Choosing to keep poultry is a big decision. Adding another responsibility to anyone’s life is life changing. If you already have other livestock to tend, the change is mostly minor in that it will add to the amount of time it takes to do the morning chores. But, if livestock is a new addition to your quest for self-reliance, then consider it seriously.
Having livestock will change the way you live. No longer will you be able to take an impromptu trip overnight. Every trip will require planning in advance to find someone who is reliable to feed, water, and check on the well being of your animals. Making sure you have enough feed on hand and so on. Sometimes it will seem easier to just stay home or take day trips.
Be sure you are ready to invest in the equipment, feed, and the proper structures for keeping your birds safe and healthy. Most of the equipment is not expensive and some you can make yourself. Just like human babies, chicks need equipment based on their aged and development. Purchasing the equipment as you need it is one way to go about it. Also, planning ahead and shopping to get the equipment you need as it fits into your budget is best.
Once the decision to raise poultry, it is important to choose what is right for you. Chickens are considered easiest to raise by many people. While that may or may not be true, perhaps more people raise chickens than other poultry. The most important thing is to do your research before choosing which poultry to raise.
Consider your purpose. Are you raising poultry for eggs only, for meat only, or for both? For eggs only, choose a breed that will provide a large number of eggs. Layer breeds tend to be small breeds and while you “can” eat them, they won’t have much meat on them. Meat birds are larger, but don’t lay as well, and some don’t naturally reproduce. There are the dual purpose birds as well. These breeds typically lay an acceptable number of eggs, get a good weight, and are ready to cull at about 12 weeks of age.
Are you going to set eggs to hatch? Will you be letting the chickens raise their own brood? If so, make certain the breed you choose has a reputation for being good mothers and go broody often. Not sure but think you might? Perhaps choosing a breed that meets your other requirements and is also broody is the thing to do. Later if you decide you want to let them go set their nest, you already have the breed you need.
How many birds do you need? That depends. Think about how many dozen eggs you use in a week. Twelve chickens will not provide twelve eggs every day, but will average enough for a family of four. The laying cycle is 25 hours on a perfect day. The process is slowed by cold weather or even something that scares the chickens enough that they hold their eggs until they think it is safe to lay. If they don’t get enough food or water, that slows them too.
Your climate is as important when choosing breeds too. Many breeds stop laying eggs when it gets cold. Others will lay longer into the cold season, and some will lay all year around. Colder climates may require a heater in the chicken coop. During the Mini Ice Age it was recorded that people brought their livestock into the house to keep them from freezing to death. Even so, make certain your birds will have adequate heat for the cold months and adequate air-flow the rest of the year to prevent over heating.
Now that all those things are decided, choose the hatchery carefully. Hatcheries are like any other business. They need to make money to keep the doors open. If they have diseases in their flocks, they will quickly go out of business if they don’t get it under control. All the same, if in doubt, check the C.D.C. website to see if the hatchery you are considering has been listed as having been the source of an outbreak like salmonella. Most likely they have not.
Consider the distance from the hatchery of your choice to your location. Most hatcheries can can ship healthy birds to your location if you are inside the 48 contiguous states. With a 72 hour maximum between hatching and first feed and water, it is smarter to buy your birds as close to you as possible. If the particular breed you want is not offered close enough to arrive withing the 72 hour window, there is the likelihood that many or all of the chicks will die.
When the distance is too great for live chicks, consider ordering fertilized eggs and incubating them yourself. Some hatcheries won’t ship eggs because the success rate can not be promised. Other hatcheries take every precaution to ensure the shipment arrives in good condition. Even so, they may not arrive in good enough condition to incubate. If the eggs get too cold or too hot, they won’t be suitable for incubating. Not to mention what happens if the package gets dropped and the eggs break. Incubating eggs produces “straight run” chicks, which means likely the birds will be about half male and half female chicks. Unless you are a chick sexer, you won’t know which are which until they are old enough to develop their respective characteristics. People who order eggs for incubating do well with the process and have favorable results.
After having chickens for a while, consider adding ducks and other poultry to the family homestead. Heck, you might as well. In for a penny in for a pound, right?