One of my young pullets taking a dust bath.
Producing eggs is an excellent task for a homesteader. Two hens is really all my husband and I would need for our own eggs, but extra hens means extra eggs for bartering or selling. Local, fresh eggs are a hot commodity! I have no trouble getting rid of the excess.
How many chickens? Well, I keep as many as I have food for. That equates to a core of laying hens = 25. Assorted birds for the pot = 25. Because I process my own food for them, 50-60 birds is all I can handle. Over that, then I have to buy commercial feed. One of my goals is to be as self-reliant as feasible. So I try not to get addicted to buying livestock feed. Besides, at $28 a 50 lb bag for layer pellets, it gets really expensive.
My layers I buy as day old chicks from McMurray. Once a year I order 50, selling the excess. Each year I buy a different breed so that I can easily tell the age of the hens. One year it will be red sex links, then black sexlinks, then pearl leghorns, then Araucanas.
My pot chickens are the old laying hens, plus birds that are given to me. People around here are often trying to give away excess roosters, feral hens, and older birds. So I usually have an assortment of pot birds out there.
Feeding the birds is a bit of a challenge that I enjoy taking. A great part of their food comes from garden and kitchen waste. Just about everything gets ground up and mixed together. I also gather abandoned fruits -- avocados, citrus, bananas, pineapples, guavas, mangos, noni, etc. Lots out there that people let rot on the ground. Waste from the supermarket is always interesting, as is restaurant waste. I never know what will end up in the collection buckets. My egg buyers also bring kitchen waste and food leftovers. Plus they get a trashcanful or two of fresh grass clippings every day.
Meat/protein is the most difficult thing to get. I get a bucket of butcher waste every week, but it's not enough. So I let the local hunters know the I would appreciate their meat waste. I have a number of hunters now who trade their scrap for some taro, sweet potatoes, or other veggies. The meat scrap gets cooked on an old wood burning stove down by the barn. Far easier than trying to grind it up. If I get a whole leg of a sheep or goat, I will nail it to a 2 foot long piece of 2x6 that I have in the pen. That way it gives the chickens something to do, pecking away at the raw meat. And by nailing it to the woodblock, the meat stays clean instead of getting covered in the litter.
Boy, I was really surprised to see how much chickens can eat. Lots! I bring them food twice a day. First thing in the morning they are ravenous. 5 gallons of ground up mix just about disappears, in a hurry. Then they get their grass clippings. I gather eggs right after lunch and give them another couple of gallons of ground feed. I've gotten a feel as to how much feed to give them in the afternoon. From now to October they will eat lots. Sometime in October they slow down on what they will clean up until early January, when the major hungries hits them again.
Keeping chickens is great. An easy way to produce a nice source of protein on the homestead.