My experience with chickens
In 1999 my family and I moved to my dads piece of property to live. It was the first time in my husbands and my married lives we had a place we could raise farm animals for food and fun. We quickly jumped in with both feet and often felt like we were in over our heads at first. As it all looked easier watching other seasoned person’s farm, than us actually doing it. With Chickens we had predator problems to address within a short while. We soon found out how many things love to eat chicken! I mean raccoons, possum, rats and even the neighbors roaming dogs. We had to make pens offensively, keeping chickens in and defensively keeping other unwanted dinner guests out. We tried many different ways and found what worked for our farm. I started experimenting with chickens over the years and we soon developed the farmers mantra. Always plan for the worst and hope for the best!
Years ago when we started raising chickens I wanted them for eggs but also if we ever needed, for meat as well. So thru the years I raised all kinds of chickens trying to find the best layers for our family and ones that would be good meat birds if we ever needed them to be that for us. Back then I replaced a few birds a year with new ones and the older ones that didn’t lay well any more I gave away. What I found out back then is no one breed is the best. The genetics vary from hatchery to hatchery and back yard breeder to back yard breeder. I could buy a batch of, let’s just say……. barred rocks, from a hatchery and a batch at the same time from a person along the side of the road. And that old farmer, from the side of the road, that has raised them for years carefully watching his genetics would have a far superior bunch of chickens. For eggs and meat. OR I have found some hatchery birds to be superior to some people that just let their chickens hatch out some barred rock chicks, they were far inferior to those I got from the hatchery. So basically chickens can be as complicated or as easy as you want to make it. I mean when you buy from a hatchery you are going to get a bird that best represents what that bird is to people today. And when you read a very old article about how great one breed is over another. Back then that might have been so when so many people breed for quality in their back yard. I personally don’t have a lot of money…or time, to go around researching the best flock in the nation and pay a lot to buy some in order to have good eggs and meat. ;)
So for years I settled on a few of my favorite breeds and just kept those. Mainly Buff Orphingtons, Barred rocks and a few others that we found reliable and good for our situation. My son also raise silkie bantams for fun to sell.
Then I started having some severe health problems six or seven years ago. The short of the story is I HAVE to have my food untampered with by man (not processed) with no chemicals or I have huge food reactions that effect me very negatively and my quality of life becomes very poor. I actually went from being a vegetarian for many years to having to eat meat to keep my weight up. As it was some of the only foods that didn’t give me a horrible reaction because I had not ate much of it. So organic meat is what I have to eat. (along with a few other things) The meat cannot be sprayed with anything at all to keep it from discoloring. Organic meat is so hard to find and afford. So again I turned to what we could do here on the farm. I already ate a lot of deer as I didn’t have reactions to that. I did try buying meat chicks and raising them. But they were so altered in their ways and bodies and so many had health troubles from being raised so quickly to butcher weight. I realized that was not the way to get me meat. After watching them grow all nastily and butchering them I could not bring myself to eat them. They just seemed so unclean. My kids didn’t like them either. So I started, again, to researching what breed of chickens were great for both meat and eggs. One year I bought a huge amount of birds to raise. I called it the “great chicken experiment” I had read all the older articles I could find on the best bird for both meat and eggs and bought all those breeds. I raised them all up side by side. And butchered (yes I learned to butcher, it is amazing what one will do in order to eat ) one of each kind at 20 weeks and let the rest of each breed go on to lay. Not a huge professional experiment but good enough for us. Participating in the experiment was Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orphingtons, Barred Rocks, Black Astroplops, Easter Eggers, Dark Cornish, and Delaware’s. And what I found thru the small experiment I did was the Delaware’s won. They grew meatier and grew to a butchering weight faster. The Buffs looked huge before butchering but afterwards must have been all feathers when laying the carcasses side by side because the Delaware’s always won.
As a side note, I did like the dark Cornish for meat too. Good size breasts on those things but they stunk at laying and were a bit scrappy and wild to handle. If I had a lot of money and could just hobby breed, on the side, that would be my choice. Lovely, beautiful birds.
For the last six years I raised Delaware’s and was quite happy with them. But the feed bill has went up, up, up with all the economy is doing.
Two years ago a friend of mine called me and asked if I wanted to buy a few of his chickens. He said they were the best layers he had ever worked with and ate such a small amount. Well, I was all for that. But they were White leghorns. Sigh. We for no reason at all just like brown eggs. But he was sincere and I thought why not. What’s three more small chickens. So I bought three and every since the day I bought them they did lay an egg a day. Every day when the kids came in from gathering eggs I had a several brown eggs from my Delaware’s and always three white eggs. And they didn’t seem to eat much. So you know what. I changed over. I have a Delaware roo. And a few Delaware hens. But the whole rest of my flock is white leghorn now. And the amount of chicken feed we use has been cut in half. As they lay an egg a day, eat less and I need half as many hens to supply my large family with all the eggs we eat every day. And you know what? I have learned that a chicken, is a chicken, is a chicken. And no matter how skinny or small makes excelled soup. :)
So for my “hard times” flock. I have the Delaware roo in case I need to raise my own birds. A few good Delaware hens(that do go broody sometimes for raising chicks) that are excellent sitters and the rest of the flock is White leghorns. For us, our family and budget. This really works for us.
I now usually buy a bunch of low cost rooster chicks and raise them once a year to fill our freezer for my food needs.