What it takes to raise and harvest chickens following a societal collapse.
Tasty, healthy, SURVIVAL eggs and chicken. Baby chicks to barter with.
Included: How to raise chickens without catching the attention of local thieves…
During the Depression, families often had to resort to creative ways to keep their food hidden from thieves, and that kind of creativity is certainly needed for raising chickens following a catastrophic disaster or apocalyptic event.
Animal predators, as well as human ones, will want your chickens and their eggs as much as you do, so being prepared is the way to keep your birds healthy and safely hidden until you are ready to harvest them.One of the surest things about preparedness is that very few things are absolutely sure, and that applies to raising animals of any kind. Raising animals for food takes time and flexibility and the ability to go from Plan A to Plan B without losing your cool. The key to success is minimizing losses and maximizing harvest numbers. Chickens are one of the easiest animals to raise for eggs and meat, and that’s why farmers choose them as a first flock before goats, sheep, or other ruminants. If you are in a location where you can have animals, there are a few things you’ll need to get your chickens started as a renewable food source. You’ll need some place the birds can sleep at night, but the shelter doesn’t have to be fancy. Just shelter from the cold and/or heat, with food and water. Here’s a good resource for DYI chicken coops:
Chickens Grow Fast
If you buy chicks, they’ll grow fast and once they are old enough to identify as rooster or hen, you can sell mated pairs of birds to individuals or families you may be in contact with. Keep in mind that these birds, especially roosters, are quite noisy. If you’re trying to stay hidden, or just keep local thieves from knowing you’re raising chickens, you will need to keep your rooster apart from the hens in his own cage, with heavy blankets draped over it from dusk until lunchtime to muffle the sound of crowing.
They usually crow all day, but since they do it to establish territory over hens, keep him in his own cage (and away from the sight of the hens) most of the time and he will be more calm. When you are ready to increase the size of your flock, you can bring the hens to his cage one at a time. Once the new brood is hatched and you identify the new rooster you want to keep, you can harvest the old rooster for stew meat. For more ideas on keeping a rooster quiet, here’s a brief how-to article on stopping a rooster from crowing.
Chickens Need Daily Water
Your chickens will need fresh, clean water daily just like you do. A mature chicken needs up to a full liter of water every day in warmer weather. If you have meat birds, (chickens that are raised primarily for the meat and not for the eggs they produce) they might need a little more than a liter.
One of the greatest challenges in raising animals of any kind is keeping the water containers clean. All animals, including chickens, don’t understand the need for keeping away from dirty water and if left to themselves will urinate and defecate in their water bowls if they are left on the ground. There are all kinds of inexpensive hanging DIY water container systems that solve this problem. Some of the best designs for these water containers can be made from empty two-liter soda bottles or plastic buckets. If none of these items are available, you can give the chickens water in any clean bowl you have available, but you will need to make sure the water is checked every day.
Chickens Need Vitamins, Minerals — Healthy Food To Eat
Chickens also need minerals such as calcium to make strong shells and ultimately make their meat and eggs healthy to eat. Having a good book on hand such as this one on keeping chickens healthy is a great reference manual.
Food For Your Chickens
Depending on the season of the year, and your bug out or emergency location, insects will provide some of the food that chickens need to eat every day. If you have a small cage with a mesh bottom that can be moved around (these are known as ‘chicken tractors’ to chicken farmers) the chickens will also be eating the green grass and other vegetation that they can reach through the wire. If you move the cage every day, the grass will always be fresh and the meat and eggs from these birds will benefit from the vegetation.
Chickens also eat scraps and will enjoy eating many leftovers such as wilted greens, vegetable stems and roots, even cleanings from a fish catch or fresh butchering of wild game. Some farmers insist that feeding chickens the butchered remains of other chickens is risky due to the potential for genetic weakness being passed down and/or latent bacterial infections; others say it is fine. My personal preference is to avoid feeding any animals the remains of the same kind of animals, but use your own judgment. Certainly you should avoid feeding them anything that has come in contact with chemicals or toxic waste. You are going to be eating those eggs and meat eventually, so don’t take any chances in making you or your family sick.
If you have more time to develop your chickens as a source of food, a compost bin in a plastic bucket with a lid can be used to grow earthworms or fly larvae to feed your chickens. This is another way to provide food for your chickens without having to feed them anything from your own table or supplies. If you only have a few chickens to feed, this will not be a problem. If you have more than six chickens, you will need to supplement their feed in winter with grain such as corn or oats or some type of layer feed.
Organic Feed for Chicks — First 8 Weeks
For this reason, some farmers with a small flock will cull (harvest) chickens in late fall so that they only have a few to feed through the winter. Then when the weather warms in the Spring time, they will allow their flocks to build back up with new baby chicks that should be big enough and weigh enough to be ready to eat in eight or nine weeks.
One of the best things about chickens is that they will nest on the ground with only a little encouragement in the way of a nest box. Nest boxes can be made of wood or plastic but need to be filled with some kind of clean bedding such as dry grass or leaves. Chickens will quickly develop the habit of laying in their boxes but sometimes they need help learning what the box is for, especially if they are young chickens. Some farmers place a golf ball into the nest box for this purpose. The chickens will think that the ball is an egg and will add their own egg to the clutch. Once the hen has begun to lay, a healthy, well-fed chicken will typically lay one egg per day.
You will need to gather eggs daily and either eat them immediately or refrigerate them. If you can refrigerate, or store in a root cellar kept at a cold enough temperature, the cold will stop fertilization so that the egg will not hatch. If you only have hens and not a rooster, the hens will still lay eggs but since they are not fertilized, they will not hatch.
As we mentioned before, chickens can be noisy, especially roosters. If you are hoping to lay low and go unnoticed in your location, you will need to keep your flock to just the laying hens. Unfortunately, the hens will only be good layers for a couple of years. Then you will need to replace your birds.
When it is time to harvest your birds (eight or nine weeks) there are several methods for doing this. If you are reading this article, you obviously have internet access. You can find any number of videos on how to harvest a chicken. There are several good how-to videos that show newbies a simple process of removing the head with a sharp knife and hanging the bird upside down to clean out the guts.
Next the bird needs to be placed in a pot of hot water to loosen the feathers; then the bird is plucked. You’ll find similar videos of hunters harvesting wild turkeys, a process that involves removing the skin of the bird, which hangs loosely on the body, and the feathers come off with the skin. One hunter shares that this method saves a lot of time and and you’re able to then get the bird onto the grill quickly.
If you are off grid and have no refrigerator or freezer, of course you will want to immediately cook your bird or any meat. There are ways to preserve meat with salt and smoke and drying techniques, but that is the subject for another day and another blog.
Protecting Your Chickens
You like chicken? Lots of animals such as coyotes (we have an article about the best traps for coyotes and other pests), raccoons, hawks, wild or domestic dogs, foxes, wolves, domestic or wild cats, etc. also like chicken. As soon as you bring chickens into your setting, plan on keeping watch over these birds because you will have predators show up. The best protections include strong, reinforced cages with doors that can be padlocked, an outside domestic dog, and your watchful eye. It’s not just if other animals will try to eat your chickens, but when, and usually that is at night. If you park your chicken tractor (the moveable ones we talked about earlier) near where you will be sleeping, you will hear the chickens if they get upset by an intruder. If you are in survival mode, these animal intruders, if healthy, become another opportunity to add to your food sources. Get ready to get creative when making stew with your wild game.
Hatching Even More Chickens — Help Your Neighbors Help Themselves
From fertilizer for the garden, keeping the insect population down near your crops, and feathers for pillows and mattresses, the value of chickens goes further than just meat and eggs. If you have the time and the land, raising chickens might just make the difference between just surviving the storm and living well in the midst of the storm.
If you start hatching too many chickens, you may even consider giving away some chicks to other local families with the backyards or other space to raise them.