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Knowing how to purchase and raise/care for chickens or other poultry animals is an important homesteading skill. If you’ve never cared for more than a fish or housecat, being a homesteader is going to be a very big jump for you. You may think to yourself that you will start small but, like potato chips, you’ll soon find you can’t just stop at one or two. Well, maybe YOU can but we haven’t met any homesteaders yet who have been able to.
Poultry care can begin as early as brooding an egg or as late as adopting a retiring animal from an ailing “crazy chicken lady” or an adoption agency. Either way, there are basics you need to know.
- Chickens require clean water and clean food, adequate nutrition for their age and type, and clean, secure housing. They provide meat and eggs but are very susceptible to respiratory illness and disease.
- Geese and ducks are great egg and meat animals but may require water not only to keep clean but to mate and provide the necessary humidity to incubate their eggs.
- Guinnea hens are great tick and snake eaters but are flighty, terrible mothers, and don’t enjoy going into a secure coop in the evening.
- All poultry are highly susceptible to predation.
There are specific details you will want to educate yourself about if you wish to brood and hatch your own eggs, if you will be ordering hatchery stock, or if you are going to purchase animals from local breeders.
Some folks only take unwanted hens and roosters from local lists and keep a “barnyard mix”. Other folks keep only one type of chicken and keep a closed flock line breeding from original heritage birds. Most homesteaders fall somewhere in between, ordering or purchasing new birds from time to time to bring in new blood or try out different breeds.
Poultry medicine is something all homesteaders must also read up on and be prepared for. Numerous illnesses and injuries can happen and you must decide for yourself if you believe in vaccinating and medicating with Western methods or using herbal techniques and culling sick or undesirable birds to strengthen your flock.
There are many resources to use as guides through this process, several excellent books, videos, courses, blogs, and vlogs abound. The main things you will want to learn and decide about will be these:
- How do I choose my breed?
- Am I using them mostly for eggs or for meat?
- Will I be getting hens or roosters?
- Where do I want to get my chickens from?
- What age will I get them at? Eggs, chicks, pullets/cockerels, or hens/roosters?
- What do I need to do to prepare a space for them?
- Will they be free-range, in chicken tractors, or stay in a stationary run?
- What kinds of predators exist in my community?
- How will I handle issues with predators?
- How will I care for them once they arrive?
- What supplies will I need for them?
- What will I feed them?
- How can I make that more affordable?
- How will I care for injured or ill poultry?
- How will I handle new arrivals?
- What will I do with aggressive individuals?
- If I have roosters, what will I do with extra roosters if my hens should hatch out chicks? Will I butcher them?
- If I am going to be butchering, how do I do it and will I have the supplies on hand in time?
The answers to these questions are varied and personal in many cases. Each property and individual may have a different answer or solution for many of them. Research each of the answers to these questions for yourself and you will have a fairly complete idea of what you need to do for your animals when they arrive. In the meantime, read, research, watch videos, and talk to people with chickens.