Chickens are one of the best livestock a family can have for a long term SHTF / TEOTWAWKI situation. Chickens (depending on their breed) are excellent foragers, they can eat just about anything, do not need a lot of care, and produce food in the form of eggs almost daily.
Before we can get close to answering that question, I feel there are some questions that first have to be answered.
Land – Do you have a backyard of nothing but grass, do you have wooded property, open fields that cattle, goats or horses roam in?
During a long term SHTF event, chances are the feed stores are going to be closed, that means you will not have access to commercial grade feed. It achieve their maximum egg production, chickens need a balanced diet full of vitamins and minerals. The calcium the eggs are made out of does not appear out of thin air.
This is where the quality, and variety of the land comes into play. Chickens need seeds, bugs, green leaves,,, just a wide variety of food sources.
My chickens laid their best when they were able to free range and had access to commercial grade laying pellets. During this time, they were laying around 8 – 10 eggs a day in August and September 2012.
In the southern part of the US there is a type of shrub bush called a Yaupon Holly. Chickens love the leaves and will eat the berries of the Yaupon Holly bush.
Chickens love to scratch around piled up leaves at the base of trees.
Weeds, my chickens will eat weeds down to the ground.
Climate – Cold weather can have a negative affect on egg production. Are you in a region where you have long cold winters, or do you live where the weather gets cold for a few days at a time?
I live in southeast Texas. Between September and November 2012, my egg production went from 7 – 10 eggs a day, to as low as3 eggs a day. During the month of December 2012, egg production is staying around 5 eggs a day for 13 chickens.
How many eggs do you need
In other words, how many people are in your group?
A few weeks ago two of my grandsons spent the night at my house. Their ages are 3 and 5 years old. The 5 year old at 4 eggs for breakfast. The 3 year old ate 2 eggs.
Think about that for a minute, a 5 year old ate 4 eggs in a single meal. I guess he was hungry, because I usually only eat 1 or 2 eggs for breakfast.
These are not your large eggs like what are sold at the grocery store, these are medium sized yard eggs. The size of the egg does make a difference.
Between my wife and I we are probably looking at around 4 eggs a day. Add to that several grown children and grandchildren.
Time for some math
Lets start with 10 people in our group, now lets estimate that those 10 people will be eating 2 eggs a day. With those numbers we are going to need at least 20 eggs a day.
During the winter time egg laying can drop after a cold front passes through, or while the hen is molting.
For the sake of discussion, lets use my lowest egg count of 3 eggs from 13 hens. The 3 eggs were laid after a cold front passed through, and the hens were around 9 – 10 months old.
7 X 3 = 21 eggs.
7 X 13 = 91 chickens.
91 chickens is a lot.
Now lets go with my average egg count of 5 eggs a day from my 13 chickens for the month of December 2012.
5 X 4 =20 eggs.
5 X 13 = 65 chickens.
I think 60 or 65 chickens is manageable for a small farm with at least a couple of acres for the chickens to free range and forage.
Now lets go with the summer high of 10 eggs a day.
2 X 10 = 20 eggs
2 X 13 = 26 chickens.
Under my estimates, a survival group of 10 people will need a summer time low of 30 laying hens, and a wintertime high of around 60 – 70 chickens.
If you plan on letting some of your hens go broody, they will not be producing eggs during that time. So lets add another 5 – 10 hens for those that go broody and stop laying.
Once we add a few hens to cover egg production for the ones that are broody, we have a number of 35 – 40 hens.
Planning flock size across the seasons
Hopefully some of the hens will go broody during the spring and summer. Let the hens go broody, do not collect the eggs from a sitting hen during the spring and summer, then butcher the extra birds starting in December.
The surplus chickens provide you and your family protein rich chicken meat during the harshest winter months – December, January and February.
Around 5 – 6 months of age the rate that the chicken is growing starts to slow down. This is because that at around 5 – 6 months is when the hens start laying. If you want to butcher a chicken, you are probably going to get your best return on the amount of feed at “around” 6 months old.
Keep in mind we are talking in “general”. Some chickens mature faster then others. Depending on the breed of the chicken, quality of the food, time of year, the best time to butcher will vary.
If you have a few hens go broody during the spring and summertime, use the summer foliage so your chickens can free range and forage.
Lets say we can get the flock from 40 chickens to 60 or 80 during the summer time,
December rolls around, its time to add some fresh meat to our diet (its cold outside), so we start butchering.
December has 31 days
January has 31 days
February has 28 days
For a grand total of 90 days between December 1 – February 28.
If we reached an average of 70 (mid way between 60 and 80) chickens during the spring and summer, we can butcher a chicken every 3 days. 90 days divided by 30 chickens = 3.
If we could reach 80 – 90 chickens, we can butcher a chicken every 1 – 2 days between December 1 – February 28.
Another reason to butcher the chickens during the winter is the lack of food sources during the winter months. Instead of the chickens competing for food, we reduce the number of chickens in the flock.
We cull out the older hens that did not go broody, and leave the hens that did go broody the previous summer.
The problem with flock planning – hens go broody if different times of the year. Some go in the spring, some in the summer and some in the middle of winter.
We can say we want X number of chickens by the start of winter, but its up to the hens.
Egg Production VS Chick Production
This is where you need to spend some time thinking about what you want from your hens. Do you want high egg production, or do you want a hen that will go broody and have chicks?
A lot of the production grade chickens have been selectively bred for egg production and against broodiness. Some of these breeds include Austrolorps, Barred Rocks, Leghorns, New Hampshire Reds, Production Reds, and Rhode Island Reds. Those breeds have been bred to be dual purpose for egg and meat production.
When a hen goes broody and stops laying, egg producers lose money. To save money, the trait of broodiness has been bred out of certain breeds.
It is not impossible for those breeds to go broody, its just there are better breeds out there if you want chick production.
Silkies and Dominique (aka Dominicker) are good mothers that tend to go broody.
Do you already have your chicken flock up and running
Here is one of the critical issues, its going to take at least, and I mean the very least 5 – 6 months for chicks to grow into laying hens.
Related Article – First 6 months after SHTF
A lot of armchair survivalist plan on running down to the local country store and buy their livestock at the first signs of a long term disaster; or, they plan on bartering for livestock; or, they plan on stealing the livestock they need.
Will you have the resources to build a chicken coop? What about a chicken yard, will you be able to find fence post, nails, wire, hammers,saws,,,?
If someone is no able to build a secure enclosure, what makes them think a fox will not steal the chickens?
From the time you get your chicks, expect 5 – 6 months before they start laying. Anytime after the hens start laying they can go broody.
How many chickens will you need for SHTF
For 10 people in a group, I would say at least 30 – 40 good laying hens in the summer time, and at least 60 – 80 chickens by the start of winter. That is “if” you plan on butchering a lot of chickens during the winter months.
If not enough hens go broody during the spring and summer months, there is nothing you can do about it.
Hopefully, some of those 30 – 40 hens will go broody and will be able to hatch some chicks during the summer months.
In this article we used the laying rate of my 13 hens to estimate the number of chickens we would need for a long term SHTF situation.
My flock contains:
4 Rhode Island Reds
2 Black Jersey Giants
1 Speckled Sussex
2 Silver Laced Wyandotte
2 Barred Rocks
The problem with those chicken breeds, not every many of them tend to go broody.
After my wife and I get moved to the Homestead I plan on increasing the flock from 13 hens to around 25 hens and at least 1 rooster.
I am looking at shifting my focus from having several different breeds, to have only a few breeds. One of the breeds I plan on buying is the Dominique.
After my wife and I get moved to the Homestead, I plan on buying 12 Dominickers, for a total of 25 hens and a rooster. The ones that do not go broody will find their way to the gumbo pot.
Butchering single chicken every 3 days is not going to be enough to feed 10 people. But then again, are you planning on chicken being your only food source?
If you wanted 10 people to live off chicken meat and eggs, we would probably need to double the estimated flock size by winter time.
Doubling the flock size also doubles the amount of resources the chickens require – land for foraging, roost, water, space in chicken coop,,,.
Since egg production varies so much between summer and winter, few hens are needed in the summer time.
That is about it for now.
Do you have anything you would like to add? Post some feedback and let me know to improve articles of this nature.
[flagallery gid=6 name=Gallery]