Along with rabbits, Chickens are among the easiest farm animals to raise. They need a covered shed that can be closed on all sides, nesting boxes and a little bit of outside yard. Forty to fifty birds in a 10’x20′ barn, with another 10’x20′ enclosed yard is more than enough. If they are all hens, you could expect between two and three dozen eggs a day, less in the winter.
Rhoad Island Reds (Production Reds) are a good all-around bird. They are very cold and heat tolerant, reliable layers and quite edible when young. They are not good sitters, meaning they are not as successful hatching out a clutch of eggs as other breeds, like araucanas or banties. However, you can grow old trying to crack enough banty eggs to feed a dozen people. A good way to find the breed that works in your area is to just drive down the road and see what other people are raising. Some people like Buff Orpingtons, others like Barred Rocks. Coloration might vary, but all chickens are prety much the same.
Chickens are hogs with feather – they will eat just about anything. Garden waste is a veritable banquet, table scraps are high cuisine. Lawn clippings, bad fruit and moldy bread will all dissapear instantly. Onions, citrus peals and meat are not usually good ideas.
Commercial feed is always an option. I will buy two bags of Laying Pellets and mix them with one bag of Scratch Grains. I store my feed in a metal 50 gallon trash can stored inside the barn. The metal keeps out varmints, rain and bugs. 50 gallons will feed fifty birds for two weeks or more, depending on how much supplemental food they receive.
Easily the largest headache in raising chickens is the wide array of predators that will attack and kill your chickens. Larger predators include bobcats, coyotes, stray dogs, the neighbors’ dogs and your own dogs. A four foot chain-link fence will not keep out anything, six is OK, eight has not failed me yet. A single dog can easily kill twenty birds in half an hour, and once a dog gets a taste for chicken, they will keep coming back for more.
Smaller predators include opposums, skunks, weasels, hawks and raccoons. Chain link fences only slow them down, they will always find a way through. The raccoons are the smartest, and most difficult to catch. I have had a raccoon snatch a bird, run fourty feet and climb an eight foot chain-link fence before I could cross twenty-feet at a run. Skunks are the most infuriating… They will chew the heads off, sometimes eating out the chest cavity, and often leave the rest of the carcass, or cache it in a corner for later snacks. Don’t let a possum fool you, although they will grab eggs if they are available, they can bite clean through the neck of a bird in a snap.
Usually, the smaller predator gets a bird the first evening, and I would use the remains to bait the live trap on the next evening. Use a trap about 12″ tall by 10″ wide by 26″ long. If the trap is too small, the animal will not enter it. Keep your scent off the trap as much as possible, and bait it with a sardine or two if you do not have chicken parts.
Once caught, what you do with the predator is up to you. BBQ raccoon on the grill tastes great, and is somehow fitting for the varmint to return the favor after so recently feasting on your animals. For the kinder of heart, a relocation to a distant neighborhood may be appropriate. Anything less then five miles is an invitation for de-ja’ vu all over again.
Given the number of predators, expect a 100% turnover in population every other year or so. A bird that makes it to three years of age is beating the odds.
IMO, chickens are just not worth the time and effort to clean. Catching, killing and bleeding the bird is just the start. Then comes dunking the dead bird in the boiling water, plucking, singeing, gutting, cleaning, cutting and freezing. If the bird is more than six months old, you had better drag out the pressure cooker. The local grocer has whole fryers for $0.99 per pound. Instead, spend a little more for sex-linked (female only) chicks and keep a pair of roosters if you want to hatch out your own replacements.