A while back Robbyn at The Back Forty asked about chickens on her blog. I somehow miss-sent my reply but I really wanted to respond. So, here are my thoughts (at least the publishable ones) on keeping chickens.
Robbyn's questions and my answers
1. Do you have a particular favorite breed of chicken, and if so what is it and why do you prefer it? Or if more than one, which ones, etc?
I really like Red Star from McMurray Hatchery. They aren't as attractive as some of the older breeds, but they produce a lot of eggs for the amount of feed. We have tried others and have enjoyed the visual aspects of lots of different kind of chickens but for egg production, I haven't found them worth the feed cost.
2. Do you use your chickens for your family, to sell, or both? Meat, or eggs, or both?
We raise ours for eggs for our family and to sell. We only sell from home. Taking the eggs to market was too much work and there were plenty of others with eggs. Currently we have no problem selling everything we can produce.
3. What advice would you give to anyone wanting to start out raising them, other than reading some good books on the subject?
4. Do you primarily keep your chickens in a coop/enclosed chicken yard, or do they roam your property?
Our chickens are enclosed in a yard that we move every few days in the spring, summer, and fall. They follow our herd of goats and cows on pasture, cleaning up the paddocks after we move the herd. We use a coop that we are able to move around the pasture with the chickens.
5. Do you ever let them into your garden? If no, do you have a fence or something to keep them out?
In the fall we move the chickens to the garden for clean-up duty. They do a great job and contribute a lot to weed control, bug control, and fertility. We use poultry netting from Premier 1 to contain our chickens. It keeps them in (unless I forget to trim their wings) and keeps the local predators out.
6. Do you ever use a chicken tractor, and if so, is it for meat birds only? do you use electric/ net poultry fencing? I'm interested in which has worked for you and which has not. What has been your experience with pastured poultry 'a la the Joel Salatin sort (follow behind the livestock grazings at the optimum time), if that applies?
We don't use chicken tractors. We have used them in the past and found them to be a lot more work than we have time for. Well managed they work well, but you must be able to move them often and monitor them well. I've seen whole pens of birds die in hot weather. We get the same effect with poultry netting and a mobile coop. If you have livestock on pasture, following them with chickens or allowing the chickens to share the same space has a lot of advantages. They really help with fly control and manure management. They also use a lot less feed than chickens in containment.
7. Do you keep chickens year-round, or raise them for seasonal processing?
We keep our hens year round. We are finding that moving them off pasture and into a more permanent coop with better protection and light improves our egg production in the winter. We have overwintered our hens in the mobile coop (basically a tent) and had no problem with health or survival, even in 2 feet of snow and -11 deg temps, but egg production really dropped.
8. How many chickens of a certain type do you raise at one time (what works best for you as far as how many to raise at a time?)
We maintain a flock of about 50 hens. This fits the mobile coop we have and seems to work in our system. We could sell a lot more eggs than 50 hens produce, but that would require reducing some other aspect of our farm and we choose not to do that.