When people begin to raise chickens, they must consider the end usage of the bird. Is this chicken going to live a long life as a laying hen? Or will they be harvested early or during a molt for Sunday dinner? Each purpose comes with its own list of important care instructions that you will want to keep in mind when raising your chickens.
All chickens have the same basic needs despite their end purpose. You must provide your chicks, lay or fry, with water, food and appropriate housing. Their living space must be kept clean and dry, well-ventilated and warm in cold weather. Regardless of why you have them, to do anything less than provide them with the best care possible is inhumane. It does not do to say, “This chicken is only going to end up on my dinner plate.” and then not care for them as your treatment of your birds will affect the quality of your food.
Laying hens are just that hens. You never EVER need to have a rooster in order for your hen to lay an egg. They will lay regardless. As with any chicken decision, a little research is important when deciding which hens are right for you. Some breeds are far greater layers than others and if you have a large family or would like to sell eggs on the side, you will want a prolific layer over a good or fair layer.
You will want to begin raising good layers by providing the right kind of food. Begin your chicks, from hatching till six weeks, on chick starter with 20-22% protein. From six to twenty weeks, give them a pullet grower with 14-16% protein and then switch them to a layer feed that has 15-18% protein in it. Protein is critically important! When your chicken lays an eggs, they are essentially giving birth to a baby. And this happens every single day. Imagine how draining it would be for your body if each day you gave birth to a nine pound baby! Protein is essential and necessary for the health of your birds. Your hens should begin laying between 18 and 22 weeks.
Your feeder should always be full so your hens can eat at will. Calcium is an important supplement that you will want to consider adding to their food routine. We feed ours oyster shells that are poured into a small dish and left there for them to eat as they feel the need. Calcium helps them continue to form hard eggs shells and helps to curb the desire to eat their eggs. Fresh greens or the ability to roam free in pasture is also very important as it provides them with essential vitamins and nutrients that they may not get from their feed.
Boilers, or alternatively Fryers, are birds that are raised specifically for their meat. They are a short term commitment as most are harvested by 12 weeks and though they have the same basic needs as your laying hens, they have them in different ways. Begin, as always, by researching the best breeds for your purpose. Cornish Cross Rocks are the most common as they quickly reach four pounds by eight weeks are are therefore ready to be harvested.
When raising them, chicks have the same basic needs, however you will want to begin them on a chick starter with 23% protein for only FOUR weeks, before reducing to a grower feed with 19% protein. Keep feeders full so they can eat as often as necessary.
Cleanliness is just as important, if not moreso with layers. Because they are harvested at such a young age, it is more likely that chicks will pick up sickness and your investment will be wasted. Cleanliness provides them with a healthy life and you with healthy food.
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