Raising chickens for eggs and meat has been a rewarding pursuit for generations of farmers and homesteaders looking to produce fresh, organic, and delicious food on their land. But if you’re brand new to this endeavor, you may feel overwhelmed by the logistics. From building chicken coops to handling your flocks and understanding the different breeds, there’s a lot to learn. Luckily, this guide will provide all the information and tips you need to get started and ensure you raise happy and healthy chickens!
Are you considering raising chickens for eggs and meat? It can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, as well as a way to provide your family with fresh, healthy food. Raising chickens can also be a way to provide your family with extra income if done right.
Despite what most think, backyard chickens do not need a ton of space. Yes, you do need some, but it can be done without needing acres. In fact, backyard chickens can lay eggs and be used as meat birds just as well as those who have farmland to roam.
This guide is far from exhaustive. In fact, it is the bare basics of raising chickens. However, it should be enough to get you moving on your own birds so that you know which direction your research needs to go.
Is it worth it to raise chickens?
Deciding if raising chickens is worth it to you or not is something you’ll have to ask yourself. Being totally honest, they can be a lot of work. But, if you’re willing to put the work in, you will be rewarded with fresh meat and eggs that will be more nutritious than you can find in the grocery stores and contain far less chemicals than store bought chicken or eggs was well.
For most families, this makes having chickens worth it, but you and your family will need to decide if that holds true for you.
What are the benefits of raising chickens for meat and eggs?
There are many benefits to raising chickens for eggs and meat. Knowing what a few of them are can help you decide if you feel they are worth having for your family or not.
Here are just a few:
- Fresh and healthy food: When you raise your own chickens, you know exactly what they are eating and how they are being treated. This means you can be sure that the eggs and meat you are consuming are fresh and healthy.
- Compost for the garden: Buying organic compost for your garden can get expensive. However, chicken manure is an excellent source of nitrogen for your garden. By raising chickens, you can create your own compost and reduce your reliance on chemical fertilizers.
- Sustainable living: By raising chickens, you are reducing your reliance on industrial agriculture and supporting sustainable living practices. Having your own meat birds and laying hens, gives you the chance to be one step closer to relying on the store less and providing for your own self. This type of living is also a great way to save money since being frugal means being self-sufficient.
How do you start raising chickens for eggs and meat?
To begin, you’ll need to choose what type of chicken breed you want to raise, find a space to keep them and make sure you have the proper supplies on hand. Raising chickens isn’t something you should just jump into which also means that you should do plenty of research. Picking up a beginners book on chickens can help.
If you have meat birds, you will also want to ensure that your family, especially your kids, knows that your chicken is not a pet. Making sure they are aware of this from the start will save them heartbreak later.
What is the best breed of chicken for eggs and meat?
Because we are discussing raising chickens for eggs and meat, you will want to choose a dual-purpose breed. Dual-purpose chickens are chickens that have a high egg production rate but are also buff and robust enough to be used for meat.
A few of these breeds are:
- Rhode Island Red
- Plymouth Rock
- New Hampshire
You’ll need to research each individual bird and choose based on egg laying ability, size, your climate and other factors that will impact them.
It’s also important to understand your chickens basic care needs. If their basic needs are not met, your chickens won’t lay the way you want them to and they may not reach the size you need for meat.
Here are some tips:
- Feed: Chickens need a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, and minerals. You can buy commercial chicken feed or make your chicken feed at home.
- Water: Chickens need access to fresh water at all times. Make sure to clean and refill their waterer daily.
- Shelter: Chickens need a safe and secure shelter to protect them from predators and the elements. This can be a premade chicken coop, a homemade coop or a chicken tractor. Chicken tractors are great if you’re planning on using some of the space your chicks are raised in for gardening.
- Space: Chickens need enough space to move around freely. As a general rule, each chicken needs about 4 square feet of space inside the coop and 10 square feet of outdoor space.
- Health: Chickens need regular check-ups to ensure they are healthy. Look out for signs of illness, such as lethargy, loss of appetite, or changes in behavior.
What does a chicken coop need?
A coop is a shelter for your chickens. It should provide protection from predators and the elements, as well as enough space for your chickens to move around freely.
As I mentioned above, you can buy a premade chicken coop or build one yourself. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but it does have some specific things that your coop needs to have. Here are some basic coop needs and care tips:
- Size: Your coop should be large enough to accommodate your chickens comfortably. As a general rule, each chicken needs about 4 square feet of space inside the coop.
- Ventilation: Your coop should have good ventilation to prevent the buildup of moisture and harmful gases. This can be accomplished by using coop fans. You can buy solar chicken coop fans or use electric coop fans depending on your own preferences.
- Lighting: Chickens need access to natural light, but also need a dark period to rest. To accomplish this easily, buy coop lights with a timer so you can make it easy on you and your chickens.
- Nesting boxes: Chickens need a comfortable and private place to lay their eggs. Provide at least one nesting box for every three to four hens.
- Cleaning: Your coop should be cleaned regularly to prevent the buildup of waste and harmful bacteria. Remove old bedding and replace it with fresh straw or shavings.
How to preserve eggs long-term
Once your birds being laying, you may find that you have more eggs than you can reasonably use right away. If this happens, there are a couple of ways you can preserve them to be shelf-stable without refrigeration.
These methods vary on what their final shelf life is, but it’s a great way to ensure you always have eggs, even during slow laying times.
If you’re interested in learning how to preserve eggs, I have a post HERE that will walk you through it step by step using a couple of different methods.
How to make money from your chickens
Finally, if you have more eggs and meat than you can use and you have preserved all you need, you may be able to sell your extras at your local farmers market to make extra money. This can be a great way to offset the cost of your birds.
Here are some tips for getting started doing just that:
Check local regulations: Make sure you are allowed to sell eggs and meat at your local farmers market. Specifically, you will want to research your city and states cottage laws. You’ll also need to check with your local health department for any other regulations.
Price competitively: Research the prices of eggs and meat at other farmers markets in your area and price your products competitively. If you’re priced too far above them, your products won’t sell and if you’re priced too low, you won’t make as much money as you possibly could.
Label your products: Label your eggs and meat with information about the breed of chicken, the feed they were raised on, and any other relevant information. Your labels don’t need to be super fancy. You can buy empty egg cartons and use printable labels that you print at home. Or you can order a custom stamp like THIS one and simply stamp each carton.
Build relationships: Build relationships with your customers by providing excellent customer service and answering their questions. Most folks that shop farmers markets are looking to support small business. Building a relationship with them ensures they will keep coming back to you as a customer time and time again.
With all of that said, this guide is by far the only one you’ll need. There is so much information that I could never hope to put it into a single blog post. For our family though, it is well worth the research and the work involved, because with proper care and attention, your chickens can provide you with years of fresh eggs and healthy meat.