Are you interested in raising chickens for meat or egg production? Have you been raising chickens for years? Have you had unexplained chicken deaths or maybe your flock looks like it was in a late night brawl and lost all their back and tail feathers? In this article we will surprise you with our top 5 things most people don’t know about raising chickens and how to keep them healthy.
Fowl Point #1 – Keeping Them Cool With A Wading Pool
Our first and often unknow chicken enigma is why are there sudden chicken deaths in your flock during the summer??? When it’s hot, you may be surprised to learn that shade for them doesn’t work great. The best way to keep your flock from turning extra crispy in the heat of the day is by putting a shallow pan of water on the ground for your chickens to walk in. Chickens keep cool not by panting or sweating but by releasing heat through their feet. Water draws heat out by evaporative cooling. The air is not enough to keep those chicken piggies cool. Just ensure the water is not left in the sun to evaporate or heat up. Chicken soup is not what we are going for here.
Shade is definitely a requirement for reprieve from the elements. So don’t neglect that! However, we used to live in a climate that reached excess of 120 degrees and needed a wading pool. If we did not keep a pan of water out or if we forgot to refill that day, you could be sure we would lose some of our flock no matter how much shade they were in.
Fowl Point #2 – Missing Feathers
The second thing people often ask is, “why do all of our chickens pluck out each other feathers?” There may be a another answer to this such as too many roosters, the rooster has a favorite hen, or the stress due to over crowding in a small area; but more commonly, it’s due to a protein deficiency.
The best way to keep your chickens from pecking at each other is putting them out on pasture. However, sometimes that is not possible like if you live in a city, so we recommend to give them a daily ration of fly grubs. You can find mealworms just about anywhere, but we like to make sure our flock has the highest quality grubs that are non-GMO and don’t come from China. What they eat will correlate over to their health or to the nutrition of what they produce. We use this brand (see here). Make sure to put out enough grubs per chicken to ensure they are getting adequate protein. We like to give about 1/2 – 3/4 cup per per adult chicken. You can give too much protein which will have adverse side affects so be careful not to over do it.
Fowl Point #3 – Guard Geese
The third and most beneficial advice we can give is to ensure you are keeping your flock and not putting out a buffet for predators. This will vary from region to region due to the types of predators around. Most will have common predators such as foxes, coyotes, stray dogs, birds of prey, or other small animals like racoons and possum.
On our farm, we keep most of the predators away by having livestock guardian dogs patrolling around the clock. Just the scent of having them when they were puppies was enough to deter coyotes and foxes. Most large dog breeds will accomplish this, but some don’t have a sense of duty to patrol. Even though the LGD’s are standing guard, we have lost a few chickens to aerial predators.
The best way to ensure your flock is safe from hawks and other birds of prey is to keep guard geese with your chickens. That’s right we said guard geese! Geese are very territorial and will alert you when sky demons are coming to take away your flock one bird at a time. Most aerial predators will not stick around if they are harassed by geese and will look for easier targets.
Fowl Point #4 – Preserving Eggs
Most people don’t know that you don’t need to refrigerate eggs. You can keep them on your counter for months. As long as they don’t get above 80 degrees for a prolong period of time, they stay fresh. There is something you need to ensure if you are going to store eggs this way. When a chicken lays an egg, it’s covered in a film called bloom. This protects the egg from going bad so the chick can develop and hatch. When you wash the bloom off, the egg is exposed to the air and will need to be kept cold. Hence, this why you find eggs in the refrigerator section of the grocery store.
If you get more eggs than you can eat or sell in a season you can store them for up to 2 years! Studies found at 8 months 100% of the eggs were still good. We go into more detail in this article here, but a slaked lime solution will keep them edible for a very long time. People often referred to this as water glassing, but most mislabel this perseveration procedure. The difference between water glassing and using slaked lime is the solutions are very different. Slaked lime is adding calcium hydroxide to water. You will find this type of lime in your favorite box stores’ masonry section or in the pickling section of the grocery store.
Water glassing uses a solution made up of sodium silicate (see here). This is not the earliest or even the best method of preserving eggs in our opinion.
Fowl Point #5 – Cost Analysis
Last, but not least, before you run out to your local feed store to buy those cute little puffy chicks, you should know what the true cost to house and feed them is and see if it’s worth your time and effort.
If you want to reduce your grocery bill and produce eggs for your family, then make sure you read this section to the end.
Raising chickens is fun, rewarding, good for the land and healthy, but it is not cheap! If cost savings is your main goal, then do yourself a favor and just support your local farmers no matter what a dozen of eggs cost. Let me break down the numbers for you so you can see the real cost of farm fresh eggs.
You will need the following as the bare minimum to keep your flock alive. Note: these are average prices. If you are a bargain shopper, then you could get some of these items a bit cheaper.
Cost and Supplies for First Year
- nesting box – $36
- nesting box pads – $24
- chicken waterer / feed tray – $20
- heat lamp for chicks – $15
- coop – staring around $160 or
- a fence – staring around $580
- feed – 50 lbs bag x 24 = $2160
- grit – $8
- fly grubs – $32
Total to start raising chickens, the cost is approximately $385-$800 not including chicks or year’s worth of feed.
If the average chicken lays around 270 eggs, and you have 5 hens, then the first year you may expect to get around 1350 eggs or 112 dozen. At these price points, you will have spent somewhere between $22-$26 for a dozen eggs for your first year. We actually spend more because things tend to break. We need to rebuy items such as waterers or nesting boxes. Of course, having more hens will drive down the cost per dozen. Also, you can use cheaper feeds, but we don’t recommend that at all.
The next time you come across a small organic farmer selling eggs for $6 or $7 a dozen, you will know they are probably not making much profit at all. You won’t feel so enraged by the seemingly high price for nutritionally-dense farm fresh butt nuggets. Remember, grocery store food is subsidized by your tax dollars to produce lackluster quality. Support your local farmer and your health by buying local and fresh.