Each year, we raise 100-200 new birds to live on our farm and cycle out the old ones. They contribute to the farm by providing fertility with their manure, producing protein in the form of eggs, and eating the larvae and adult forms of various types of insect pests.
What types of chickens do we raise?
We have raised many different breeds, including Australorps, Ameracaunas / “Easter Eggers”, Pearl Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Black Stars, Turkens. We now generally select for breeds that are good dual purpose chickens, meaning they lay well and also have a larger frame to provide more meat as a stewing chicken. We also select for breeds which forage well on pasture. Our chicks currently come from a few different hatcheries including in Wisconsin, Texas and Ohio. They are shipped as day-old chicks and we pick them up at the post office! Each year we select a different breed so we have some idea of how old they are, and we also sometimes have to take what we can get with limited availability from hatcheries.
When do hens start laying eggs?
Hens can lay eggs starting as early as about 20 weeks of age, and usually by six months old they are laying eggs regularly. The length of the daylight (photoperiod) influences the lay rate of the chickens. They lay the most in the late spring as days are getting longer. They lay the least, or stop altogether, in the winter near the solstice (the shortest day of the year). We keep our chickens for about two and a half to three years and then we butcher them and use them to make soup as stewing chickens.
Do you need a rooster to produce eggs?
No, the rooster is not necessary to produce eggs. Even though we order all female chickens, we always get a few roosters in the bunch because sexing tiny chicks is not 100% accurate. We let them grow out and keep the ones that benefit the flock by looking out and sounding the alarm for predators, keeping a functioning “pecking order.” They are also fun to watch, but only the nice ones get to stay. Roosters that are aggressive to people go to the stew pot.
Why do you keep a goose with the chickens?
The theory here is that the goose is a deterrent to predators. They are large and loud. We’re not sure if it’s working, but they are entertaining!
What do the chickens eat?
The chickens eat a combination of weeds, grass, veggie and fruit scraps, insects and occasional meat scraps. We also feed a soy-free, organic feed that is milled fresh in St. Augustine. When you see the label “vegetarian fed” on eggs at the store, you can be assured that those chickens never spent a day out in the sun or outdoors. Chickens naturally are omnivores and will eat insects, grubs, and even small snakes, lizards or mice! “Cage free” does not mean raised outdoors, it only means the chickens are not confined individually in battery cages, but instead housed inside large barns.
Why are some chickens missing feathers?
We raise a special breed of chickens called “Turkens” or “Naked Neck” chickens, which do not grow feathers on their necks and heads. For them, this appearance is normal. For other chickens, who are missing feathers on their backs or other parts of their body, it can be due to pecking from other birds, or a seasonal molting where chickens lose feathers and grow new replacements. By providing adequate space for birds, enough environmental stimulation (things to peck and scratch on the ground), and proper nutrition, we aim to reduce feather-pecking, but it does appear from time to time.