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Choosing chickens for your homestead is a wise decision when you are new to homesteading. Getting started with chickens is the simplest form of livestock for beginners. They can produce food in the form of meat and eggs. The abundance is easily sold to the public, which will provide an extra income for you. Chickens are super inexpensive to buy. Chicks at the local farm store run anywhere from $1.50 to $3.50 a chick. Adults in local ads go for sometimes $10.00 for a half a dozen birds. This makes them more affordable compared to other forms of livestock such as sheep, cows, and goats. They can be a great 4-H project for children also.
Breed and Standard
The term “breed” simply means a group of related chickens. These are generally the same size and shape. Most have similar skin coloring and similar feather style. They will have the same number of toes, and the same shape or style of comb on their heads. The type of breed you choose will depend on what you want the chickens for. There are breeds for cold weather as well as warm weather climates. Some breeds are far more tasty to eat than others. Some breeds are known for their good and bad temperaments, and so on.
The term “standard” is used by the American Poultry Association when judging poultry. It shows certain characteristics that judges look for in a particular breed. Knowing a little about breeds and standards can help you in your decision of choosing the right chickens. If you are looking to have specific colored eggs then read Colorful Chicken Eggs: Which Breeds Lay Which Colors.
Meat Chickens vs Laying Chickens
Certain breeds of chickens have been bred specifically for meat and some breeds are bred for egg laying. A female of a breed that was bred for meat will still lay eggs. However, she will not lay the abundant number of eggs a chicken bred for egg laying will. Chickens bred for meat are bred to gain less weight to make for better eating. A chicken bred for laying at the same age would be much tougher as they grow bigger faster. It is a better choice to pick a meat chicken or a layer chicken, dependent on your purpose. You can always raise both. You will have to keep them separate from each other as their eating habits are different. For detailed information on checking the freshness of chicken eggs read 3 Methods for Testing Freshness in Eggs.
The Role of the Rooster
There are two major points about roosters that are often misunderstood. The first misconception is that you need a rooster to have eggs. That is absolutely false. Hens lay eggs whether or not there is a rooster around. However, if you want those eggs to become baby chickens, the rooster is a necessity as he fertilizes them.
The second misconception is that roosters are supposed to wake everyone up at 6 am! Newsflash! Roosters crow whenever they want to and it is usually when you don’t want them to. Roosters are noisy creatures. If you have neighbors that may be unhappy with all the ruckus you may want to reconsider having one.
Another note worth mentioning is that if you get a rooster, get 1 rooster. Roosters can be territorial and you really only need one rooster for about every 6 to 12 hens.
Other Decisions in Choosing Chickens
Once you determine the purpose of your chickens it is time to decide on how many and what stage you want to purchase your chickens at. In deciding on how many chickens you need, keep this in mind, in an average summer, three hens will provide about a dozen and a half eggs per week. My suggestion for starting out is 6. If something happens to one or more due to weather, predators or sickness, you are still likely to consistently get that dozen and a half eggs. The abundance can always be given away or sold. Here where I live, we sell a dozen white eggs for $3.00, and $3.50 for brown eggs!
Choosing Chickens by Stage
The last decision you need to make in choosing chickens is at what stage you will buy them at. The stage at which you buy them at determines what you will need to prepare for before you actually get them home.
Below I have compiled a short list of the four stages that chickens are at when available for purchase. Looking at the explanation that follows each stage should help you make a better determination as to which stage you would prefer when choosing chickens for your homestead.
Stages of Chickens Sold and Their Descriptions
- Eggs: Fertilized and ready to be shipped so you can incubate them yourself. This route can be costly with a 50 % survival rate.
- For more information read Artificial Incubation Methods.
- Day Olds: Purchased usually in the spring, cheaper that adults or pullets but only 70 to 100 % survive to adulthood.
- For more information read Raising Baby Chickens.
- Pullets: females less than a year old. less risk, probably the best bet to start with.
- Adults: already mature, more expensive based on the breed, usually bought from individuals.
- For more information read Adult Chickens on Your Homestead.
When choosing chickens for your homestead it is important to first have a goal in mind for why you want to have them in the first place. Knowing how many you need and what stage to buy them at will assist you in making a better thought out decision for your first venture. The more you learn and plan out your decision in choosing chickens right from the start the less stressful it will be and the better prepared you will be when they finally arrive.
So Whats Next After Choosing Chickens?
Now that you have made the choice of what chickens you want on your homestead you need to provide those chickens with some essentials for their survival. In the next post, Chicken Housing for Your New Chickens, I explain the types of housing and materials needed whether you buy an already made house or build one yourself. Already have a coop? Check out Raising Baby Chickens or Hatching Chicken Eggs on the Homestead to see what steps are involved to ensure a healthy life from the start, or Adult Chickens on Your Homestead if you plan or purchasing adults locally.
For some great tips of picking breeds for your homestead, read Tips for Selecting Chicken Breeds from The Chicken Chick
Do you already have chickens on your homestead? Leave me a comment on what breeds you chose and how many you are raising!