If you just started homesteading, no doubt you are wondering what kind of livestock you should raise. Although they are small, chickens are arguably one of the best animals to raise on your small farm. These animals are not only inexpensive to raise, but are also incredibly easy to care for.
1. They’re multipurpose
Chickens are great animals to raise on your homestead because they have so many purposes. They are an excellent source of eggs, meat, and fertilizer. If you choose to raise dual-purpose breeds, you don’t have to choose between eggs or meat and can raise birds that are able to lay eggs until you are ready to butcher them for meat.
2. They have low space requirements
To ethically raise a chicken, you only need to provide it with about four square feet of space. They don’t require a heating system in the winter time, as they will huddle together for warmth, but you will need to provide a place for them to nest and lay eggs if you plan on keeping them for that purpose.
3. They have minimal feeding needs
Chickens are nature’s garbage disposals–they will eat just about anything! You can feed them everything to compost, weeds, refrigerator leftovers, or store-bought feed. Although you should make sure your chicken’s diet is nutritious and not full of junk, it is surprisingly inexpensive to feed a flock (even large ones approaching numbers in the triple digits).
You should make sure your chickens have some access to poultry pellets, which include essential foods such as wheat, salt, sunflower seeds, and oats. These are full of carefully balanced quantities of protein, vitamins, and minerals so that your chickens will grow and continue to produce eggs. You can feed chickens table scraps, such as vegetable peels, apple cores–even potato peels (it’s a misconception that chickens are picky eaters and won’t eat potatoes). At the end of the day, you can feed your chickens just about anything, as long as they receive plenty of access to whole grains, and low-salt, low-sugar foods.
4. You can set up automatic systems
Once you have familiarized yourself with the ins and outs of raising chickens, it is easy to set up automatic systems to save yourself time, money, and energy. Chickens need less than one cup of food per day per bird. While some people prefer to throw chicken pellets straight on the ground and let chickens peck at them, this is wasteful and time-consuming. You might next consider a trough.
Better yet, set up an auto feeder. You can easily build an auto feeder with two lengths of pipe, one cut in half and attached with a hose clamp to the other one. This can be suspended from your coop wall to allow your chickens easy access to a constant, clean, and dry supply of food. This means you will only have to fill it every few days (or weeks, depending on how many chickens you are raising). Autofeeders can also be made out of repurposed trash cans, barrels, and buckets.
A similar system can be created for water. It’s crucial to supply your chickens with regular access to fresh drinking water. Each bird needs a pint a day of water, more in hot water. Dirty water can spread disease, and if your chickens become dehydrated, they won’t grow as quickly or produce as many eggs. Water fountains can be purchased for a low cost from feed stores, or you can fashion large-capacity water fountains from livestock barrels and poultry nipples to save some serious tie and money. This means you may only have to fill your chicken’s water supply once a week or so.
Another automatic system that can be incorporated is an automatic coop door system. One of the biggest (and only) hassles of raising chickens is opening the coop door and closing it at night. The coop door must be shut to deter predators, but you can purchase an automatic door for less than two hundred dollars so that you don’t have to be around at all.
5. They require no veterinarian visits
No vet checks are required for chickens. While they may come down with minor sniffles or even major diseases, in most cases you don’t need to provide them with medical attention. They don’t receive vaccinations, and they breed themselves, unlike dairy cows which need to be bred for them to keep producing milk.
6. They are easy to clean up after
Although you must be sure to clean your chicken coop every few weeks or so, you can use just about anything for bedding. Popular beddings include shredded paper, sand, and wood shavings. Just toss the bedding in there and go in every now and then to scrape it out and add new bedding. If you’re particularly disinterested in cleaning the coop and have a concrete or dirt floor, you can utilize a layered bedding method in which you simply let the bedding decompose on top of itself.
7. They produce lots of delicious byproducts
Depending on the breed of chicken you decide to raise, you can expect to get five to seven eggs a week per bird at maximum capacity. These eggs can be eaten, saving you time and hassle at the grocery store, or fed to other livestock. Free range chicken eggs are higher in nutritious omega-3s. You can also save them and incubate them (with the purchase of an inexpensive incubator) to raise your own chicks the following year, saving even more money.
If you decide to raise your birds for meat, you can expect to get four to five pounds of meat per bird, on average. The meat is usually more nutritious and delicious than store-bought meat and will store for months in your freezer.
Finally, chickens also produce poop, which, while not exactly delicious, is an excellent fertilizer for your garden. You have to do absolutely nothing for this important byproduct. Simply clean your coop and throw the soiled bedding into the compost, or spread it directly on your garden for nitrogen-packed fertilizer.
If you’re hoping to make the most of your homestead space and your precious time, consider raising chickens. You can raise hundreds for minimal effort and expense and will have plenty of fun doing it.
Rebekah is a part-time homesteader. On her 22 acres, she raises chickens and bees, not to mention she grows a wide variety of veggies.