Healthy Raising of Chickens for Eggs and Meat

My husband, kids and I have been keeping a chicken coup for 16 years since we bought our first 10 acre farm in south central Ontario that came with its own coup and 6 Barred Plymouth Rock laying hens. With only six birds we were blessed with a constant supply of brown eggs most of which we had difficulty fitting into an extra large egg carton. The dark, orange yolks made for a delicious, nutritious egg. Free run chicken eggs are much higher in the Omega 3-6-9 fatty acids and therefore are a healthier choice. Our original coup resembled a garden shed with nest boxes inside. A fenced- in chicken run allowed them to peck vegetation and bugs outside during the spring, summer and fall months. Being next to the dog kennel detracted predators from attacking the flock and we experience no predator casualties from racoons, foxes or rats during our six years at this location. Our barn cat who we would often find sitting in the coup left the chickens alone but kept the rat and mouse population to a minimal level. Our birds were always healthy and produced eggs regularly past their second year.

After six years, we moved to a much larger property. It had three barns including an old dairy bank barn with several stalls. Unfortunately there was no pre-formed chicken coup so we converted a large stall in the dairy barn to service our needs. With the addition of four large nest boxes and a fenced in chicken run we had a makeshift chicken coup that served us well for a few years. We made our first foray into raising roaster chickens of the Cornish Cross variety our first summer. For the next two years we faired well losing none to predation. However, our third year of raising these birds we were not so lucky. One morning before leaving for shopping we checked on a new brood of seventy chicks only a few days old. All but ten were gone! At almost $2 a bird that was a fair investment gone which by careful watching we determined was due to Norway rats burrowing through the stone foundation of the barn. It was a tough blow, but we repaired the foundation, trapped the rats and started again, this time keeping the chicks in a wired cage so they would be safe from predators. This system seemed to work for several years but more and more often we would lose birds to other predators most often racoons. It was difficult for the dogs to patrol such a large barn and their kennel was not close. This past summer we lost the last of our egg-laying flock (4 birds) to racoons and that prompted us to rebuild the coup in the barn we had been using for tractor storage. The dog kennel is beside this barn and therefore, the coup is constantly patrolled by our dog Rosco.

The following lay out the specifics of our relatively successful adventures in raising chickens for their eggs and meat.


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Old barn with dog kennel attachedOutdoor chicken run.Windows for natural light.Nest boxes off the ground for egg laying.Wooden ladder used as raised perch for birds.
Old barn with dog kennel attached
Old barn with dog kennel attached | Source
Outdoor chicken run.
Outdoor chicken run.
Windows for natural light.
Windows for natural light.
Nest boxes off the ground for egg laying.
Nest boxes off the ground for egg laying.
Wooden ladder used as raised perch for birds.
Wooden ladder used as raised perch for birds.
Opening just above ground level leading to outdoor chicken run.  Latching door closed at night to reduce risk of predators entering coup.
Opening just above ground level leading to outdoor chicken run. Latching door closed at night to reduce risk of predators entering coup.
Click thumbnail to view full-size
Keeping chicks in a smaller pen prevents them from straying too far from each other and keeps them close to heat lamp.  It is essential chicks be kept very warm for first couple of weeks.An automatic chick feeder is essential to provide a continual source of feed throughout the day.Chick feeder with central rotating bar which keeps chicks from contaminating food by preventing them from sitting in feeder.Large automatic water canister.  We keep two in the coup while raising roaster birds.
Keeping chicks in a smaller pen prevents them from straying too far from each other and keeps them close to heat lamp.  It is essential chicks be kept very warm for first couple of weeks.
Keeping chicks in a smaller pen prevents them from straying too far from each other and keeps them close to heat lamp. It is essential chicks be kept very warm for first couple of weeks.
An automatic chick feeder is essential to provide a continual source of feed throughout the day.
An automatic chick feeder is essential to provide a continual source of feed throughout the day.
Chick feeder with central rotating bar which keeps chicks from contaminating food by preventing them from sitting in feeder.
Chick feeder with central rotating bar which keeps chicks from contaminating food by preventing them from sitting in feeder.
Large automatic water canister.  We keep two in the coup while raising roaster birds.
Large automatic water canister. We keep two in the coup while raising roaster birds.

The Chicken Coup

Our new chicken coup was built in the back corner of an old barn behind our house. As we live in south-central Ontario it gets very cold in the winter. Therefore, this coup was framed-in using 2X4's with plywood walls and the walls and ceiling were insulated using fiberglass insulation. Windows were added in two places to provide adequate natural light and an entrance to the outdoor pen with a secure door to prevent predator entrance at night was added. At 14X12 feet, it is big enough to house 15 to 20 permanent egg-layers and a transient flock of 60 meat birds (which we raise only every two years). Four nest boxes provide a place for eggs to be laid and a ladder provides a roosting spot as we have discovered over the years that the birds prefer to rest higher off of the ground. As well, we installed electricity in the coop as the chicks require heat lamps and the laying hens require approximately 16 light hours per day to lay eggs so a light source from late October until May is necessary so the hens do not stop laying.

Read More About Raising Your Own Chicken Flock

CARING FOR CHICKS

Most often we buy our chickens from a hatchery through our local farmer's co-op. We are able to buy several breeds of egg-laying chickens as well as the Cornish Cross white bird which has been bred specifically for consumption of its meat. At the present time, we are raising Shaver sex-linked chickens for eggs. They are winter hardy and provide abundant eggs. The Cornish Cross chickens put on weight quickly and after 12 weeks range from 8 to 12 or more pounds. In order to protect the chicks from predators and to keep them together for warmth and so they do not stray too far from the heating lamp, we keep them in a wire mesh cage about 3X3 feet (will comfortably house up to 70 chicks for 2 to 3 weeks). Their environment must be kept at about 95ºF for the first week and then gradually cooler over the next three weeks. We keep two heat lamps about 8 to 10 inches from ground level for the first week and then gradually raise them over the next three weeks. The chicks can move around in the cage, closer or farther away from the lamps to stay adequately warm. After three weeks, one lamp is removed. After about 3 weeks, the wire cage is also removed so the chicks can wander. As we have full grown egg layers in the same coup, we remove the cage gradually by peeling back the wire mesh from one side of the cage allowing the chicks to wander out at will and also providing a safe, familiar place to retreat. All birds have a pecking order and the chicks do experience some pecking from the adult birds upon first introduction. We have found the pecking not to be life threatening and as the adult birds have been exposed to the chicks from day one, it lasts less than a week after which egg layer and roasters live together in relative harmony.

FOOD AND WATER REQUIREMENTS

Chicks require a constant supply of water and feed. Water is supplied by an automatic waterer placed on a wood slab or concrete block to reduce shaving contamination. The feeder used for the first three weeks of life is a trough low enough for the chicks to easily access feed with a central rotating bar to keep chicks from sitting in the feeder and contaminating the feed. In the first three weeks of life, stress-reducing vitamins are added to the water and the feed used is a medicated chick starter containing about 24% protein. During this time they will have consumed about 2 25 kg bags of medicated feed. At about 3 weeks of age the chicks are transferred to a non-medicated chick grower which contains about 20% protein and more fat. The feed is distributed into two large canister type automatic feeders. Two automatic water containers are used which together hold about 9 gallons of water. In the hotter weather, these containers are filled about 3 times per day. When the weather cools, they are filled morning and night. The last two weeks (for us about week 11 and 12) the chicks are fed a chick finisher which is high in fat and energy and contains about 18% protein. At about 5 weeks of age, 60 birds will consume about one 25 kg bag of feed per day (at about $15 per bag). The last two weeks they tend to consume about half of that. After 12 weeks, the Cornish Cross birds weigh on average between 8 and 15 pounds. Roosters tend to weigh out heavier than the hens. Egg laying birds tend to remain much lighter.

PECULIARITIES OF CORNISH CROSS CHICKENS

When we buy our roaster birds, we buy an unsexed mix as it is much cheaper to do so. The Cornish Cross birds have been bred to gain weight fast. Unfortunately, their hearts do not grow fast enough to keep up with the weight gain and it is not unusual to find birds suddenly dead. The cause is usually a sudden heart attack. We noticed this phenomenon along with birds developing crooked legs due to the quick weight gain. In the past, we had bought our chicks in April or May and took them for processing mid-July to early August. In south-central Ontario, April and May are still very cool or cold months while July and August tend to be very hot. Consequently, we required more heat lamps to keep the chicks warm and we always lost a number of birds to sudden heart attacks before processing time. For the last few broiler flocks, we tried a new system by buying the chicks in August when it was warm. By the time the birds were getting larger in October, the weather had cooled off significantly. We discovered that we had lower chick mortality and lost virtually no birds to sudden heart attacks and had few or no birds with crooked legs. As well, the growing birds more comfortable in the cool weather actually gained weight more efficiently. The average weight of our flock was about 3lbs heavier starting the chicks in August! After 12 weeks, we take the birds to a local processor who provides us with cages for transport. The processor we use is government inspected. Each of our birds is examined and must pass inspection as being safe for consumption. They are chilled according to Canadian poultry guidelines and labeled with their weight. As we are able to legally sell up to 300 birds, we decide on a selling price based on feed prices that year and that is also added to to the label.

WHAT TO DO WITH EXTRA EGGS AND BROILERS

My husband's co-workers are big fans of our eggs and poultry. They are willing to pay $4 dozen for our eggs. His co-workers tend to set the price for our eggs and have gradually offered to pay more per dozen over the years. Our eggs are usually extra large with dark, orange dense yolks. As they are free range they are said to be higher in vitamin D, beta carotene, vitamin E, vitamin A and omega-3 fatty acids and have lower cholesterol levels than commercial eggs.1 Although our eggs have not been laboratory tested, they are highly sought after. Our broiler birds are also always sold well before they are ready. We set their price based on feed prices for that year. This year we will sell for about $4 per pound and will have no trouble selling 35 birds (we tend to keep 10 to 15 for our own freezer). Again, our roaster birds are raised as free range. The have access to pasture and their diet is supplemented with fruit and vegetables grown on our farm. The taste and texture, from our experience, of free range birds is far superior to that of most store bought.

Although time consuming and often quite a stinky process, the raising of birds for roasting provides us with low cost poultry for our family, factoring in the selling of our extra birds. We always have egg layers on the farm. We have not bought eggs in over 16 years and comparing store bought with the quality of our own I cannot see us in the long foreseeable future buying again from a supermarket.


1. http://www.motherearthnews.com/eggs.aspx

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Comments 32 comments

BabyCheetah profile image

BabyCheetah 5 years ago from Melbourne

Great hub and very informative. We don't live in the country but closer to the city, we have a backyeard but simply not big enough for chickens although I really wanted 1 or 2 just to have eggs without having to buy them from the supermarket. It's a shame but it's great that you have been able to do this for 16 years :)


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks BabyCheetah. Yes we are lucky. We've lived and learned throughout those 16 years but I have to say we looove our farm fresh poultry and eggs! Perhaps your circumstances will change at some time and those 1 or 2 chickens will become a reality!


kirsib profile image

kirsib 5 years ago

Very informative hub and I love seeing chicken treated like animals should. Very good hub!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks kirsib. We like to treat all of our animals with respect and dignity. Our Cornish chickens may not live a long life but they get the best of food and drink while with us.


thougtforce profile image

thougtforce 5 years ago from Sweden

Very informative and interesting hub! I like your chicken coup, it looks so light and it seems that they have enough space, as it should be. I had chickens before when I lived in the country and sometimes I miss both the chickens and their eggs! I do not miss the stinky process though, but when you have them it is no problem at all:))

Thanks for a very good hub that show how chicken should be treated.

Tina


Shawn Scarborough profile image

Shawn Scarborough 5 years ago from The Lone Star State

Thanks for the detailed information you provided. I was especially interested in the information about protecting the chickens from predators.

My wife and I are hoping to move out of the city in the next few years. One of our top priorities for our new property is raising our own chickens for both eggs and meat.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Wow....a very informative and interesting hub on a subject that I knew very little about ....that is before reading this hub which has done a great job of giving me a basic knowledge of raising and housing chickens. I am very impressed with your hubs....and it might be a little late....welcome to HubPages.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks for the welcome to Hub Pages. Its been a great place to meet people with the similar interest of writing. It took nerve for me to join but I'm glad I took the plunge. Glad you took the time to read my chicken raising article. We enjoy the process of raising our own and the eggs and meat can't be beat. Thanks again for the positives. And I look forward to reading more of your hubs as well!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Raising chickens sounds like a lot of work, but a lot of fun, too! Thanks so much for sharing your advice and experience with us. I really hope I can do this someday!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Simone. Yes, it is a lot of work to raise chickens and stinky too at times but the product is worth the fuss.


roddermey 5 years ago

Very informative and love the photos that you have shared...learned a little more about how you have raised chickens!!!


ChristinCordle12 profile image

ChristinCordle12 5 years ago

LOVE chickeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeens!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Hey Pam and Mike. Thanks for checking in and reading a bit. Hope to share some of that good chicken with all of you.


ripplemaker profile image

ripplemaker 5 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

Sigh I wish I live near you and maybe I can buy from you :) I don't think I would have what it takes to raise chickens but this is such a helpful hub for those who are planning to do so.

Congratulations on your Hubnuggets nomination. To all who would like to read and vote, this way please: http://ladyjane1.hubpages.com/hubnuggets6/hub/Room...


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Thanks Ripplemaker. I appreciate the feedback. The end product is good but it always comes at a price. We always keep our egg layers but the roasting birds are extremely high maintenance and we only can raise them every other year! Cheers and thanks again!


frugalfamily profile image

frugalfamily 5 years ago from Houston, TX

You packed a lot of info into this little hub. I'm live in a community where it might be possible to host those two or three chickens for eggs. I just don't know how to start and be frugal. I'd love to see an ebook from you on this subject with a step by step.


Cogerson profile image

Cogerson 5 years ago from Virginia

Congrats on your hubnugget nomination....it was nice to see this hub on the weekly newsletter...and you have my vote....good luck.


ithabise profile image

ithabise 5 years ago from Winston-Salem, NC

OMG! I cannot believe I've found this hub. I'm just a city boy who has experienced the great taste of eggs--one of my favorites--done right. In fact, I lived in Japan at the time, and I always wondered why the eggs were nearly orange and twice as flavorful as in the U.S. It wasn't until I read read the books of food journalist Michael Pollan and, particularly, Virginia farmer Joel Salatin that I understood. They advocate a return to healthy eating and less government intrusion and (unethical) handling of food. It's made me want to raise chickens, as an old lady neighbor of mine used to do when I was a little boy. I was thinking of this last week and wondering how the heck I could ever get started. Et voila! Here's this hub! I'm amazed. Thanks so very much!


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Congratulations for the Hubnugget laurels. I love chicken and will want to read more. I am trying to hatch eggs in a homemade incubator (now on day 10). I have not figured out how to take care of the chicks though since I am in a city plot with a small car park space.Any brief ideas? For BABYCHEATER and others, its posibble to have four chicken in a 4ft by 4ft (length and width) by 3ft high - requres frequent cleaning though. I have enough eggs that way but the animal rights guys may not be very happy with me.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Emmanuel, you're right about 4ft by 4ft foot being small. We found even with the size of our coop with an outside run that it was not big enough for 60 roasters. If you are hatching even 10 of the white roasting birds, the manure they produce even in a few days is excessive and as it composts it produces a lot of heat. In our coop, even with the temperature dropping below zero at night, it is very warm with that many birds. As well, they put on weight fast but they're heart capacity does not grow as fast. We have lost a few due to heart attacks I am guessing because of the heat and too much crowding as they get much bigger. If you have room for even a 7 by 7 foot coop with some room for them to roam in an outside enclosure it would be better for them. You'd have to clear it with local by-laws and regulations in your area however. The smell alone with over 10 birds will make your operation very apparent to your neighbors even with frequent cleaning. Good luck. I'd love to hear how you make out!


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Thanks Teresa. Probably I should stick to four hens only for lack of space. I have 12 eggs in the incubator and one of the optimistic hens is sitting on 8 in a separate space. I can expand to 7 by 7 but the roaming space will only be about another 7 by 7 to leave room for the car. I will have to dispose most of the chicks to friends and relatives after the eggs hatch and post the details of the 'home-made incubator' on hubpages. I am reading your post carefully though, since I want to be as serious as you are in raising chicken when I get bigger space.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Emmanuel, the extra space as you've explained will still give them more room to roam and provide better quality eggs. We also feed our birds left over dinner - especially the vegetable matter and left over egg shells. The egg shells help with their digestion and also provide extra calcium for making stronger eggs and better health. Hens do like to stick together for warmth and safety so five or six hens might do well in your larger coop and I find the egg layers produce much less waste than our roasting birds. I look forward to reading about your home-made incubator when the hub is published. We have had chickens hatch their own eggs but they have often done so when the weather here is getting cold. We have not had reliable success using the natural method. I wish you continued luck on your endeavor and look forward to hearing back about your progress.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 5 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Teresa, my chicks finally hatched. Out of 12 eggs, 2 hatched successfully. The chicks are doing fine in a 36" X 18" X 18" with a temperature of around 30 centigrade.

I consider this a success since my first attempt produced zero chicks. I intend to make improvements on the incubator and try again.

I have posted details in a new hub - Home-made Egg Incubator.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 5 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Awesome Emmanuel. Hope the chicks do well and I will be checking out your hub about the Incubator. Good luck!!!!!!


Perspycacious profile image

Perspycacious 4 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

What a great Hub. My Dad and I raised 450 chickens (not exactly a small venture!) and stopped when the price of scratch feed and chicken meal escalated enough to make it impractical. This is a great summary of what to do and what to avoid. Did a couple of clicks, too. How is it that other Hubbers can see something interesting and not click! I guess we are all too poor to click. Sad.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Glad you stopped by Perspycacious and liked what you read. We too find the price of feed prohibitive but the meat is so good and we know where are chicken is coming from and being fed. I haven't bought eggs in 16 years and don't think I could go back to store bought. Thanks for clicking as well. It is hard to get those clicks happening. I don't know what the magic is but I'm glad you stopped by.


Emmanuel Kariuki profile image

Emmanuel Kariuki 4 years ago from Nairobi, Kenya

Happy 2012 and Much prosperity to you and family. I hatched another batch this January. See the pictures in my hub - Home-made Egg Incubator. your hub is a great inspiration to me.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

I can't wait to see the new babies. I am so glad to have been an inspiration to you. Our chickens are producing a constant supply of eggs despite the frigid conditions here. Good luck with the new brood.


sedotwc 4 years ago from Indonesia

Chicken farming is less clean and healthy is easy affected by outbreaks of bird flu that can infect humans.

thanks, your article give me more knowledge


billybuc profile image

billybuc 3 years ago from Olympia, WA

We are going to raise chickens this summer for the first time. Thanks for the information my friend. We are building the coop now and will be ready in a couple weeks.


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Although our winter has been cold we have been lucky to have our chickens produce a record number of eggs this snowy season. Their warmer, more cozy coop must have something to do with it although I'm sure they will be more happy to get back to pecking outside! Don't forget the all important 14 to 16 hours of light. And good luck in your new venture. We so enjoy our home produced eggs!!!!


Teresa Coppens profile image

Teresa Coppens 3 years ago from Ontario, Canada Author

Although our winter has been cold we have been lucky to have our chickens produce a record number of eggs this snowy season. Their warmer, more cozy coop must have something to do with it although I'm sure they will be more happy to get back to pecking outside! Don't forget the all important 14 to 16 hours of light. And good luck in your new venture. We so enjoy our home produced eggs!!!!

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