23b. How to Raise Chickens for Survival Purposes

How to Raise Chickens for Survival Purposes

Chickens are perhaps the perfect survival livestock because they are inexpensive to purchase and raise, reproduce quickly, and can be raised virtually anywhere. Raising chickens as part of your survival plan offers a myriad o­­f benefits – but only if you can keep the birds alive, safe, healthy, and producing.Learning how to hatch chicks will be a crucial part of the flock development process. While things are normal in society, you can always order more birds when needed, or hatch your own in an incubator. During a long-term disaster, you will only be able to use an incubator to hatch chicks if you have off grid power. Even if you can hatch your own chicks with generator power until the fuel runs out (or on solar power), you will still have to time the hatching and maturing process properly to avoid letting flock numbers run too low due to consumption, disease, or predator attacks of both the four-legged and two-legged variety. When raising chickens for survival, you must develop a sustainable plan to hatch, maintain, and increase flock numbers under the most dangerous and austere of conditions. Simply buying a bunch of chickens and putting them inside of a conventional coop with a small run will not lead to the hardy and self-reliant type of birds you will need during a long-term disaster.

Chicken Coop And Run. Raising chickens as covertly as possible, and in a sustainable manner (so the flock can embrace their natural instincts) will vastly enhance the survival chances of your meat and egg birds. Chickens that free-range from the start and sit their own eggs consistently will be much better positioned to fending for themselves when the SHTF. Free-ranging can be a riskier proposition during a disaster. You could lose birds to both typical wild predators and humans being desperate for a meal. Adapting typical “turn them loose for the day ” free ranging behavior can be a viable compromise to coop and run style husbandry. Both the coop and run must be designed with all types of weather in mind. The flock must be able to stay cool in the summer, dry and free from dampness when it rains, and warm during even the most frigid days of winter. On top of these weather considerations, the chicken coop and run must also be constructed of materials from top to bottom, that will prevent even the craftiest of predators from getting inside. Use only pressure treated lumber and plywood during the construction. Using particle board or lumber and plywood that is not pressure treated call fall apart after just one winter or wet spring. Mink are the top predator of poultry birds, and can squeeze through an opening the size of a quarter – including weakened wood that is pulling apart from the coop framing.

Never use chicken wire on the chicken run. Chicken wire is only good at keeping birds in, and not predators out. Hardware cloth, the fine mesh wire that is used to construct rabbit cages is ideal for the chicken run, and to cover doors in-between nesting areas and coop exit into run doors: This is my DIY chicken coop re-purposed from an old rabbit hutch, and reinforced with hardware cloth. Purchase extra rolls of the hardware cloth in preparation for the time that is has been exposed to the elements so much that is rusts and weakens. This should not occur for several years unless a coop waterer with interior drinking fountain openings for the birds is placed through it. In such a case, expect to be dealing with rust after one year.

I recommend covering even treated plywood areas of the coop – including doors for egg collection, with sheet metal. This will harden the coop even more from both predators and the elements. Before building the chicken coop, trench all the way around the perimeter of both it and the run. The trench should be roughly one foot deep and one foot wide. Once the trench is completed, line it with hardware cloth before filling it back in with dirt. This extra line of coop and run entry protection should vastly help prevent the flock of meat and egg birds from burrowing predators. Raccoons are clever creatures and have been known to easily flip open a simple one step lock. To best deter easy entry to all exterior doors and flaps on the coop, use at least one slide bar style lock. I also have a pressure treated 2X4 board that lifts into and out of brackets on either side of the egg collection flaps to further thwart predators.

The run should include a sun and rain protective covering on about half of it to shield the birds from inclement weather. If the chickens do not have such a covering they will be far less likely to leave the coop to forage. When all of the birds are inside of the coop, the mess you’ll have to clean and the amount of droppings they will transfer onto themselves, their eggs, and the chicks will significantly increase. Placing solar motion detector lights on the chicken coop and run can silently alert you to the presence of a predator around your flock. Solar coop lights that hang from inside of the structure buy attach via a cord to a small solar panel that affixes to the exterior wall of the coop are also highly recommended.

Chickens need a minimum of 10 hours a day of sunlight to maintain egg production. The lack of light during the winter months can prompt hens to reduce or stop laying entirely. The fire safe lights in the coop that hang above the chicks and their bedding can help promote cold weather month laying. Although these chicken coops have runs that are in many cases far smaller than they type described above – and a few mistakenly used chicken wire, they will give you a good idea of design styles and construction before buying or building your own. The chicken coop can also be set up for rainwater collection to provide water for the flock, the prepping family, or for garden use.

Coop Size Matters. Build a monster of a chicken run so the birds can forage for bugs. This type of chicken coop and massive run setup will also provide the space needed to either plant and/or rotate in planters of nutrient rich “weeds” and plants to feed the flock instead of commercially manufactured feed. A large run will not only reinforce their foraging tendencies and have ample space for not merely sitting their own eggs, but also provide an area where the hens can teach the chicks how to peck and hunt for their own food. The more space the flock has to roam, the smaller the chance of the birds contracting and sharing infectious disease. While diseases could still wipe out any flock, being literally “cooped up” can cause disease to spread more quickly, and increases the possibility of trampling in bacteria ridden droppings and contracting an illness. Commercially-manufactured coops that are often for sale at agricultural retailers like Tractor Supply, Rural King, or offered for purchase online are too small for a large flock, or even a small survival flock to be sustainably kept. Each hen should have her own nesting space that is large enough to double for the first week or so of chick raising. It is not uncommon for chicks to get trampled and squished when they are allowed to join the mature flock too soon. Removing chicks and placing them in a brooder is an option if the weather outdoors is warm enough, or if you have off grid power to sustain a heat lamp, but such a temporary habitat should really only be used as a last resort to keep chicks alive – from a sustainability standpoint.

Chicken Tractors. The valuable foraging skills a momma hen will teach the chicks would be lost if all of the baby birds are secluded into a community all their own without the instructional and protective tendencies shared by the momma hen. If you are not going to free-range the flock, or if only going to do that in small and supervised amounts, consider buying or building a chicken tractor. You can find these caged foraging implements that are conventionally pulled by a tractor or ATV or constructed like a rickshaw that have long handles so they can be pulled by a person or even a miniature donkey or pony. A chicken tractor will allow the flock to forage for their own food, especially for protein-rich insects. Even during the winter months when food will be more difficult to find, chicken tractor sessions will still usually yield some insects for the flock to consume. You can also make low hoops out of hardware cloth to create chicken tunnels around your growing plots and in between rows for the birds to forage for insects. Chicken tractors can be backed up to the tunnel opening so the birds can wander into the hoops to feed and back into the tractor where they have protective covering from the sun and where a waterer is hanging, at will.

Chicken-Keeping Supplies. The survival flock must have a feeder and waterer that are regularly cleaned to prevent bacteria and fungus from growing in them. It’s best to keep multiple feeders and waterers, especially if they are made of plastic, and can (will) crack during the winter months. Galvanized metal feeders and waterers are more durable ,but will eventually rust and need replaced to avoid the matter from being ingested by the birds, and ultimately the human family they will feed via their meat or eggs. You should also include boredom busters in the coop run even if the birds will be free ranging for part of all of the day. A bored chicken will peck at itself, other birds, and even the coop itself – causing unnecessary wear and tear of their housing.

Chicken boredom busters are often sold at agricultural supply stores and online, but it takes very little skill, time, and money to make your own. Something as simple as a sawhorse to use for a perch, some baling twine wrapped around a small branch to make a swing, can do the trick. Hanging some corn on the cob in the chicken run, or filling a plastic bottle with holes poked in it with a snack will keep the flock busy for hours on end. The chicken run should also include several tires or tubs filled with loose dirt, sand, or a mixture of the two for the hends to use as a “dirt bath.” The birds consider dirt bathing a social occasion and thus it will divert their mind from destructive behavior. Dirt baths also help to thwart mites and other parasites.

Feeding Your Chickens. Planting crops that the chickens can forage, be placed inside of their run in planters, or grown in the coop run will also help you to sustainable and cheaply feed the survival flock without the need of commercially manufactured feed.

40 Best Crops To Plant To Feed Chickens:

✓ Amaranth

✓ Jerusalem Artichokes

✓ Sorghum

✓ Lettuce

✓ Blueberries

✓ Pea Shrubs

✓ Jewelweed

✓ Elderberries

✓ Honeysuckle

✓ Blackberries

✓ Olives

✓ Chicory

✓ Currants

✓ Mulberries

✓ Black Raspberries

✓ Buckthorn

✓ Currants

✓ Gooseberries

✓ Grapes

✓ Kale

✓ Plantain

✓ Purslane

✓ Oregano

✓ Chamomile

✓ Thyme

✓ Rosemary

✓ Sage

✓ Basil

✓ Sunflowers

✓ Duckweed

✓ Yarrow

✓ Queen Anne’s Lace – Wild Carrots

✓ Bee Balm

✓ Lemon Balm

✓ Mullein

✓ Comfrey

✓ Dill

✓ Calendula

✓ Echinacea

✓ Ginger

Other ways to provide free and nutrient-rich food for your chicken flock is to place the compost pile inside of their run, or in an area accessible to them, give them the animal waste after butchering other livestock, and sprinkle crushed egg shells into the run for a calcium rich free choice snack.

Safe And Healthy Scraps For Chickens. Any scraps from these types of foods can be given to chickens directly or tossed into a compost pile the flock can access:

✓ Mealworms

✓ Leafy greens

✓ Cooked pasta

✓ Vegetable peels

✓ Crushed egg shells

✓ Cooked rice

✓ Corn

✓ Watermelon

✓ Pumpkin

✓ Scrambled Eggs

✓ Cottage cheese

✓ Oatmeal – cooked or uncooked

✓ Pineapple

✓ Bananas

✓ Celery

✓ Broccoli

✓ Asparagus

✓ Strawberries

✓ Oranges

✓ Cooked potatoes

✓ Cabbage

✓ Popcorn

✓ Raisins

✓ Cucumbers

✓ Corn stalks

✓ Cheese

✓ Cantaloupe

✓ Carrots

✓ Sweet potatoes

✓ Cereal

✓ Pears

✓ Bell peppers

✓ Cauliflower

✓ Zucchini

✓ Mango

✓ Spinach

✓ Yogurt

✓ Peas

✓ Peanut Butter – creamy only, and never whole peanuts

✓ Non-green potato peels

✓ Brussels Sprouts

✓ Fish

✓ Garlic

✓ Cooked potatoes

✓ Chia seeds

✓ Squash – all types

✓ Grapefruit

Unless the flock is free ranging in some manner, grit will also need to be added to their diet. The grit helps the birds to properly and safely process their food. It stays in the bird’s gizzard and breaks up the food as it is being consumed. You can purchase grit at agricultural supply stores – it is usually sold as oyster shell grit. Putting small gravel into a bowl or pile in the chicken run can also be used as a grit supplement. The birds will instinctively gravitate to the gravel as needed.

What To Never Feed Your Chickens. The foods on the list below are toxic to chickens, and never be fed to them:

✕ Artificially sweetened food

✕ Uncooked or undercooked Beans of any type

✕ Apple with seeds still in them

✕ Cherries or peaches with pits

✕ Dry rice

✕ Dry pasta

✕ Raw eggs

✕ Mold food

✕ Salty food

✕ Green potato peels

Hatching Chicks. Regardless of the breed of chickens you decide to raise, it takes approximately 21 days for the birds to hatch. The heat and humidity levels beneath the hen will vary depending upon the time of year – and influence the number of hatching days at least somewhat. If you are planning on getting an incubator to attempt to use during a SHTF event, buy one that comes with both an automatic turning and and a humidity gauge. If the incubator does not have an automatic turning arm you will need to manually turn all of the egg racks multiple times per day. Keeping the humidity within the recommended levels on the incubator will play a substantial role in how successfully the eggs hatch.

Chicks do not need to be removed from an incubator right after they are born. It is actually best to leave them inside unless they are in danger of getting harmed by a turning arm (which can happen) so they can garner all of the nutrients that come out of the egg sack. The chicks can typically remain in an incubator for up to 24 hours after pecking their way out of the egg. Some incubators have turning arms that can be removed individually to provide space for the chicks to walk about so the device can also be used as a brooder. If you have to place chicks inside of a brooder use a red heat lamp, and not a white light one. The red cast that the light bulbs emit will hide any bloody spots on a chick from pecking and help deter other birds from pecking at the wound – sometimes killing the chick.

The use of red lights also proves to be far less distracting for the chicks at bedtime. A white light can keep them up chirping all night – preventing them from getting the rest they need to remain healthy, and you from getting some sleep if the brooder is in an attached garage. The temperature inside of the “hot spot” in the brooder should roughly be 95 degrees F (35 C). Only a portion of the brooder should be hot, while the rest of the space (where the feed and water are located) should be closer to room temperature to allow the chicks to cool off as needed. The brooder temperature should be reduced by five degrees each week until the interior temperature hits 75 degrees F. Reduce the heat inside of the brooder by raising the light higher above the brooder. Never place chicks outdoors until the weather is warm enough to prevent them from getting chilled – typically a minimum of a consistent 65 degrees F. A chick waterer and feeder must be cleaned at least once a week if not more to prevent bacteria and debris from gathering in the drinking and eating areas from chicks that leave their droppings in them, or walk through them. There really is no way to prevent the tracking of droppings entirely, but using feeders and waters that are covered as much as possible with only head peek in holes for the birds will help substantially.

The best bedding for a brooder consists of sawdust shavings, newspaper, or straw. I have successfully kept chickens and ducklings together in an incubator and a brooder, but would not recommend doing so with poults or guineas. The poults are larger and more aggressive than either chicksn or ducklings. Guinea chicks are comparable in size to Bantam chicks, grow slowly, and tend to be quite fragile: Guineas are more prone to chick deaths from both getting squished when accidentally sat upon, trampled by larger birds and to infections from bacteria & dampness.

Chicken Egg Production. All breeds of hens are fully capable of producing eggs throughout their lifespan, but, the egg laying slows both in the winter and as the hens age. If a hen grows too old to either lay a suitable number of eggs or stops laying entirely, the bird can be harvested for food. Due to her age, the meat will be exceptionally lean not typically not moist. The best way to make use of an unproductive hen is to boil the meat to make chicken stock – broth. Hens start to lay roughly when they are six months old. The first eggs will be substantially smaller than the eggs the hens lay when they are more mature – which happens around the 18 month mark. When a hen turns 18 months old, she may hit a molting stage. During this time she may begin to lose a lot of feathers, and spend the vast majority of its energy growing new ones instead of laying eggs.

Molting typically lasts 60 days. I personally have never had a hen go into molting stage, and stop laying eggs. I think the constant mental and physical stimulation provided by free-ranging and boredom busters has helped contribute to the deterring molting. What does most often vary by breed is the number of eggs a hen lays. Top egg laying breeds are capable of producing 250 to 280 eggs each year. The overall health and eating habits of the hen also play a part in how many eggs she will produce, regardless of breed. A sick or stressed hen will never absorb as many nutrients as a healthy one, which will not only reduce the number of eggs produced, but can also cause the egg shells to be thinner and more fragile when they are laid.

Hen stress typically happens when the coop is overcrowded or not enough hens are present to service a rooster. A sick hen can also be more prone to “internal laying” – which basically means the egg gets stuck inside of the oviduct after the yolk if formed in the ovary. The hen will eventually absorb the egg back into her body, causing the abdomen to become distended – almost always causing death. This can also happen if the hen is overweight, small statured, or produces an unusually large egg for her breed. Egg peritonitis can also kill a chicken. This occurs if the egg does not properly develop, and will move into the abdominal cavity instead of the oviduct. The egg will be absorbed into the hen again causing infection, and usually death unless the condition is caught early and the bird receives antibiotics. Herbs that can help increase calcium intake and egg production – especially after a long winter or stint of molting include: calendula, lavender, chamomile, and rose.

Chicken Illnesses. Most contagious poultry bird disease will spread quickly through the entire flock. Conducting a quick health check on each bird during daily feeding can help you discover a problem quickly. Once an illness is detected, the sick bird or birds need to be removed immediately and killed or placed in a quarantine only brooder. The entire coop, run, and everything in it must be disinfected. Any bedding must be removed and should be burnt to prevent the birds or any other type of livestock from coming into contact with the feces droppings, fungus, and bacteria.

How To Tell If A Chicken Is Healthy

Most Common Chicken Illnesses and Diseases

Coccidia. This is the number one killer of chicks. Coccidia is developed from a digestive tract parasite that rarely afflicts more mature birds. Unfortunately, the chick is likely dead and spreading the disease before you even know it is sick. Symptoms of Coccidia include scours (diarrhea) excessive blood loss from even a small wound, and poor absorption of nutrients.

Fowl Pox. This poultry bird illness is most often transmitted by mosquitoes. Once a bird suffers an insect bite and contracts Fowl Pox it can spread the illness to other birds through its droppings and shared feed and water containers. There are two different types of Fowl Pox – dry and Wet. Dry Fowl Pox causes wart style wounds to grow on parts of the chicken’s body that are unfeathered, or only lightly feathered. Pox of this type tend to heal up on their own, or with a Neosporin type ointment in two weeks. Wet Fowl Pox are canker style sores in the mouth and throat of the chicken that can cause a lack of air flow and the inability to swallow food or water.

Marek’s Disease. A poultry bird with this type of illness is an avian cancer. Marek’s Disease causes the growth of tumors that eventually lead to death. Symptoms of Marek’s Disease include loss of appetite to the point of starvation, paralysis, loss of muscle control, blindness, and the inability to raise or use their wings in any way.

Bird Flu The Avian flu can impact not only chickens but a plethora of bird species. A mild version of this illness typically causes egg laying to decrease, a loss of appetite, and respiratory problems. A severe bird flu case can often cause death. In a serious case of Avian flu, a chicken’s comb and wattle usually turn blue, the legs develop white spots, and there is a bloody discharge from the chicken’s nostrils. Dehydration also usually occurs in such a serious case of the highly contagious bird flu.

Coryza This is yet another contagious poultry bird illness. Coryza, which is a bacterial infection, can be cured when proper antibiotics are administered. Symptoms of Coryza may include difficulty breathing, discharge from the nostrils, and eyes with a foul odor, matted eyes, swelling of the face, and scours.

Rickets A chicken with poor nutritional intake is a prime target for rickets. Once a chicken has contracted Rickets its body is no longer able to absorb phosphorus, vitamin D, and calcium properly. This condition causes a bird to develop weekend and soft bones as well as beak. Typically, a chicken with Rickets also develops lameness. A hen with Rickets will either stop producing eggs entirely or slow down laying. Any eggs that are produced and laid almost always have incredibly soft shells. Increasing the bird’s intake of vitamin D four times the normal amount it usually receives can help treat Rickets.

Bronchitis A single chicken with bronchitis can cause the entire flock to become ill in a matter of days. Eggs laid by hens with this affliction commonly have incredibly watery whites and the shells are misshapen. Symptoms of bronchitis in chickens include labored breathing, lethargy, a lack of appetite, poor egg production, dehydration, as well as watery discharge from both the eyes and nostrils.

Staphylococcus This poultry bird illness is also commonly dubbed “bumblefoot” due to swelling of the feet it causes. Staphylococcus bacteria is found in the dirt and stagnant mud puddles, and can be transferred from bird to bird view bedding in the coop, shared waterers, and feeders. Chickens with Staphylococcus typically have symptoms that include swollen joints, extremely watery scours, difficulty or inability to stand or walk, and painful movement in general. The only way to attempt to save a chicken stricken with bumblefoot is to catch it early, and have proper antibiotics administered.

Worms Poultry birds can contract multiple types of worm parasites but roundworms are the most common. A chicken with worms will often experience stunted growth. If dewormer is not given so the worms can be passed, the bird will die.

Aspergillosis Exposure to mold usually causes this type of fungal infection that is commonly referred to as “chicken pneumonia.” Birds with this ailment have breathed in mold spores that then cause terminal gurgling, respiratory problems, and silent gaping or gasping.

Colibacillosis Poultry birds can be vaccinated against this E-coli ailment. There is known treatment or cure for any chicken that contracts it. Symptoms of Colibacillosis include respiratory issues, lack of appetite, and lesions on any part of the body. To help prevent this terminal condition make sure the coop is properly ventilated, cleaned regularly, and any sick bird is removed quickly and the entire living space disinfected.

Best Chicken Breeds For A Survival Flock Deciding what type of breed or breeds of chickens that are best to keep in a SHTF flock depends on a number of factors. First, you should determine if you want to keep strictly meat birds, a large flock of just hens for egg laying, or if you want dual purpose chickens that can provide both ample and quality meat and eggs to feed the family. The amount of space you have to covertly keep the flock, local laws that could inhibit the keeping of roosters, specific breeds, or a limit the number of hens being kept in municipal areas pre-SHTF, are also factors that must be researched and considered.

Best Egg Laying Chicken Breeds You can garner nice edible eggs from all breeds of chickens, but some are better than others at laying abundantly, nearly all year around, and producing large and nutrient rich eggs. Meat, as well, can be garnered from any bird, but the tenderness, flavor, and fat percentage is typically less present on egg birds than it is from meat birds or dual purpose birds.

Best Meat Chicken Breeds. Meat chickens, or “broilers” as they are most often dubbed, are known for putting on weight quickly and producing a robust, flavorful, and tender meat. In under six weeks a quality meat chicken can weigh a grand total of five pounds – long before it is anywhere near reaching maturity. It would take a non-meat breed chicken months to reach the same desirable meat weight. Meat chicken breeds lay eggs to varying degrees of quality and quantity until they are deemed time for butchering. The eggs produced by a meat hen are typically not as large as hens of other breeds

Best Roosters. If you live outside of a rural area where keeping roosters is not allowed, I have only one piece of reasonable survival chicken raising piece of advice for you: move. If you do not keep roosters the flock will not be sustainable. You will only have fertile eggs and a continuous supply of chicks to add to the flock if there is at least one rooster to mate with the hens. There are some things you can do to keep a rooster quiet – which is essential for OPSEC during a long-term disaster – and before if you have neighbors. Do not fool yourself into thinking that nearby neighbors will not recall that fact that you keep livestock when the SHTF, and their own unprepared family is starving. To help curtail the noise a rooster makes you can keep it in a separate chicken coop and run that is located far away from the chickens that he cannot see, or preferably, hear them. The rooster is introduced to the hens only for a short amount of time to mate and then is placed back in his own pen.

Purchasing “no crow” collars will help reduce the urge to crow and muffle the sound, but will not eliminate the crowing noise a rooster is naturally inclined to make – and not just at dawn. Some rooster breeds are quieter than others, choosing from the list below will help give you an edge when covertly raising a flock of chickens during a long-term disaster.

Final Words. Raising chickens are part of your survival livestock and food security plan will provide your family with not only meat and eggs, but a valuable bartering item as well.fEither during a long-term disaster or when society once again begins to rebuild, the extra eggs your robust flock lays and the chicks themselves will be far more valuable than dollar bills or an ATM card.

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