In a previous article we discussed what would be the Best Chicken Breeds for SHTF. If you have not done so, I suggest you read that article as well as this one.
In this article we are going to be discussing how to design your chicken flock for a long term SHTF / TEOTWAWKI situation.
How many chickens would you need to produce enough eggs for you and your family? What about breeding, chicken coop and chicken yard size? Do you want focus on egg production, meat production, or somewhere between the two?
This chicken flock article is part of our Indefinite Sustainability project.
Why would eggs be important during a long term SHTF situation? Its because of their fat, amino acids and protein content.
A couple of weeks ago two of my grandsons spent the night at my house. For breakfast the 6 year old ate 4 eggs, the 3 year old ate 2 eggs. That is 6 eggs a day just for those two grandchildren, what about the rest of the family?
Why my current flock of 13 hens, my wife and I get anywhere from 5 – 10 eggs a day. The 10 eggs were during September and October before the cold fronts started pushing through. After a cold front pushes through, egg production drops down to about 5 – 6 eggs a day.
While the cold weather is here, I need to keep an eye on the chickens to see which ones are laying and which ones are not laying. Some chicken breeds do better then others in cold weather.
How many people do you anticipate being in your group? I would say plan on having 1.5 – 2 chickens per person for steady egg production. Part of the egg production is going to depend on the breed of chicken, the weather, quality of the food sources, and other factors.
What chicken breeds are good for egg production? I am focusing on Australorp, Rhode Island Red and Barred Rock. Egg production is also discussed in the article that was mentioned earlier – Best Chicken Breeds for SHTF, that is why I suggested you read the article.
Australorp – upwards towards 250 eggs a year, cold hardy, heat hardy.
Barred Rock – 150 – 200 eggs a year, cold hardy.
Dominique – one of the oldest chicken breeds in America, lays around 250 eggs a year.
Leghorn – as for food:egg laying ratio, the leghorn is one of the most efficient chickens on the market, laying around 280 eggs a year.
Rhode Island Red – around 200 eggs a year
Egg production should be planned carefully. If you do not have enough hens to meet your needed egg production, its going to be an easy 5 months (around 20 weeks) before hens start laying. Some breeds can start laying as early as 16 weeks, and as late as 24 weeks. So you are talking anywhere from 4 – 6 months before pullets start laying. Then its going to take another few weeks for laying to stabilize.
When pullets start laying, the eggs may have thin shells, the eggs are very small, and the pullets may not lay on a regular basis. Its going to take a little while for the eggs to get larger, shells to get thicker, and the laying schedule to regulate out.
The first eggs that are laid my be spread across the chicken yard or inside the coop, instead of being in the laying boxes.
Do not think you are going to start with a small flock, bam SHTF, then you are going to raise chicks to egg laying age overnight, while the next morning you have a hungry family sitting at the table.
If you plan on having 20 people use your Homestead as a Bug Out Location, what would be your ideal flock size?
If I knew 20 friends and family members were going to show up at my house after SHTF, then I would want 25 – 30 good quality laying hens in my flock.
How are you going to maintain a steady influx of eggs and meat if a SHTF situation last several years? Have a rooster and allow your chickens to breed.
The breeding terms we are going to be using are called Line Breeding, Rotational Breeding and Spiral Breeding.
Inbreeding – allowing closely related chickens to breed.
Linebreeding – crosses between related individuals and their descendants or two cousins.
Rotational Breeding – establish two or more breeding flocks. Chickens produced from flock A are bred with flock B.
Spiral Breeding – establish three breeding flocks, with three separate pens. Rotate out breeding between the males and females between the three pens, with as little inbreeding as possible.
Regardless of what breeding system is used, it is important to cull out birds exhibiting bad behavior, as well as sickly and lame birds.
With inbreeding / linebreeding negative and positive traits can be passed down from the parents to the chicks. Cull out the chickens with negative traits before they can reproduce.
For long term breeding I thought about using some kind of rotational system with 2 pens, and exchanging roosters with my cousin from time to time.
Commercially produced meat chickens are a hybrid cross between a commercial cornish chicken with a White Rock chicken. These chickens are bred specially for butchering before the chicken reaches a certain age. Sometimes these are called broilers, market broiler, or a cornish hen.
The development of a commercial broiler type chicken began with the chicken of tomorrow project. People have been looking to breed better quality chickens for thousands of years. But the commercial breeders have taken it to a whole new level.
A broiler is usually ready to butcher at around 6 weeks old, with pullets weighing 4.5 pounds and cockerels weighing 6 pounds.
Its the crossbreeding and a high protein diet that makes the broiler grow so fast. These broiler chickens are fed a special diet of commercially produced feed, feed that will not be available after SHTF.
If a Cornish broiler chicken is not butchered, it will start to develop health problems, such as heart and leg problems. Some chickens grow faster then their legs, which can result in a lame chicken.
Because broiler chickens require a high protein diet, must be butchered at a certain age, and will develop health problems if not butchered, I suggest staying away from broiler type chickens for a long term SHTF chicken flock.
Chickens serve three main purposes in our SHTF chicken flock – eggs, reproduction and meat. Since broiler types of chickens are not going to live long enough to either lay eggs or reproduce, lets just not even consider them for part of our flock.
The three breeds mentioned in the egg section – Barred Rock, Rhode Island Red and Australorp are all good meat chickens.
The Barred Rock is a shorter stockier bird then the other two. The last time I butchered my chickens, I had nothing but Barred Rocks. They butchered out well and had plenty of meat on them.
On average, and depending on the quality of the feed, and type of chicken, expect to butcher at around 18 – 20 weeks of age. 18 – 20 weeks is also around the same time most hens should start laying. Some breeds can take as long as 24 weeks to start laying. So if they are not laying at 20 weeks, do not get worried.
After around 20 weeks the growth rate of a chicken starts to slow down a little bit. If you want to butcher the chickens, consider the feed:meat ratio. Past 20 weeks of age, you are getting a reduced return on your investment.
Breeding meat chickens – instead of trying to raise 2 or three different types of chickens, consider raising breeds that when bred produce a good broiler chicken. Barred Rock roosters bred to New Hampshire hens produces a broiler type chicken that was popular in the early 20th century.
Eating a chicken after SHTF – awhile back there was a thread in the forum asking how many chickens someone would need to eat two chickens a week.
My personal opinion on the issue, to be able to free-range enough chickens to eat 2 a week, is going to take a lot of land, time and effort.
One of the first numbers used in this article was around 25 – 30 laying hens. If someone wanted to include chicken meat into their regular meals, I would look at raising that number to around 50 – 75 chickens.
To be able to butcher chickens on a regular basis, one would probably need a dedicated breeding flock. Instead of laying hens, something that produces a broiler type chicken like mentioned above.
Chicken Yard / Chicken Coop
Think you and your family are the only ones that like to eat eggs and chicken meat? Think again. Depending on your location you are going to be looking at coyotes, opossums, raccoons, stray dogs,,, only to mention a few.
Lets start with a secure coop that is wind, rain, snow and predator proof. Something that will provide the chickens a place to lay eggs and a place to roost at night.
How much room do chickens need in the coop? Around three square feet to move around. When it comes time to roost, they will bunch up together.
To stop hens from establishing a pecking order in the roost, I built my roost flat instead of at an angle. That way all of the chickens are at the same height, reduces stress, and decreases pecking.
How much room do chickens need in the run or chicken yard? At least 10 square feet per chicken. Ideally chickens should be able to free range where they have access to as much land as they want, but in a lot of situations this is not possible.
The chicken yard I am designing, and hope to build, will give each of my 13 hens around 96 square feet. Outside of the chicken yard they will have access to several acres of open field and wooded property. The wooded property is a mixture of pine trees, oak trees and brush.
Related Article – Chicken Project 6 month Update
96 square feet per chicken leaves a lot of room for growth.
Even if I increased the flock size to 30 chickens, that equals 42 square feet per chicken inside the chicken yard.
The larger the chicken breed, they more they have to eat. The more chickens eat, the more land they need.
Broiler types of chickens do not forage very well, as their body grows faster then their legs. They like to sit next to the feed bucket and let their food be delivered to them.
For the sake of this article we are talking about maintaining a chicken flock in a post-SHTF situation. And as such, we much assume their will be no commercial feed available.
Chickens will be fed table scraps, scraps from the garden, and from there they will have to forage. This is where the light – medium weight heritage chicken breeds come into play. There is a reason why grandma raised certain types of chickens on her farm.
Why have breeds such as the Red Island Reds, New Hampshires, Black Australorp, White Rocks, Barred Rocks, Leghorn, Dominique,,, remained popular for so long? Because they are good quality chickens.
During the great depression of the 1930s, if a chicken could not forage, it probably starved to death. Why are the old heritage breeds still around and so popular? Because they have served rural farmers for generations.
Ok, we have talked about eggs, breeding, meat production, chicken coop and the chicken yard.
So far there have only been three chicken breeds mentioned – Australorp, Barred Rock and the Rhode Island Red. Just because I mentioned those three breeds does not mean they are the “best” breeds.
There are a lot of good dual-purpose chicken breeds out there – Orpington, Sussex, Leghorns, Delawares, New Hampshire,,, only to name a few. Some chickens do well in hot weather, some do well in cold weather. Some lay more eggs then others, some make a better meat chicken then others.
I think its a matter of picking the qualities that you want in your flock, and then picking a well rounded breed to serve the purpose you need.
For my SHTF / TEOTWAWKI chicken flock, egg production is first, with meat / butchering qualities being second.
Since I live in southeast Texas, I need a chicken that can tolerate the 100 degree summer daytime temps.
Did we miss anything?
Forum Thread – Chicken flock for SHTF.