Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Best Prepper Chicken Breed

Providing a sustainable supply of food (eggs & meat) is the Prepper Goal for having chickens.  But what characteristics make the best breed for surviving a serious Event?  This depends on the event. 

Will we have electriciy and ample chicken feed? Possibly not, in which case, we need chickens that can forage and find enough food to survive year round AND that go broody and hatch more chickens... a lots more chickens if we want to eat them, which translates to a broody breed. 

Some of the best broody breeds are Asil, Buff Brahmas, Cuckoo Marans, Dorking, Kraienkoppe, Madagascar Game, Nankin, Old English Game, Shamo, Silkies (small & very popular), and Turkens,.  Unfortunately, these are about 1/3 to 1/2 as productive on laying eggs. With electricity to run an incubator and ample chicken feed, a non-broody &/or dual purpose breed is ok. 

Are we looking for meat, eggs, or dual purpose breeds? Again, this depends on the event.  Egg breeds typically produce more eggs on less feed, so in a no feed/electricity scenario, egg layers that go broody would be ideal.  When you hatch more chickens, you are going have more eggs to eat and barter with.  It is common to eat the young roosters, and the 4-5 year old hens after replacements are raised. They would also be good for barter. By trading some of your chickens to others, you have back up breeding stock available when your last rooster gets killed by a coyote. Note that one rooster can be shared among several different flocks and they can (should) be traded periodically for genetic diversity.

Dual purpose or meat chickens will require growing grain for feed.  The egg layers may require some grain, especially for cold winter areas.  Note that without high protein laying pellets but with grain, egg production will drop roughly 25%.  Without grain, I would plan on only 50% of the typical egg production.  Experiment and see what you get for a month. Many of your hen scratch feeds can be planted to grow grain.

Let’s look at how much food we might generate with chickens. 

Laying breeds
Your hatch yields 10 birds that survive, half grow to be 4 pound cockerels and 4-5 are eaten (possibly keeping one for future breeding stock/barter) at 16 weeks yielding 20 lbs. of meat. The other half are hens that lay medium sized eggs weighing about 1.7 ounces each.  A foraging Leghorn hen, the most efficient egg producer, will lay about 3 of these on average per week (more in the summer).  For each laying hen, this equates to about 1.4 pounds of food per month and 16.6 pounds the first full laying year of eggs & over 4 years, 48.9 lbs. of eggs and  3 lbs. of meat (times 5 hens) for a total food production of 279 lbs. of food from 10 laying breed chickens.  For this reason, you should rarely eat a laying hen until it is 4-5 years old as it is still providing more food value in eggs than it would as meat.  

Dual Purpose breeds
Disregarding meat chickens due to the lack of feed to grow them out to full size, let’s look at a dual purpose breed.  Because of the feed being limited to foraging and table scraps that your guard dog won’t eat, we limit egg production and the dressed weight of the birds (in both examples) as shown in the table.  In this example, we realize 218 lbs. of food over the 4 years the dual purpose hens are laying compared to 279 pounds for the laying breed. The one year food production is only 85 lbs. compared to 103 pounds for a laying breed.  So perhaps we should use chickens primarily for eggs and raise rabbits &/or pigeons for meat. If you have a lake, Muscovy Ducks are a good addition for any Prepper, but that is another topic.

While we could debate the egg production figures and dress out weight of the birds, the fact remains we get more food from eggs than from meat, so optimizing egg production is important.

In these examples, we disregard the risk of casualty for simplicity, but in reality both breeds are likely to lose 10 to 25% per year to fatalities that would need to be replaced.  One other topic we will ignore is the loudness of the rooster crow which can call attention to your secluded retreat. There are collars they can wear that helps or you can keep your breeding pair in a pen in the barn or hen house to help muffle their crowing sound. 

Let’s summarize the key characteristics of the best Prepper chicken breed for a serious event.
  1. Good broody reproducer is the single most important trait. 
  2.  Survivability – predators, the climate (hot, cold, wet, dry), preferably a natural color to blend in to the surroundings.
  3. Being a good forager is important, but we could raise some grain or feed table scraps. 
  4.  Good Egg production with low food consumption is important.
So what egg layer is a good forager, naturally colored and goes broody? Now every reader is thinking about their favorite breed and how it should be on the list, but unfortunately there is no perfect match.  After years of raising from the hens that produce the most eggs, this trait (broody) has disappeared.  Egg producers do not want breeds that go broody because they don’t lay eggs when broody.   

So any single breed selected is a compromise of traits and something we will never all agree on. 

If we can protect our flock so that color is not an issue, then according to our production models above, the highest egg producing breed that can forage (most can that are not for meat only) and that gets broody is the top choice.  Research indicates that Ameraucanas, Australorps, Barred Rocks, Buff Orpingtons, Cubalayas, Dominiques, Faverolles, Favaucanas, andWyandottes are respected varieties that lay well and go broody.  Having raised a few dozen varieties, I can say that the Buff Orpingtons are the best broody layers that I’ve ever owned.  They are also excellent foragers, ranging nearly ½ mile away and consuming minimal feed when penned. As a result, I’d have to put these at the top of my list of the best Prepper chicken breeds. Old English Game do well, but have about ½ the egg production of the Orpingtons and about 1/3 of my White Leghorns (who never go broody).  My brown leghorns forage and survive well except they rarely go broody.
So the best from my experience are:
  1. Buff Orpingtons
  2. Old English Games
  3. Brown Leghorns
What single breed of chicken do you believe would best meet the above criteria?  Post a   comment with your suggestions and reasoning.  Any that do not go broody should be excluded.

A more practical alternative is to have two breeds (or more).  To do otherwise would be a strategic mistake of having all your eggs in one basket. So we should ideally have one for high egg production like leghorns and one breed for going broody and reproducing, which provides some diversity.  But keep your breeding stock separate and the breed pure if possible. This second broody variety could be bantams which consume minimal food or a dual purpose variety if we are going to raise grain for feed. I suggest having several months’ supply of hen scratch on hand that can be used for supplementing your chicken’s food supply and for planting your own grain (sorghum).

So the next question is what are the two best chicken breeds for a Prepper to have?

My choice for this would be:
  1. White (or Brown) Leghorns that produce more eggs per pound of feed than any other. 
  2.  Buff Orpingtons &/or Silkies for broody reproduction and eggs.
Granted the white chickens do not blend in well, but even with bob cats, coyotes, dogs, hawks and owls, predation has not been a major problem for me.  If I lived in an area where it was a serious problem, I would go with the Brown Leghorns instead of white, possibly one of several other breeds. 

With electricity, an incubator and ample chicken feed available, the picture changes.  In this scenario, having White Leghorns and White Cornish Rocks (actually a cross between a white Cornish rooster and White Rock hen) is the best plan for optimum production of both eggs and meat.  This is what is used for commercial production.  But this is not expected in a serious event.

Please post your Best two strategic Prepper Chicken Breeds and the reasons you choose them. 

Perhaps we could develop the best Prepper breed of chicken that lays like the white leghorn but is colored like the brown one and goes broody.  A cross between Old English and Leghorns might be worth considering.

What would be your suggested cross be and why?

Conclusion: There is no single best breed of chicken.  In fact the concept of only one breed defies the redundancy concept of Prepping. So picking your best combination of breeds should include at least one high egg production breed (Leghorns) and at least one broody breed (Silkies) and perhaps one dual purpose breed (Buffs) that are also broody would provide additional redundancy.

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