By Jevan Soyer. With the cost of food continually rising by the day, planting your own vegetables and raising chickens are the way to go in order to save money. Right now, the price of a 5-pound chicken is the same as what a whole turkey had cost just a few years ago.
Since the price of chickens has tripled in the last couple of years, the expectation is that it will keep on rising. You have 3 choices to consider:
- Pay $100 plus for a chicken
- Become a vegetarian
- Raise chickens for yourself
If you choose the option of raising chickens at home, then this article is for you. I will attempt to guide you on selecting the right breed and getting all the materials that you need to have the healthiest, tastiest protein for you and your family.
Build a coop for raising chickens
The first thing that you would need to do is to build a coop in which to rear your chickens. Here are the factors to consider as you start your journey.
Where to build your coop
The fact that you have reached this far means either you own your property or have an understanding landlord. Giving a couple of free chickens or eggs might be enough to convince most landlords.
Aside from this, you must remember that the dry season months are very hot, so if you can get a location that gets shade during most of the day, it would help in keeping your future flock of chickens happy and healthy.
How to source pallets for your coop
To save money, I recommend getting your hands on some used shipping pallets. These provide all the lumber that you need.
Five pallets would yield sufficient lumber to build a coop that is 4 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 4 feet long. Ten pallets give you a coop twice that size. This is determined by the plan you have for raising chickens.
In most instances, pallets can be sourced for free, just check any warehouse or shipping company. You are especially looking for a company that imports and does not export. They would have no use for the pallets after they are emptied.
What type of pallets do you need for your coop
Ensure that your pallets are food grade. Do not source your pallets from companies that handle hazardous or toxic materials. Even if you have to pay for these pallets the cost would be nominal when compared to virgin lumber, but try your best to see if you can source them for free.
Some pallets come pretreated for termites, which is very important if you intend to do this for any period of time. Just look for the ISPM-15 on the pallets to know if they have been treated. ISPM-15 international shipping standards will require that wooden pallets are heat treated prior to being sent to foreign nations.
This is primarily to reduce the overall risks associated with pest infestation. If your newly acquired pallets have not been treated for pests, you can treat it yourself.
How to build your coop for raising chickens
After you have stripped the pallets down to individual pieces of lumber, you can start construction of your coop. Keep it simple and you would do just fine.
Remember that you are not building a house, you can leave 2 or even 3 walls free, and then use chicken wire to secure the hens. For roofing, you can visit your nearest demolition site and see if the foreman would be willing to gift you a couple of used galvanised sheets.
The most important component of your chicken coop is securing it. You would like to keep the chickens in and possible predators out. Feral cats and stray dogs would gladly make a meal of a sleeping hen during the night.
So, ensure that your property is properly secured, to keep them out. Another chicken predator is the manicou. They can attack from above and below, so make sure that your roof doesn’t have any gaps larger than 2 inches. A manicou can get in and out of the coop overnight and would leave you wondering if your chickens are being abducted one by one.
Provide food and water for your chickens
Just like all living things, food and water is very important. You would have to ensure that your chicks have ready access to high quality food and clean drinking water. Happy chickens would be healthy chickens after all.
No one wants another chore added to the list of things that they have to do every day when raising chickens, so you may want to consider a self-feeder. You can buy one at your nearest pet shop or agri-supply store, or make one yourself.
How to make a self-feeder for raising chickens
You would need a 5-gallon (pigtail) bucket, which is food grade so you don’t have to worry about contaminants, and 2 or 3 3-inch diameter PVC elbows.
Firstly, you would have to cut off one end of the elbows. Then, 2 inches higher than the height of the elbow, score or draw out an oval using the elbow as a template. After cutting out the hole, slide in the elbow so that it is facing downward on the inside of the bucket. Secure the elbows using silicone or epoxy cement.
You can now fill the bucket with feed and your chickens would have access to it whenever they like. The feed would be protected from moisture, and spillage limiting spoilage and mess. The chickens also would not be able to poop in their food, limiting the possibility of illness and or death.
You can usually get used pigtail buckets for free or around TT$10-15 at your local grocer. The PVC elbows cost approximately TT$15 each. Total cost TT$45 to TT$60, compared to TT$85 to TT$150 for store bought feeders.
As an added bonus, you can supplement their feed with kitchen scraps, just make sure to chop it up finely. This would help keep your feed costs down as well as provide a diverse notorious diet to the birds.
You would also have to provide small stones for the chicken to swallow. Since birds do not have teeth, they swallow stones which reaches their gizzard, a strong muscle that uses the stones to masticate food.
You can either scoop up some stones and place on the floor of your coop in a shallow container or they can be purchased at your local pet shop.
How to make a self-watering container for raising chickens
The same goes for delivering water to your chickens. You can buy self-watering containers or repurpose a 5-gallon (pigtail) bucket. There are a lot of ways that you can do this, as your only limit is your own imagination.
One way is to add Automatic Chicken Waterers to the bucket. They can even be added to PVC piping so that you don’t ever have to deal with the hassle of refilling buckets.
Depending on the weather and the number of chicks that you have when raising chickens, you may have to refill the water bucket weekly or every fortnight. The other factor that will determine how often you will have to refill food and water is the breed of chicken that you are raising.
What is right breed of chicken to raise
Different breeds require different levels of care and attention. Most commercial breeds were bred for temperate climates and would have to be monitored especially during the hot dry season months.
The best breed to start with is the common “yard fowl” or what is referred to as Rock Chickens. They come in all colour varieties. Using yard fowl when raising chickens helps you to get comfortable with the daily tasks.
The one thing that they have in common is their hardiness and resistance to diseases. This is a great breed to get started with, you would get all the practice you need before you move on to more high maintenance breeds.
In most cases, you would not have to pay for yard fowl chicks, I got mine for free from a relative. As chicken prices continue to soar, you may find that people are selling both yard fowl chicks and adults at a premium price as they are considered by some to be a delicacy.
The alternative to breeds that are commonly raised are broilers (fryers) and layers. Broilers are raised for their meat, as they were bred with extra-large breasts and are ideal for frying and baking, as the name suggests.
Broilers on average take 48 days to reach maturity, so if everything is done correctly you could start harvesting your homegrown, organic chicken in just under 7 weeks. If you do not intend to use all the chicks at once you just have to augment their food to stop them from becoming overweight and sick.
Layers are bred for their eggs. They take longer than broilers to reach adulthood, on average 6 months. The average layer would be productive for about 3 years.
After 3 and a half years, they would stop laying eggs entirely. At this point, they are used for food. The meat would be tougher and leaner than that of a broiler as they would be older. Just use coconut milk and everything would be fine.
Preparation of the chickens
Over the years, society has moved away from the practice of backyard subsistence farming where most families were raising chickens for themselves, as well as ducks and turkeys.
People have become detached from the source of their food, so it would be understandable that some, if not most, people may have a problem of preparing their own chickens.
There are 2 ways to solve this problem. First option is you can ask a friend, family member or neighbour to assist you, and pay them with one of your chickens.
The second option is you can approach your nearest depot. They would not only dispatch the bird humanly, but would pluck, clean and cut it up for you. For a fee of course, it would still be cheaper than buying a whole chicken in the supermarket.
Raising chickens, and even turkeys and ducks can be done to reduce your grocery bill or if you are successful, you could turn it into a viable business. Once your flock is healthy, they would want to reproduce. You can start your own hatchery and sell eggs or day-old chicks. A 1-day old chick sells for between TT$10 to TT$95 dependent on breed. So, it can become a viable business opportunity. If you decide to consume the chickens, they would provide healthy, organic protein for you and your family.
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