Are you planning to keep chickens to provide food for your family after an economic collapse? They’re the first livestock on the prepper’s list due to their small size, low maintenance, and ability to provide both eggs and meat. They’re also a great addition to your survival plan because they produce fertilizer and eat pests that could ruin your survival plantings. Before you acquire chickens, there are some things to consider. Do some homework so you’ll choose the best breeds to suit your needs.
What climate will you be surviving in…hot, cold, wet? Choose the right breeds for the location. Chickens with large combs, such as the Brown Leghorn, are adapted to hot climates. Those same chickens are susceptible to frostbite on their combs. If you live in the frigid north, choose a cold hardy breed like the Ameraucana. For rainy climates, consider keeping a breed like the Marans that were developed in a marshy region.
You’ll also want breeds that blend into their surroundings. White Leghorns are awesome hens due to their low feed, high egg production. However, they’re easy to spot by predators. Look for chickens that will blend in with the natural terrain. The Egyptian Fayoumi is black and white speckled and will blend into dappled shade. The Brown Leghorn’s color is better suited to sandy areas. Choosing breeds for camouflage will help them forage more safely.
Some chickens will provide a lot of eggs or meat, but they need regular rations of grain to keep them in prime condition. Choose breeds that will actively forage. Chickens are omnivores and will eat everything from plant material and bugs to small rodents. Be sure they have room to find the nutrients they need. In a dry area with low nutrient density they’ll have to range far and wide for food. The dense foliage and rotting logs of woodland will provide better hunting grounds. Your chickens will also need dirt to scratch in for grit, minerals, and to take dust baths. Give them any table scraps you might have, as well as finely crushed egg shells to provide extra nutrition. They also need a source of fresh, clean water to stay healthy and provide you with eggs.
If you live in an area with a dry season or cold winter, how will you provide food for them when resources are scarce? Chickens don’t like going out in snow or heavy rains. You may need to collect food for them during the abundant season and store it. The lean season is a good time to cull your old hens, extra roosters, or the less thrifty ones for the table. Feed the guts and ground bones back to the flock.
Eggs and Meat
This is your whole reason for keeping chickens. Will you be able to butcher them when the time comes? Will you have a flock that actually lays eggs for your table? If you’re bugging out and taking chickens with you, keep in mind that moving them to a new location will shut down egg production for at least two weeks while they acclimate. They will also stop laying eggs if they don’t have enough food or water, and also during the winter in areas with shorter daylight hours. Store up extra eggs during the fall to help see you through the lean months. Unwashed eggs in good condition have been stored for up to 6 months unrefrigerated.
You should also be aware that most chickens will not provide you with as much meat as you are accustomed to. Cornish Rock broilers are the premier meat chicken in the US. They’ve been hybridized by the poultry industry to provide a plump, tender bird in 8 weeks. You’ll want to raise dual purpose breeds to get the most meat, but don’t expect anything like the birds you buy on a Styrofoam slab. Older chickens are pretty chewy, too. So you may want to make soup instead of roasting them.
The Next Generation
Look for chicken breeds that will hatch out and raise their own chicks. You can’t incubate eggs without a steady temperature of about 98 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Your best strategy is to let the hens take care of that. Hens that stay on a nest and hatch out their own young are referred to as ‘broody.’ A broody hen stops laying eggs until her chicks can fend for themselves. Not all hens make good mothers. Sometimes they drag their little ones all over and lose them. It takes time to breed for these characteristics. And don’t forget that you need roosters for fertile eggs. Keep more than one rooster for genetic diversity
One last note for the prepper with chickens in their survival plan – Start Now! There is a learning curve to raising livestock. You need to gain first hand knowledge ASAP. When all hell breaks loose, you’ll have enough to worry about. So get your chickens in a row and start prepping now.
My Top Chicken Picks for Preppers
These are some of the best chickens for free ranging, hot or cold climate, raising offspring, and/or laying eggs. Start with several kinds and selectively breed for your conditions. Bring in new breeding stock when possible to prevent inbreeding.
Brown Leghorn – hot climate, active forager, flighty, great layer, seldom broody, brown with green sheen.
Egyptian Fayoumi – Hot climate, active forager, wild, good layer, seldom broody, black and white speckled, disease resistant, early maturing.
Turken – Hot or cold climate, adaptable, decent layer, can be broody, good mother, color varies, docile, slow to mature.
Buckeye – Very cold hardy, adaptable, decent layer, somewhat broody, docile, dark brown, slow to mature.
Chanticler – Very cold hardy, decent layer, broody, good mother, docile, color varies, early maturing.
Dominique – Cold hardy, adaptable, decent layer, broody, good mother, barred, early maturing.
Ameraucana – Very cold hardy, adaptable, good layer, can be broody, color varies, somewhat early maturing.
Marans – Tolerant of wet conditions, adaptable, decent layer, broody, color varies.
For a great resource that lists the characteristics of different chicken breeds, check out the Henderson’s Chicken Breed Chart.