicken is a nice addition to the backyard flock, laying about 240 eggs per year.
They look a lot like the Red Ranger meat chicken so they don’t show up to predators like a solid white bird.
2. Black Sexlink
When breeders cross a Barred Rock hen and a Rhode Island Red Rooster you get a nice docile chicken that can provide up to 240 eggs per year.
The eggs are the typical brown variety that you see at farmer’s markets and health food stores.
3. Golden Comets
These are some amazing chickens because they will give you from 250-320 eggs per year, making them a good alternative to the White Leghorn in terms of overall production. The Golden Comet is usually a cross of Rhode Island White female and a Rhode Island Red or other Red male. Some hatcheries have their own varieties of Comets they have bred up over the years so they can vary.
These are not a bad chicken for dual purpose meat and egg production. Males reach about 8 lbs and females reach about 7 lbs. Once hens egg production starts dropping you can butcher and have an excellent stew chicken. If you want fertile eggs then keep 1 rooster per 10 hens for best results.
Extra Tips for Raising Chickens
1. Ordering Versus Buying Chicks or Pullets Local
There are some advantages to buying chicks or young hens locally. When it comes to chicks, it means they have already been started on food and water by someone else and got past that critical first part of life where they are the most susceptible to cold or dehydration.
Buying young hens that are ready to lay or already started laying puts you ahead of the game by months. In fact it can be the difference between getting eggs from your hens this year or having to wait to the following.
If you just want to buy a few chicks it can also be substantially cheaper to just get them at a local feed store or even a Tractor Supply Store. While plenty of hatcheries are making an effort to allow for small orders, there is a surcharge for extra packaging to maintain warmth and you still have to pay the same shipping fee that you would for a large order of 25 chicks.
The biggest disadvantage of buying local is that you are going to be limited in the breeds you can choose from. I am in western North Carolina and the feed stores around here will typically have Red and Black Sexlinks, Golden Comets, Orpingtons, and Rhode Island Reds.
It may vary where you are at but I would not expect to find anything but the more common breeds unless you find some private breeder on Craigslist or similar.
2. Order from a reputable hatchery closest to you
The longer chicks are in the mail, the harder it is on them. There are plenty of hatcheries in the USA. I always went with ones that were a good days drive away at most.
This meant that chicks were only in the mail for 2 days at most. You may even live close to a hatchery and be able to just pick them up and save on the shipping charges.
3. Have things set up before chicks arrive and monitor temperatures
Chicks will need a brooder light and area with feed and something for water. Make sure to use a watering dish that is made for chicks and not too deep. We have used old lids from jars and all kinds of things for watering just a few chicks hatched out on the farm.
Having your brooder light adjusted and set up before they arrive means a quicker and safer start for them overall. You can also measure the temperature below the light.
After chicks are in the brooder you can tell if they are too hot or cold by their body language. If they are all huddled very close to the light or climbing all over each other then they are chilly whereas if they are spread out very far away from the light then they are hot. This can change fast if you are keeping them in barn or something where things cool off a lot at night.
4. Knowing when to add new pullets
Some people get really attached to their chickens but this can make it hard to manage your flock. After a hen reaches two years old, her production begins to drop significantly year after year.
What is acceptable to you is a personal choice but if you are in it for meat and egg production then you need to set up a system for culling birds when needed. Most people just butcher out birds and use them as stew chickens, meaning they are cooked slowly for maximum tenderness.
Pressure canning older chickens is an excellent way to get very convenient meat and ensure that the meat is tender out of older birds. Of course you need to make sure to add some birds to your flock and rotate some out every year once you get going on your egg raising adventures.
Colored leg bands can help you keep track of the age of hens in flocks. For example one year you might put on purple bands and the next generation may have blue bands. It can get pretty confusing if you don’t have a system.
5. Culling bad chickens
Sometimes a bad chicken will pop up in the best chicken bloodlines even. Egg eating is one of the bigger issues.
If you catch a hen eating eggs, it is best to just butcher her out or separate her and feed her up to butcher size. Sometimes hens like this can even teach other hens the bad habit and then you have a real problem on your hands.
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