Keeping Chickens as Productive Pets

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAChickens are among the most productive of pets, and if numbers are an indication the back yard poultry movement is booming. Chickens are no longer cast in the barnyard to fend for themselves nor strictly farmed in volume – there are more options including pastured poultry and those with a dozen or less birds for eggs.

For most people interested in raising chickens for their own use it comes to whether you want to raise meat birds or keep hens for eggs. This can make a difference in the choice of breeds or the time from hatching to the table. The commercial industry uses white feathered birds but for home production there is no standard restriction.

Those interested in raising some meat chickens would do well to keep it at 25 or 50 in the order. That’s a chicken a week if they all survive, for the freezer. Many hatcheries will run specials sometimes a “frying pan special” which you can get a good deal price wise. Most of the birds will be cockerels, the less valued side of the quest for hens. Leghorn type are cheap but take a couple extra weeks to get to weight; larger birds can also take slightly longer maturing.

Most people looking for chickens for the back yard will be looking at ordering pullets and raising them for egg layers. Depending on the room available you can choose from white, brown or colored egg layers in a wide range of colors. Generally they will begin laying in about six months or so depending on breed. Some popular breeds for brown egg layers have been Plymouth Rocks, Wyandottes, Orpingtons, Dominiques and Rhode Island Reds.

Those with more room may enjoy the larger breeds such as Orpingtons, Brahmas or Jersey giants. Those with less room can still have the bantam varieties of many of these breeds or silkies which take less room and feed, produce smaller eggs but are still completely edible.

Chickens are often thought of for eggs and meat but another factor when you’re keeping chickens is manure. This can be added to the compost pile for fertilizing the gardens. Typically chickens will scratch dry any wet spots looking for bugs…which reduces flies and other pests.

Confined to a portable or stationery pen they are low maintenance pets that don’t bark all night, can let themselves out of the shelter in most areas and don’t need vaccinations. They don’t need daily walks or expensive toys, eagerly make use of many kitchen scraps and while they aren’t often “lap pets” they’re no less entertaining to sit and watch.

Make sure zoning is not a problem to keeping them, and do strive to keep them contained, odor free and well kept. There is a wide range of colors, feather type, sizes and appearances available from fancy to ordinary.

Did you know – A typical layer hen can mature at standard 5-9 pounds, smaller for bantams. Some crossbreds can be “sex linked” – or have colored females and white males at hatching. Pullets (females) eliminate having to deal with roosters and crowing.

5 Top Rabbit Breeds for Homesteads

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen selecting rabbit breeds to feed a family the individual must always be considered. There is good and bad in many breeds or they would not still be in existence. The breeds for commercial raising are limited because of the demand for white fryers and a penalty for colored furs; this eliminates all but a very few breeds. However, as a homesteader you are not bound by this because it is you that will use the meat and, hopefully, make use of the pelt as well so as to not waste what is provided.

When you are looking for home food production these rabbits can also be good for showing as well as, for many, pets. Because for efficient production of meat they should be 5-6 pounds by 4-5 months it eliminates the small breeds. The dominance here is the larger 8 pound plus mature animals that have decent sized litters, raise them without a great deal of pampering and for those who are unsuited for show or breeding, provide a family with clean, low cost meat for the freezer. As long as there are hungry people there’s no reason for “overpopulation” of rabbits. Additionally, by using them for meat it guarantees they won’t be mistreated or turned loose to fend for themselves by placing in a poor pet home.

REX were developed for meat and fur production. They have a soft, plush fur that makes it ideal for crafts as well as for shawls or other products you can make at home. The Rex is typically 8-10 pounds at maturity and with good feed can produce a litter six times per year. This takes top management breeding her, when the kits are a month old rebreeding her. At 5-6 weeks she is removed from the litter so she has 2-3 weeks to rest before the next litter is due. A good homestead rabbit should be able to maintain this with a minimum of issues providing *good* management is given! Rex are normally easy going rabbits and come in a wide range of colors from the recently accepted amber to blue and broken (or spotted) patterns. More recently the otter has been expanded from just black to include blue, chocolate and lilac colors.

AMERICAN CHINCHILLA Developed in America for food and fur this normal’ furred rabbit has a deserved reputation as a good mother. With a 9-11 adult weight she can produce 5 pound fryer rabbits by the time they are just a few months old. The beautiful color of the chinchilla breeds is actually developed with rings of color on each hair, visible when you lightly blow into the fur. The disadvantage to this beautiful breed is they are critically rare so it can take some effort to find them. They still do well what they have done for nearly 100 years produce a family with food.

NEW ZEALAND Long considered THE meat rabbit the white variety is the most common rabbit in the 8-10 or so pound size. If you see a normal fur white rabbit chances are it’s New Zealand. Less common is the red and black New Zealand with blue and broken black being developed for those who aren’t commercial and want more than white fur. From a commercial standpoint the white fur takes dye the best, but from a home-raised standpoint artificial dyes don’t compete with natural colors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGIANT CHINCHILLA This is a large breed of up to 16 pounds with the chinchilla coloring, developed for the larger size that can carry more meat on a wide frame. The breed is American made with a docile temperament and good mothering abilities. Like the American Chinchilla they can be hard to find. Although more numerous they are still recovering from low numbers that threatened to make them extinct.

SATINS. My experience with Satins was less than satisfactory due to poor breeding ability on the stock, but it remains they’re a large, beautiful fur breed. Like the Rex, a recessive gene alters the coat and once you see a Satin in full bloom you won’t forget it! They have a beautiful natural sheen that sparkles with deep, rich colors to the fur. They are a good sized breed, many say a little more temperamental but this could be certain lines also.

Other breeds that can work include Californians, Americans, Beverens, Sables, Cinnamon, champagne de argent, palominos and many others. Look for those that mature over eight pounds.

Whichever breed you choose get from a good breeder, ideally one who keeps and selects for animals that exceed in situations you have. If you will be raising them in outdoor hutches it makes sense to select rabbits from parents who were raised in that environment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATell the seller what you are looking for if you want to show it’ll mean a little more expense sometimes especially with the more popular breeds. If you want strictly home meat production then seek one that is good for breeding with a family line of good conception, good mothers, 8-10 kits per litter and raising those kits to weaning. A doe that has 7 per litter is a better bet than one that kills every other litter.

With that in mind, you are time and money ahead to cull any animals with bad attitudes, poor mothers and bucks that consistently sire small litters when on a good program. There are some does that become hormonal and when they have babies get defensive. This is different from the animal that bites every time you reach in the cage.

Select and keep what you like. Even if you show, if you like the offspring of a certain rabbit don’t cull just because a couple judges don’t like her. YOU feed and care for her, you pay the feed bill and you have to look at her every day! At the same time give consideration to comments given if you show because this can also help your goal of meat production. While toenails and white spots don’t make a difference the strength of loin, width of shoulders and general width all the way down DO make a difference. If you think from a practical standpoint that is where your meat is the muscle.

Don’t think just because you’re raising for food you can feed low quality feed and get good production. Good quality care and feed is needed for production. Just because a litter is slated for food production doesn’t mean using cheap poor quality feed and little care if you do you may end up disillusioned and with nothing for the freezer. A bag of low quality feed can be $10-12 for 50 pounds; top quality is just a few dollars more.

Good care means good food. Don’t believe the claims rabbit tastes just like chicken either! You will be disappointed. Rabbits are leaner and need to be cooked differently than the higher fat foods we’re used to.

The rabbit is an amazing animal. A good doe on good management can produce over 200 pounds of meat per year in an area of a small storage shed. It’s best to have three or four does and at least two bucks. Focus on quality feed, quality care and production and a rabbit can produce more than you think for your freezer. Treasure them!

Grow Local? Not!

There’s a wave of people wanting to do more for themselves. Urban homesteaders, gardens, small livestock – making use of what we have. It makes sense. And in many areas it makes people mad.

It interferes with their city view and manicured lawns. It’s “an eyesore” to have gardens next door. An article HEre tells of the problem nationwide and indeed it’s banned in Detroit. (Can one do anything in Detroit? You can’t have certain dogs, can’t grow gardens, questionable living there due to crime…hmmm maybe why homes don’t sell there?! Just a thought.)

Anyway, it puzzles me why people are bothered by a half dozen tomato plants but many areas in cities and small towns alike they are. Even when weeded and in defined raised bed areas It offends some people to see anything more than a few inches tall growing. Perhaps it is because it’s harder to see in your business (personal) but whatever the reason, complaints are a source of issues for the grow local movement. There’s complaints of odor from compost (which shouldn’t have an odor!).

With the attack on such places, the restrictions to have some livestock in subdivisions and the simultaneous attack on farmers to raise food professionally one wonders where people think our food will come from in the future.

This same complaint/regulation is harboring solar and wind power in many areas while we’re told we should use more green energy. How can this be when others sue to keep it out? It drives common sense rural to a higher level.