The more you look into raising chickens, the more you realize that there are certain decisions you need to make right up front. For instance, do you want to raise chickens as family pets or for food? And if for food, do you want them for eggs or meat – or both?
If stretching your grocery dollars through the family flock is your plan, there are many dual-purpose breeds that you can use to build your flock, but if you’re looking for birds specifically for egg production or meat consumption, consider choosing a breed that can best fulfill your needs.
Egg Chickens (Layers)
Layers are chickens that are reared for the purpose of egg production. Top performing laying birds are small female chickens that eat little but produce large quantities of eggs. Although it is possible to eat layers, they are not ideal breeds for meat consumption, as their meat tends to be tougher and have lower nutritional value.
When purchasing chickens to eat or sell their eggs, keep in mind that hens don’t begin laying eggs until they reach 16-20 weeks, so if you buy layers as chicks, you won’t have an immediate return on investment. However, buying your chickens at their point-of-lay will mean they are ready to start producing their first eggs right away.
As your hens get older, they’ll begin to produce fewer eggs, which can be a problem if you’re selling them. At that point, you can either choose to keep the birds as pets or use them for meat— though, if you’re used to eating broilers, it won’t be as tender.
Popular laying breeds include Rhode Island Reds, Plymouth Rocks, Astralorps and Novogen Red Sex Link Pullets.
Meat Chickens (Broilers)
Meat chickens, or broilers, are typically larger, bulkier breeds that have more muscle tone than birds that were bred to lay eggs. Unlike layers, broilers can be both male and female.
Most meat chickens are still able to produce eggs, but they do so at a slower rate than laying hens. While an egg chicken will produce around 250-360 eggs per year, with meat breeds, you can expect around 150-160 eggs per year. There is no distinguishable difference in the actual eggs from broilers, however.
To ensure your broilers are ready for consumption as soon as possible, they should maintain a diet of high protein feed. You should expect to use two pounds of feed for one pound of weight gain. Typically, broilers are market ready when they are between 8 and 12 weeks old. Due to their feed consumption, most broilers contain higher values of fat and protein than layers.
You can choose between commercial and heritage breeds when purchasing broiler chickens. Commercial breeds, such as the Cornish Cross (a favorite among poultry farmers), are created for maximum output in a short timeframe. They can be ready for slaughter as early as 6 weeks old. Heritage breeds, on the other hand, are slow-growth broilers that can take almost twice as long to reach market weight. They typically mature at 12 weeks and may never get as big as a Cornish Cross. Popular heritage breeds include the Freedom Ranger, Ameracauna, Rosambro and Barred Rock.
Broilers and layers require different housing accommodations.
When raising layers, your coop will need to be equipped with nesting boxes where your hens will go to lay their eggs. Broilers, on the other hand, do not require nesting boxes. A suitable home for your broiler breeds is a simple, spacious coop that will be able to accommodate the larger birds.
If your flock includes both layers and broilers, you may need to keep the breeds in separate coops depending on the size and temperance of your broilers. Additionally, if you plan on adding roosters to your flock of broilers, you’ll need to make special coop accommodations to keep them from mating with laying hens and fertilizing your eggs.
Regardless of which kinds of chickens you choose, they are all vulnerable to the same predators and require the same protection. To keep your coop (or coops) secure for your chickens, consider utilizing a convenient, easy-to-install Coop Controls automatic door opener that will open at dawn and close as nightfall approaches. Your chickens will be safe, even if you’re not home to open or close the coop door.
For more information on Coop Controls automatic door solutions and to see pricing information, visit our product page.