I decided to raise chickens – and ducks – so as to not have to worry about empty shelves at the store. Food on hand – in the back yard.
And, renewable. Eggs you can eat – and eggs that produce new birds.
If you don’t lose your birds.
Well, I just lost two, reducing my flock – and egg supply – by about a third.
What happened was natural. I let the birds wander as they like, which they like to do. And I like that allowing them to forage all day greatly reduces the cost of feed (currently about $15 for 50 pounds at the mill – where feed is much cheaper to buy than at say Tractor Supply or Rural King). This is another way to counter (or make up for) inflation, since the government hasn’t yet figured out a way to increase the cost of grass – assuming it’s yours. It is also better for the birds, which is reflected in their better health and better-tasting eggs.
But there is a catch.
If you let your birds wander, it is inevitable that something else is going to get a free lunch. In my case, a hawk – which took two of my birds the other day. You will know it’s a hawk that came to – for – dinner by the sad pile of feathers you will find to mark the meal. The hawk will dive-bomb the target – to stun it, apparently – and then swoop off with the booty clutched in its claws.
Which is a problem if you can’t get new ones.
Now, I have a rooster – so it’s possible. But even so, it will take time for him to do his thing and then for the eggs to hatch. It will take even longer for the chicks to become chickens – and for them to start laying eggs. In general, several months from the time they hatch to the time they start producing eggs. So – for the next several months – I’m looking at getting about a third fewer eggs than I was getting just last week.
Which is why the first thing I did yesterday was to get new chicks – already hatched. This will shave about a month off the time it would take to hatch my eggs – and eliminates the chance that my eggs might not (my rooster hasn’t yet established that he’s fully operational).
Which is why I think – in hindsight – that I should have started out with more birds. One can always eat the extras, if there are too many. But you can’t eat what you haven’t got – and it’s hard to wait three months to eat.
A bird in hand is literally worth two in the bush.
On the upside, Rural King still had chicks, which I worried they might not given the time of year (chicks have to be kept warm for several weeks or they will die; this means a heat lamp and – usually – keeping the chicks away from the adult birds, who may try to kill them, perceiving them as foreigners to the flock).
And I was able to get some chicks that will diversify the genetic stock of my flock, including some Ameraucana chicks; these lay the blue-green Easter Egg colored eggs. I also got a couple new ducks – Runners – to do the same for my currently homogenous flock of Muscovy ducks.
I will have a large enough flock to make up for “lost inventory,” so to speak. But – as I say – it will take some time for everything to get back to where it was. This may come back to haunt me if things go badly sideways – at the supermarket – before spring gets here. Before my flock got thinned, I was getting at least two and usually four eggs – from the chickens – each day, which is a decent supply of protein for 1-2 people per day. Luckily, the ducks also produce eggs, which makes up for some of the loss.
But there will be further losses. It is inevitable. And not just because of hawks and other dine-and-dash freeloaders. Birds get sick; birds just die. These facts of life should be taken into consideration. Some of this you will learn to manage by feel – as I am doing. There is a balance to be struck between how large a flock you’ll need to meet your needs and the cost (in time and feed) of maintaining the flock.
My needs seem to be more than adequately supplied by a flock of 10-12 adult/producing birds. You may need more – or less.
The trick being not to get caught with too few!
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