Raising Egg Laying Chickens

These days it’s becoming much harder to trust companies with the food we eat. Many companies refuse to label their “food products” or like most pizza shops blatantly refuse to divulge their ingredient lists. Many companies spend billions of dollars each year just so that they can keep their ingredients a secret. I’m sorry but to me that is a big clue to the quality of their ingredients and products. If any company can’t tell me what I’m consuming then they can forget my money. My health is more important than their bottom line.

In an effort to know what is entering our bodies, my wife and I try to grow as much as possible ourselves, and make most things from scratch. As you saw in a previous post we raise a specific breed of chicken for meat. We also have another breed that we raise as our egg layers. We raise Black Australorp chickens as our egg layers. We chose them because they tend to be an aggressive egg layer and they don’t mind being cooped up as much as some breeds, which is good since we live in New York. We order all of our chickens from Murray McMurray Hatchery, but feel free to check out other hatcheries. We have just had good luck with this hatchery.

We have fifteen hens and one rooster. We generally get 14-15 eggs per day. We would be fine with only 7-8 hens but some chickens will only lay eggs every other day instead of every day so I didn’t want us to run short. We just give any extra eggs to family or sell them.

There was no way I was going to spend a ridiculous amount of money for a tiny prebuilt coop so I built my own. I figured out how much room I needed for the amount of chickens we would have and it seems to have worked out well. My coop is 8’x8’ and is 7 ½’ tall. I built the coop like a tiny house and placed roosting poles about 3-3 ½’ off the floor so that the chickens would have a lot of room when they were cooped up during really cold weather. I hang the waterier and feeder near the door so that I don’t have to climb into the coop to feed or refill their water. I built an exterior nest box unit so that it is easy for egg collection. I also put tires on the coop so that I could move it whenever and wherever I want to. I’ve been told that I built a chicken Taj Mahal but I wanted a coop that would last for years instead of one that needed repairs yearly. Here are two pictures of my chicken coop.

 

chicken coop 2chicken coop

 

 

Now we enjoy fresh eggs everyday for breakfast as well as for use in our cooking. It’s nice to know exactly what our chickens are eating, knowing that they really are free range and knowing that they are actually living a decent life for a chicken. I do not heat the coop and they do just fine. The only thing I do is add a small 40 watt light so that they still get 14 hours of light throughout the winter months so that their egg production continues. During the really cold parts of winter I change their water twice a day since it freezes. This doesn’t seem to be a real problem until it gets below 10 degrees outside because they produce plenty of heat. I did insulate and wrap the coop with Tyvek to aid in heat retention. I made sure to add plenty of ventilation as well which is key to keeping them warm in the cold winter.

If you live in an area where you can raise chickens for meat or for eggs I highly recommend that you try raising at least one or two. Start small and work your way up to more. They are very easy to raise and take care of. Chickens are pretty neat to watch when they are free ranging and they are great for the land as well. Growing a garden and raising some chickens will help start you on your way to being self sufficient as well as knowing what you are actually eating. Do you raise chickens now? Have you ever thought about raising your own chickens for eggs or meat? I hope this post encourages you to try raising some of your very own chickens and have fun doing it.

Raising Chickens for Meat

Raising meat birds is very easy and if you are conscious about what is in your food, I recommend that you try raising some chickens of your own. I order all my chickens from Murray McMurray Hatchery. I have not had a problem with them and their birds seem to be of very good stock. I buy the XRocks and I order them with no vaccines or antibiotics. They are not genetically modified, they are a cross breed. They are crossbred so that they mature very quickly.  These birds are ready for slaughter in 6-9 weeks. I usually slaughter mine at 8 weeks. If you go too much longer they can start to die off or have health complications. You really don’t gain much by going over 8 weeks. They just continue to eat a lot but not really put too much more meat on.

You will want them in a brooder or some sort of enclosure with a 250 watt heat lamp for the first 3 weeks. I usually order 30 meat chickens at a time and I just took some scrape plywood I had lying around and built a pen 16”x4’x8’ and set it up in one of the spaces in my garage. I then spread out a bag of shavings on the floor. This way I could hang their food, water and heat lamp from the rafters and adjust them easily as the chickens grow. By having the chickens in the garage, they are safe from predators and there should be no cold drafts to worry about. It is also easy to clean up the garage floor when they move out. These chickens eat and drink like crazy so you will want a large feeder and waterier.  I ordered my feeder and waterier from Amazon because my local Tractor Supply didn’t carry any large enough.

After 3 weeks, if the weather is going to be decent for a few days, you can move them outside. I built a 3’x5’x8’ “chicken tractor”. You can see mine in the picture above this post. It only cost around $100. It could have been done a little cheaper. I used pressure treated 2’x2’x8’s to go around the base. I used regular 2’x2’x8’s for the rest of the framing. To save some money you could rip down some 2x4s but I was tight on time when I built mine. I used chicken wire for 3’ of the total length and metal roofing for 5’. This gives them plenty of room to get out of the rain or away from predators trying to reach in through the wire. This is based on Joel Salatin’s chicken tractor model. His are 10’x10’ so I just modified it down in size. My size works perfect for 30-40 meat chickens.

Once your chickens are moved out into the chicken tractor you will want to fill their food and water first thing and move the tractor just enough so that they are off of the ground that they were on the day before. This way they will have fresh grass and be off of their feces from the prior day. This setup works much better than free range for meat birds because it forces them to eat fresh grass and bugs daily. Meat chickens are very lazy and will not free range like egg layers will. This tractor will also protect them from predators. The top screened part of my tractor is hinged with locks on the front so that any predators cannot open it.  I hang the food back under the metal roofing so that if it rains the food doesn’t get wet. You will want to move the tractor before you fill up the food and water. Just slide a dolly under one end with a short piece of wood between the dolly and the top of the tractor to lift the tractor up a bit and then pull from the other end. It moves very easy. Once moved you can now fill the water and food up. If you have to get inside the tractor for any reason you are now standing on clean grass instead of the mess from the prior day.

Your yard will thank you for the fertilization. It doesn’t take long for your yard to recover from the chickens. You do not want to leave them on one spot for more than a day. About the last two weeks you will have to give them food and water in the morning and again when you get home from work. In the summer if it is a real hot and humid day you will want to prop the metal side of the tractor up a bit so that there is some air flow. I just stick a 2×4 under the back side where the metal is and it works well. Just remember to take it out before it gets dark so that predators can’t get in.

When the chickens are ready for slaughter you can either, load them up and pay to have someone else slaughter them for you, or you can slaughter them yourself. I slaughter them myself. This way it saves me money and now I am in charge of how clean everything is. As well as how well the bird is cleaned out and plucked. I feed my chickens locally grown non medicated organic chicken feed. This way I know what they are eating and what they are made of. My last batch of 30 birds yielded around 175 lbs total after slaughter. They are like small turkeys. The meat has so much more flavor and you don’t have to worry about any chemicals ever touching the meat. Its nice knowing what I’m feeding my family is safe and healthy.

Once you have a chicken tractor built it really is easy to raise chickens. I think it only took 5-10 minutes per day until they were ready for slaughter. It takes two people about 3-4 hours to slaughter 30 birds. I’m sure somebody that slaughters chickens everyday could do it faster but this is my average.

It is getting harder to know what is really in our food supply these days and if you are anything like me you can’t afford to go out and buy all organic meat to feed your family but you can grow it much cheaper. You will also feel less dependent on others to supply your family’s food. Chickens are one of the easiest animals to raise for food. Once you taste the meat from the chickens you raised you’ll never want a store bought chicken again. Feel free to ask me any questions you may have and let me know if you want specs for my chicken tractor. I will try to help in any way I can. What is stopping you from raising some chickens of your own (Besides local town laws)? I hope this encourages you to tryout raising your own chickens and becoming more self-reliant. It’s only a 6-8 week commitment so why not try it out at least once?