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  • Love and Liberty

Raising Chickens

I consider chickens to be an essential part of living independently of the Government controlled system. The day is coming when people will not be able to go to the grocery store and buy food for their families. If you have not read the previous post that reflects on the Lord speaking of the beginning of sorrows, and information we have learned about dairy goats, please go here first.

When it comes to chicken breeds, White Leghorns are the cream of the crop as egg layers, but they are smaller than some other breeds that have high egg laying rates and that will also provide more meat. Cornish Rocks can be raised for food but they will not lay many eggs. They grow quickly; perhaps too quickly at times as their frames cannot always keep up with their weight gain and this can limit their mobility. Why care about their mobility if they are just going to be eaten? Chickens need to be able to move around so they can forage for food, scratch in the dirt, and so they are not sitting in their own excrement. Its not that all Cornish Rocks have this problem, but it is something to keep in mind. We raised a batch of Cornish Rocks and did well with them, but its not a breed that I will be raising again.

So there are some chickens that lay a lot of eggs but are smaller, and there are chickens that can be raised for meat purposes but will not produce many eggs. For this reason, I think a dual purpose breed is the best option when it comes to owning chickens. My favorite breeds of chickens are Rhode Island Reds, Black Australorps, and Barred Rocks, probably in that order. Surplus roosters can be raised for the dinner table, and hens that have passed the laying stage can be eaten as well. These chickens have been bred to lay lots of eggs (even though they don’t reach the output of the White Leghorns, but they will be heavier than the White Leghorns), so be mindful of the fact that they are not broody, generally speaking. If you want a few chickens that will set, that is, that will stay on a nest of eggs until they hatch, you will probably want to get some bantams.

I have been asked this before, so I will go ahead and address it - you do not need a rooster for hens to lay eggs. You only need a rooster if you want fertilized eggs for hatching. Of course I do recommend having a rooster for that very reason. If you don’t have a rooster, your hens will not reproduce. Chicks will hatch after the hen has kept them warm around 21 days. If you happen to see the eggs starting to hatch, let the chicks work their way out of the egg without assistance, no matter how tempting it may be to “help.” They are not in danger and they need to go through the hatching process naturally.

Hens are good mothers. They are protective of their chicks and they may peck your hand for trying to touch the chicks. It may just surprise you more than it hurts, but you should expect it. It’s amazing how God’s creatures will protect their young. They do a much better job than a lot of human parents do, but that’s a subject for another post. The Lord Jesus related the care of a mother hen to how he will care for and provide for those who will follow him:

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

I believe it was John Phillips, the late Bible commentator that relayed a story about how a mother hen had protected her chicks during a fire. I don’t remember the context, but I found another example of the same. After a fire in Yellowstone National Park, two people were walking up a mountain assessing the damage. One of them saw a bird that had been burnt to ash, and the body was sitting at the base of a tree. One of the two knocked the bird’s burnt corpse over with a stick, and out scurried three chicks. This mother bird could have flown to safety, but she protected her chicks on the ground and died protecting them. This is creature love; an instinctual love that even the animals have for their young. How much more does God expect from us as beings made in his image? How many have abandoned natural affection for selfish pursuits?

Chickens are not big, but they have courage. I can’t recall the number of times a rooster (usually a bantam rooster) has flogged me or one of the kids. They have spurs that can certainly hurt, and an aggressive rooster can be intimidating to little kids, but most of the time it is something we laugh at. One made the mistake of running up to one of my children years ago when she was small and the rooster flogged her. That rooster ended up on the dinner table. Kids love to chase chickens, and once they catch them, they love to carry them around.

In Texas, chicken snakes will steal your eggs, and foxes, coons, coyotes, and chicken hawks will steal your chickens. We have no snakes, coons, or coyotes here in the interior of Alaska, but a fox did a number on my chicken population this past year. There are multiple ways one can deal with an egg stealing chicken snake. Some will put a golf ball or a ceramic egg in the nest that will kill the snake after it is swallowed. I think it was my father that gave me the idea of putting a fish hook inside of an egg and tying it off to something. When the snake swallows the egg, he will also swallow the hook, and he will be there when you arrive – but you will have to put the snake down. You can also buy netting and place it around the area where your chickens lay their eggs. If the snake gets through it, he probably won’t get back through it after swallowing an egg or two (or three or four). We have walked outside before and found a snake that had gotten tangled in the netting. Snakes will also eat chicks and possibly suffocate the hen. A chicken snake will not be able to swallow a hen, but it could try – by swallowing her head. She will suffocate, but the snake will have to regurgitate the head.

It is important for chickens to get lots of protein. The best thing you can do for chickens is to feed them scraps from the dinner table. Chicken and fish bones, the last bits of a carcass from a hunt, meal worms, etc., are perfect for feeding to chickens. They will eat anything, and I do mean anything, but make sure they are getting plenty of nutrients. They also need constant access to water. It would also be good to throw grass, tree limbs, leaves, etc., into their pen for them to scratch. Chickens will act like they are always hungry, but sometimes that just need something to scratch and pick through and it will keep them occupied.

As the last post about dairy goats, this information is not exhaustive, but it can give some starter ideas. Perhaps later we will go through the details of butchering a large quantity of chickens all at once.

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