Chickens are the Gateway Farm Animal
We started years ago with 6 ISA Reds thanks to hitting Tractor Supply during chick days and Larry was outnumbered by myself and the boys, so we came home with 6 chicks. We got in trouble with our neighborhood once we moved the chickens outside as they were not allowed. We were already on their radar because we had turned much of our yard into raised garden beds which was against the neighborhood rules as well. Our flock has since grown to 85 laying hens and one rooster.
Egg Layer Breeds
We have a colorful flock of free range egg layers. We currently order all of our chicks through a coop downstate, which works with many small hatcheries and farmers. They are all heritage breeds including Road Island Reds, Bard Rocks, Silver Laced Wyandotte, and Cinnamon Girls. When our boys were little they wanted a colorful flock which is how we first came to ordering a mix of chickens. But we have found a few benefits that have kept us mixing it up. They lay and molt at different times which helps us keep our eggs going year round and they also enjoy different bugs and treats so not just one spot in our yard is decimated and they get all of the bugs.
Why Heritage Breeds
Heritage breeds do grow more slowly and lay less eggs but they are healthier and hardier chickens. They are cold hardy and can handle our sometimes harsh winters and temperatures. We do give them inside space to play in as well as their heated coop with deep bedding during the winter months. They are happy and comfortable enough that they lay year round, though numbers do drop a bit in winter.
They also are still great as stew meat or broilers once there egg laying days are winding down as they have not put all of their energy just to egg production. Which for us is important because we want healthy chickens as they produce better eggs and it also means that then we can butcher them for broilers and they are still great meat birds. They are great in soups, stews and pot pie. Leaving nothing to go to waste, which is important to us.
We let our girl’s free range year round as they choose, and yes some days they look outside and turn right back arounds. We do also have a fenced in yard for them and there are times thanks to predators that we have to shut their door for a few days. Our biggest predators have been hawks, bald eagles, and opossums, but we have also scared off an interested fox or two.
We also supplement their diet with local grain and scratch from Ellsworth, as well as oyster shells, yogurt, and kombucha scoby’s. It all helps with their gut health and all round general health. We do a natural de-wormer with them twice a year because they are free range and out scratching in everything. They also get produce seconds as treats and really enjoy all of the different vegetables and fruits.
Happy hens lay healthier better tasting eggs and taste good themselves.