Chickens are a perfect survival livestock, no matter where you live or how much land you own. They provide both meat and eggs, while helping rid your garden area of bugs that can destroy your crops.
Most cities and small towns allow chickens to be kept, but may place restrictions on the number of birds, breed types, and the possibility of keeping a rooster as well.
When times are good, you can always go buy more chicks if some die or get butchered, but during a SHTF scenario, living somewhere that prohibits keeping roosters will ultimately lead to the demise of your flock. Preppers should not live in cities or suburban areas with a plethora of rules pertaining to how you live on your own property; it’s really that simple.
All chickens are not created equal. While you can get both meat and eggs from any breed of chicken, some are better suited than others for each. As with all types of livestock, some chickens are known as multipurpose or dual purpose birds, meaning they adequately provide both meat and eggs, but do not necessarily excel at any one.
If you live in a city or the suburbs, you should invest your money in the cultivation of a flock of chickens noted as “quiet breeds.” Although they will still make typical chicken noises, they are known to be among the more subdued varieties of birds.
Hens need nesting boxes with straw or similar material to create a nest for laying their eggs.
Meat chickens are commonly referred to as “broilers.” These birds are known to gain weight far more quickly than most other breeds and produce quality meat. In only just about five weeks a broiler can grow to weigh as much as five pounds.
Broiler hens do produce eggs if they are not butchered before they reach maturity, but that rarely happens on the typical farm or homestead. It takes only weeks instead of months, for a broiler to reach butcher weight.
If a broiler hen does reach maturity, her eggs will be as tasty as eggs laid by other breeds of chickens, but will be decidedly smaller.
Top 4 Meat Chicken Breeds
photo above: a Jersey Giant chicken
1. Jersey Giant – These birds were initially cultivated as part of a concerted effort to replace the turkey as the most popular and largest meat birds. Jersey Giant chickens can grow to weigh as much as 11 to 13 pounds on average. Unlike most meat birds, this breed actually produces not only brown eggs, but large brown eggs Jersey Giants reach maturity when they are six months old.
photo above: a Cornish Cross chicken
2. Cornish Cross – These birds can reach weights of 10 to 12 pound in only eight weeks. Because they grow so large so quickly, they are the breed most often cultivated on commercial poultry farms. The Cornish Cross is also known as fairly quiet and low-activity bird, making them a good choice for non-rural chicken keepers, as well.
photo above: Orpington chickens
3. Orpington – This is yet another quickly maturing large breed of chicken. Orpington hens weigh up to 8 pounds on average, with roosters being slightly larger. Their meat is regarded as being both quite tasty and tender. Orpington chickens grow large, but not as quickly as other meat birds and can lay up to 200 eggs per year, making them a dual purpose bird, as well.
photo above: freedom ranger chickens
4. Freedom Rangers – These pasture fed birds were developed with both free ranging and pesticide free raising in mind. They thrive on low protein foods and are excellent foragers, making them a great choice for a survival homesteading retreat. They thrive when allowed to roam free or are kept in a substantially spacious pen.
They are not quick growers like some of the breeds noted above, but the taste of their meat has made them popular keepers and earned them the label of being deemed the best birds for rotisserie cooking.
Keeping the chicken coop clean is essential for both the health and egg laying production of the flock.
Egg Layer Chickens
Even though all hens lay eggs, both the quality and quantity varies greatly. Some hens have excellent maternal instincts and are great sitters, others seem to have absolutely no interest at all in becoming mommas, they simply lay their eggs and wander away.
If your hens do not sit their eggs, you have two choices to further your flock: surrogacy or incubator. Bantam hens are great little poultry mommas and often accept the eggs of other birds into their nest – as long as you sneak them in when they briefly leave to get feed and water.
Expect all hens to slow down the production of eggs during the cold winter months and if they become too overheated during the heat of the summer. Hens also decrease egg production if their living area, waterer, or feeder becomes dirty, and when they are sick or injured. When hens are not eating and drinking properly, eggs are more likely to get stuck during the laying process, potentially killing them in the process.
Photo above: these Rhode Island Red, White Leghorn, and White California Sex Link chicks were kept in the chicken run that also serves as an outdoor brooder. The chicks were subjected to the sights, sounds, smells, and “germs” in the barnyard from day one in preparation for their release to join the rest of the free-range flock.
Top 5 Best Egg Laying Chickens
photo above: a Rhode Island Red chicken
1. Rhode Island Reds – These docile and fairly quiet chickens lay medium and delicious brown eggs frequently. Rhode Island Red hens lay approximately 260 per year. They are great foragers but lousy sitters. I keep Banty hens around primarily to sit the eggs of my Reds and other hens that are not good sitters.
photo above: a White Leghorn rooster
2. White Leghorns – This breed lays 280 large and sturdy white eggs annually. It tends to live well in both captivity and when free ranging. White Leghorn roosters are often fairly aggressive, except with their primary caregivers, but they do a great job at protecting their flock.
photo above: a golden comet chicken
3. Golden Comet – These hardy birds cannot only survive, but thrive in cold weather. Comet hens have been known to lay around 300 eggs each year. Golden Comets are a heritage breed and lay
photo: a Sussex chicken
4. Sussex – This is another dual purpose breed of chicken. They can lay up to 250 eggs each year and produce a good quality meat. The Sussex eggs vary in color between a light brown to a creamy white. They are a calm breed and will often eat right from your hand.
photo: a Plymouth Rock chicken
5. Plymouth Rock – This breed is perfect for a newbie poultry keeper. They are intelligent and calm birds that lay approximately 200 eggs per year. Plymouth Rock hens are often thought of as “farm pets” due to their friendly nature. They make superb free ranging poultry.
Video of Tara and the kids releasing the new chickens to the flock:
When releasing chicks to meld in with the rest of the free-ranging flock, or into a run where the other birds live, do so both calmly and patiently. Simply open the door and allow the birds to become curious about the outside world and to step slowly towards it at a pace either their excitement or fear dictates.
You do not want to just pick the chicks up and place them with the flock, and not give both established members and the chicks time to acclimate. A startled chick may run off and never be found again, taking food off your family’s plate in the process.
Chickens are a great first livestock husbandry experience for the children in your survival group or living on the prepper retreat. Even toddlers can be taught to help care for the flock and collect eggs. When children are taught from a young age where there food comes from, to protect, interact, and not fear the animals, they grow up far more in tune with the egg/birth to the butcher shed process and the role they are expected to play on the prepper retreat.
Heritage breeds of livestock are slower growing than modern and often times, hybrid, varieties of chickens. But, they are typically far more hardy, and often boast higher longevity and reproduction rates, as well as an enhanced percentages of protein, than typical breeds.
Top Heritage Chicken Breeds
• Buckeye Chickens – This is the only breed ever developed by a woman in the United States. They lay approximately 225 eggs per year with hens growing as large as six and a half pounds on average. Buckeye roosters typically weigh around 9 pounds.
• Delaware – This is a stocky chicken breed that is hardy in both cold and hot environments. Hens and roosters of this heritage breed weigh about the same as Buckeye chickens. They lay durable jumbo sized eggs white eggs and mature rather quickly for heritage breeds.
photo above: Dorking chicken
• Dorking – This is an exceedingly calm chicken breed, even the roosters. The meat it produces is known to be extremely tender. Dorking hens are great sitters and also do a fine job of teaching their young how to be free range chickens.
Top 15 Quiet Chicken Breeds
While all roosters are prone to making at least a little noise, some breeds of chickens are overall a lot quieter than others. When attempting to survive a long-term SHTF scenario, keeping a quieter breed of chicken could help keep prying eyes and ears from knowing you are raising your own food.
- Rhode Island Reds – These are both quiet and calm breeds that tend to get along well with other poultry flocks.
- Buff Orpington – This is a fairly multi-purpose breed that is also typically easy to handle and free ranges quite well.
- Bantam – These superb sitters are also solid egg producers, but generate tasty white eggs that are smaller than most of the other breeds on this list.
- Barred Rock Plymouth – These birds are well-suited to both captivity and free range life. They are also hardy in colder climates.
- Brahma – These massive chickens are also a heritage breed. The hens are capable of growing to reach 14 pounds. Some Brahma roosters weighed as much as 18 pounds. They are great free ranging birds and are exceptionally hardy white egg layers.
Other quiet multi-purpose birds include: Australorp, Cochin, Java, and the Ameraucana.
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Buying an incubator is highly recommended. You can purchase a decent incubator capable of hatching 9 chicken eggs or 6 duck eggs for a fairly small amount of money. Larger incubators can range in price from $100 to $180 each. Always buy an incubator that has an automatic turning feature to rotate the eggs – unless you have time to manually turn the eggs multiple times of day and night.
Operating an incubator is not complicated, and each model comes with detailed instructions. They key to hatching eggs is to keep an eye on the humidity reading on the digital display on the top of the machine. It takes approximately 21 days for chicken eggs to hatch.
If you have a barn and keep free range chickens, expect them to spend most of their days (and sometimes nights) roosting in the rafters and keeping well out of view of hawks that would like to eat them.
Chicken Feeding And Watering Tips
• A mature chicken should be fed approximately ⅓ to 2 pounds of food per week if not allowed to free range to forage for food.
• When feeding chicks, purchase feed designed for their age, a mash style feed, or add a little water to chicken pellet or crumble feed so the young birds can safely consume it.
• Make sure any waterer placed in the chicken coop or run is not so deep a chick can become too wet or drown in it. Fountain-style waterers that hang on the outside of the enclosure with a fountain cup watering spout accessible to the flock inside, will cut down on mess and waste.
• Either a chicken coop run or a brooder for chicks, that holds 12 or more birds should have a waterer that is capable of holding up to 3 gallons of water per day. During the winter months, check the water frequently to make sure it does not turn to ice. Filling a plastic bottle with a 2 part salt and 1 part water mixture and floating it inside the waterer can help prevent ice from forming.
• During the winter and summer months, increase the amount of protein in the flock’s diet. It is also a good idea to give the chickens healthy treats with some extra salt during the hot summer months to help prevent heat exhaustion or stroke.
Most chicken breeds are highly susceptible to heat stroke and require shade in their run and plenty of water to remain healthy. Pay attention to the eating habits of the flock members so it will be obvious if a chicken or rooster suddenly decreases food intake or stops eating, indicating a potentially serious health issue.
• A quality broody hen will rarely ever leave her eggs. She will run out once a day, on average, to get some food and water. If you notice the hen not leaving the nest at all, place food and water within her reach to avoid her becoming dehydrated or starving to death. Even a typically calm and sweet hen can be known to become particularly aggressive and attack when you approach her nest while she is sitting eggs.
• During the cold weather months, infuse more vitamin D via healthy snacks, into the diet of the flocks to increase egg production and durability.
• Chickens needs to experience light up to 10 hours per day to produce eggs, Place a solar powered light in the coop to expose the birds to more light. Hanging coop lights with a power pad that attaches to the outside of the coop can be purchased for around $10 to $15 each.
• If the flock is not free-ranged or allowed to forage via a large run or chicken tractor, they will need poultry grit added to their diet.
• Using gravity style feeders instead of trays will also cut down on mess and wasted feed – saving you money in the process. You can also use a plastic tote or 5-gallon bucket and some PVC pipe to make a large fairly mess-free feeder so the flock only has to be manually fed once every week or so, depending upon the number of birds. A messy coop or run floor will attract bugs, predators, and encourage the spread of disease.
To give chickens kept in captivity a free source of food to forage, create a composting pile inside the run and toss kitchen scraps into it on a regular basis. You can also purchase red worms to place inside the compost pile for the chickens to peck and find – increasing the percentage of protein they are consuming.
You can also grow sprouts inside the run for the flock to eat or cultivate sprouts and other chicken favorites in hanging and container pots outside of the run to rotate inside as necessary to feed the birds.
Chicken Feed Recipe
You will need a crank mill to make poultry feed due to the grains in the recipe. Make sure to grind the feed extra fine if giving to chicks.
• 3 parts of soft wheat
• Parts of whole corn
• 1 part sunflower seeds
• 3 parts of red wheat
• 1 part barley – hulled
• 1 part millet
• 1 part crushed egg shells – cleaned and dried
• 1 part split peas
• 1 part flax seeds
• 1 part sesame seeds
• One-half part grit or oyster shell
Grind all of the ingredients separately and then mix together. Store in a container with a tight-fitting lid until ready to use.
Chicken Coop and Run Environment
If the flock is not going to be free ranging, you will need to place “boredom busters” inside their coop and run to keep them from possibly becoming anxious or aggressive. Chickens with too much time on their hands become bored and often pluck out their own feathers or attack other members of the flock.
Place several perching areas inside the run, and/or a swing, as well a firewood to play upon and peck.
Pullets and eventually hens, love taking a dirt bath and should have access to one in their run at all times. A dirt bath allows a hen flop around in loose dirt to rid themselves of mites and have social time with the other hens – a perfect multi-purpose boredom buster.
To make a dirt bath, place an old tire or shallow plastic tub inside the run and fill it with loose dirt. If space allows, make one large or multiple small baths so several hens can bathe at the same time and not fight over the tires or tubs.
How To Sex Chickens
Sexing chickens is best left to the vet until you learn exactly how to conduct the process properly. Sexing chickens involves reviewing their vent (rear end) to determine if the bird is a cockerel (a young rooster) or a pullet – a young hen.
Cockerels possess the “male process” which is a basic sex organ. It is an extremely small, transparent, and glossy bulb. It protrudes from the cloacal folds inside of a male bird’s vent. A pullet has a small and shallow depression in the vent with only a mere trace of a slightly swollen bulb.
When the chicks age by only a few weeks to 1 month, you can typically determine their sex by looking at their comb and wattle. Cockerels boast a larger and thicker comb that is either red or orange. Roosters also typically have both wider and taller tail feathers, as well as spurs on the back of their feet.
When strutting or fighting, cockerels will poof out their neck feathers and fly straight up slightly off the ground and launch the fight using their feet.
Top 7 Poultry Predators
• Mink – This slick little rodent is perhaps the number one killer of poultry flocks in most parts of the United States. They are fact, stealthy, and can maneuver through chicken wire or a hole just a little larger than a quarter in mere moments.
Minks are fully capable of killing chickens, ducks, and even the meanest rooster on your survival homesteading retreat. Thankfully, in the majority of state, mink are classified as a nuisance predator and you can set traps to catch them if they threaten your livestock – or shoot them if you are both adept and quick enough to catch one out in the open….good luck with that!
To better protect your coop and run from mink, place metal siding on the exterior walls of the cook, line the corners with hardware cloth (rabbit pen wire) and use this same wire to create your run area. Lining the floor of your coop with hardware cloth (covering it with boards or metal to prevent chick feet from getting stuck under it is recommended) will give extra protection from mink and other burrowing predators.
• Hawks – The only predator I have seen kill chickens nearly as rapidly as a mink, is the hawk. Unfortunately, birds of prey are exempt from nuisance predators laws, so shooting or trapping them (in a non-SHTF world) will bring about hefty fines and potentially even jail time.
To deter hawks, use reflective tape around the coop, run, and barnyard, paint large black eyes on top of the coop and other structures (hawk’s eyes are extremely magnified and the large eyes can trick them into thinking a larger predator has already claimed the area) and use motion activated solar lights and decoys to startle and distract the deadly birds.
• Owls – Having an owl in your barn will definitely keep down on mice, but if you free range your flock, prepare to loose birds as well. Owls nesting or lurking in the trees above the chicken coop can find their way inside if the vent space between the top of the walls and the roof is either too large or not covered securely with wood strips and/or hardware cloth. It is not legal to trap or shoot owls in most states. Use the same farm deterrence techniques noted above for hawks to help keep owls away from the flock.
• Foxes – These deadly predators are called “sly” with good reason. They are quite elusive, just like the mink, and as deadly as the coyote. Setting traps or shooting a fox in many states is allowed as long as they are designated a nuisance predators.
• Weasel – These digging predators will kill more chickens and other poultry flock members than they can possibly consume in one setting. Weasels have been known to only bite the heads and necks off of their prey and then leave the bodies stacked up at the kill site. Trapping weasels is permissible in many states. Use the same types of coop and run building materials to help prevent this small predator from wiping out your flock.
• Coyotes – These roaming predators can wipe out your chicken flock, as well as kill rabbits, other poultry flocks, and even young goats. Building a secure chicken coop and run using firmly installed posts, hardware cloth on, under, and around the chicken living area, and using motion detector lights, will help protect a caged flock. Coyotes are now deemed nuisance predators in most states, so they can be trapped or shot to protect your livestock. Miniature donkeys are great coyote deterrents. Mini donkeys love to chase and kick coyotes to run them out of their territory.
• Raccoon – Many folks falsely think raccoons only steal eggs, but they also kill chickens. Make certain to place 2-step locks on all coop and run entry doors and egg collecting flaps. A raccoon can easily open a simple 1-step locks, like the common hook and flip latch variety.
Trenching around the run and lining the it with hardware cloth, as well as putting a lining of hardware cloth under the coop and run (covering it with a wood or dirt floor) and nailing a panel of hardware cloth around the outside of the door to create a flap that lays against a run pole or coop wall, helps to secure any potential opening a raccoon could claw through over time.
Common Chicken Ailments
• Gapes – This is a parasitic roundworm disease. These tiny thread-like worms lodge in the throat of chickens and then go out into the body from there. A chicken with gapes often walks around with her mouth open as if she is yawning largely.
Make a salt brine and pour it down the bird’s throat after closing its nose holes, slowly. Then, hold the bird upside down to help it cough up and evict all of the roundworms.
Salt Brine Recipe: Combine ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt, 1 cup of water, ⅛ of a cup of baking soda, and 1 and ½ teaspoons of sugar. This mixture is also great to enhance electrolytes in the flock during the summer months. You can pour it into a waterer or freeze it and let the birds peck at it for a treat.
• Liver Issues – Larger and older chickens can struggle with liver problems, especially during the winter and spring. Birds can become sluggish and their combs can turn purple or yellow – or they can die without any visible warning signs.
Too much deed and too little exercise tends to bring about this condition. Give the birds extra greens during those seasons and add some boredom buster activities to keep the birds moving about as much as possible while being literally, “cooped up.”
• Scaly Legs – Bumpy underpinnings on the legs of the birds, especially young hens can lead to a potentially dead skin infection. Boost the potassium intake of the birds and rub them with vaseline daily to get the condition to subside.
• Feather Plucking – To combat this type of behavior, prevent boredom in the coop and add more protein to their diet.
Chicken Ailments And Natural Remedies
Keeping your flock healthy is a top priority both now and especially during, a doomsday disaster when you can’t call a vet. Learning how to not only prevent and detect potentially contagious deadly illnesses, but how to treat them naturally, will help increase the longevity of your flock.
Stockpile the herbs on this list and plant a few more rows of each in your own backyard apothecary plot so there are ample on hand to prevent and treat not only chicken illnesses, but ailments in other livestock and your family as well.
1. Oregano – This herb can serve as a natural antibiotic and immune system booster. Sprinkling a tablespoon or oregano into the water or onto feed can help prevent the top killer in chicks – coccidiosis. Oregano can also help ward off avian flu, “blackhead” disease,” bronchitis, and E. coli.
The essential oil of Oregano is a natural antibiotic. Oregano can be given to chickens and ducks in the form of an essential oil, fresh or dried. It can help prevent coccidiosis, blackhead, E.coli, avian flu, and bronchitis. Chickens seem to enjoy the taste and gobble up the fresh or dried oregano quickly.
2. Black Pepper – This nutrient-filled spice boasts antioxidant, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties. Black pepper also helps to flush out toxins in the body and can aid in the absorption of nutrients.
Because chickens are typically prone to respiratory issues, tossing a pinch or two of black pepper into their water or their feed can deter such infections and reduce coughing and congestion symptoms.
3. Cinnamon – This multi-purpose and powerful spice also possesses antioxidant and antibacterial, as well as anti-infectious properties. Cinnamon aids in the enhancement of blood flow to the combs, feet, and wattles – making it ideal to add to feed or water during the winter to prevent frostbite. You can also use cinnamon to help treat respiratory infections in the birds and to alleviate the symptoms commonly associated with such illnesses.
4. Turmeric – This is my go to herb for a plethora of natural preventative and treatment remedies in both livestock and humans. Turmeric’s anti-inflammatory power is hard to rival in the natural ingredients realm. It is great for getting rid of the dreaded bumblefoot in poultry.
If you experience chicks who appear to be unable to hold their heads up straight, a condition that happens sometimes without explanation, they can potentially benefit from having turmeric added to their diet via either their food bucket or in a waterer. I add about a ½ teaspoon of turmeric to the feed of hens to help boost their immune system if they are brooding or attempting to fight off an infection.
5. Garlic – Both fresh and powdered garlic helps to boost the immune system and to fight infection. It may also help to repel mites, lice, and ticks. You can sprinkle a few pinches of garlic onto feed to serve as a natural dewormer, as well.
If using as a dewormer, sprinkle it onto feed daily for at least three weeks every 60 to 90 days as a preventative and more frequently if a worm infestation has already presented itself in the flock.
6. Cayenne Pepper – Sprinkle one teaspoon of cayenne pepper into the flock feeder to boost egg production, especially during the winter months. Cayenne pepper has also been used as a natural dewormer and parasite remover in poultry.
7. Apple Cider Vinegar – Place up to a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar into the chicken waterer twice each week during the summer months to boost the calcium absorption of the chickens – and help egg shell development – hens in particular struggle with calcium loss while laying during the warm weather months.
8. Ginger – If appetite loss is present in a flock member, giving the bird some ginger as a snack or sprinkled onto food, can spark a desire to eat.
Ginger can also be used to boost the immune system and help decrease congestion. It also possesses anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties.Some chicken keepers believe feeding the hens a pinch or so of ginger a few times a week can aid in the production of larger eggs.
Poultry Respiratory Tea
This tea can be given to various types of poultry flocks to treat lung related issues. Typically, the birds slurp it up quickly and like the taste.
- Boil 3 teaspoons of oregano and seven cups of water together for our minutes.
- Remove the pot from the stove.
- Pour in ½ teaspoon of the following ingredients: cinnamon, pepper (black or cayenne) turmeric, lavender,peppermint, and chamomile.
- Let the respiratory tea rest for 10 minutes.
- Pour it into the flock waterer and let them drink at will for an entire day before removing it. The large amount of spices could clock the opening in many waterers, so you might need to pour it into a bowl for the birds to drink.
Visually reviewing the habits and bodies of the flock on a daily basis, and keeping a written record of their food and water intake, as well as egg laying count, will help you better gauge potential health issues based upon changes in behavior.
Regardless of what type of chicken breeds you choose to keep, there are two things that can destroy your egg and meat producing flocks in the blink of an eye: predators and disease. While you can’t protect your chickens from either 100% , by arming yourself with knowledge and a few common materials, you can mitigate and prevent a host of potentially deadly issues.
Tara Dodrill is a homesteading and survival journalist and author. She lives on a small ranch with her family in Appalachia. She has been both a host and frequent guest on preparedness radio shows. In addition to the publication of her first book, ‘Power Grid Down: How to Prepare, Survive, and Thrive after the Lights go Out’, Dodrill also travels to offer prepping tips and hands-on training and survival camps and expos.