Chickens are a large part of a self-sufficient, almost natural lifestyle. Here is an easy guide to finding, nurturing, and securing your future source of free-range food.
Step 1 - Where to search
I searched Gumtree listings on Pets and Livestock, checked the local ads and asked my local farmer friends where I could find chickens. To be honest, it was more complicated than I thought. The pet trade is not popular in local newspapers, and many sites outright ban the sale of animals.
Finally, a friend of mine had eight hens to spare. Even though they were older than I had planned, they were healthy and laying eggs every day. It was a very exciting day when our first hens and one rooster arrived.
During my research, I found an ad for a full chicken business that included a business plan, incubator and brooder box.
I hadn't thought about buying an incubator or raising extra chickens, but it got me thinking. After calculating how many chickens and eggs our farm’s four small households (including dogs) would need, an incubator seemed an obvious choice to truly ensure our free-range healthy eating options. My first incubator is suitable for 60 eggs at a time. I figured that with 20 laying hens it would be perfect and easy to fill.
Step 2 - Provide suitable housing
There are several options. Pinterest has some cute and practical ideas for chicken coops, or you can create your design depending on your space and lifestyle.
The important thing is to provide draft-free, dry, predator-proof accommodation for your flock, with cosy perches for sleeping off the ground. Hens like to feel secure when laying, so you will also need nice egg laying and nesting boxes.
Step 3 - Choose what to keep for future breeding stock
Before long we had so many chickens that I had to think about which chickens I thought would make good breeders in the future. The decision is more than just keeping my favourite birds. It is about whether they are for meat or eggs, whether they thrive in our conditions and the ideal number of chickens for our requirements vs the cost of feeding them.
The optimal number of hens per rooster is 10:1 and there are always too many roosters for the number of hens. Hens have a rough time with too many roosters, so excess boys are separated to be fattened for the table and our pack of dogs.
Step 4 - Make sure what you put in is what you get out
As our goal is a healthy and natural lifestyle, free from added hormones and chemicals, our chickens roam freely and eat healthy feed and vegetables. We plant oats and barley for them to graze, which enables me to feed them a minimum amount of store-bought foods
Step 5 - Keep the flock healthy
Adding natural aloe juice and diatomaceous earth to their diet ensures healthy eggshells and keeps the chickens free of internal and external parasites. We quarantine newly bought-in chickens because any disease or virus spreads like wildfire through the whole flock.
Step 6 - Try different breeds
After our initial 20 hens settled, we soon started getting eggs. After that I couldn’t help myself, I had to try as many varieties and breeds as I could get my hands on!
Some chickens produce different coloured eggs, such as Easter Eggers for green eggs, Marans for gorgeous dark brown eggs, Amerucana for blue and even olive eggs - known as Oliver Eggers.
Did you know: James Bond only eats Maran eggs (shaken not stirred)?
The start-to-finish process of looking for chickens, raising them, and providing a meal for the family is a truly enjoyable experience.
Raising chickens has turned from a hobby and a desire to be self-sufficient into something more of an obsession and the start of many more Chicken Diary tales to come.