How-To

Raising Chickens for Prepping and Survival

A group of free range chickens at the door frame of a barn

There are a variety of reasons why more people are turning to raising chickens in recent years. Many survival-minded people have looked at the world around them and decided they need to be prepared for serious, world-changing calamity. If you are looking at creating a self-sufficient homestead to survive a disaster scenario, chickens are an excellent choice of livestock.

Chickens can largely meet their own food needs through foraging, They provide a reliable, protein-rich live harvest (eggs) for years, before finding their way to the dinner table. In survival scenario, the value of raising your own chickens cannot be overstated.

Breed Selection 

Ordinarily, there are many considerations that go into choosing a chicken breed, and many reasons people might choose or avoid a specific one. The calculus is markedly different for survivalists, though, than it might be for a hobbyist or small farm. Characteristics such as appearance, rarity, and friendliness are almost entirely irrelevant in a survival situation, while several others will take on an outsized importance. 

Hardiness

This is probably the most important characteristic for a survivalist’s chicken flock. You want chickens that can stand up to harsh weather conditions in your area — whether that’s fierce cold or extreme heat. Consider that you might not have electric power, or at least not much to spare, in a survival situation. Therefore, a breed that requires heaters and/or fans to stay warm or cool is probably not ideal. You’ll also want to look out for features such as feathered feet, which can become soaking wet or frozen and require extra maintenance and care.  

Dual Purpose

If you’re planning to maintain a flock for a survival situation, you absolutely want dual purpose chickens. These are birds that will not only be reliable egg layers but will also provide good meat for the dinner table when the time comes.

Productivity

Usually when people talk about productivity for laying hens, they’re talking about which hens will give you the most eggs every week. Survivalists will want to look at it in a different light, however. A flock of hens that all lay six eggs a week will probably be laying more eggs than your family can eat.

In a survival situation, where options for storing or selling these eggs are likely to be limited, this can be overkill. Additionally, a hen that lays that many eggs won’t lay at that rate for very long, whereas hens that lay fewer eggs in a week will lay for significantly longer. This is much more efficient and a better deal for survivalists who want to meet their needs without pouring too many resources into maintaining pullets (young hens) who don’t lay yet or replacing young hens who are already spent. As one example, for survivalists considering a hardy, dual purpose breed such as the Rhode Island Red. A heritage strain is a much better bet than a production strain, which will lay more eggs, but for a much shorter period of time.

Proud chicken farmer woman showing the organic eggs her hens produced
In a survival situation, you may want chickens that lay fewer eggs for a longer period of time to prevent waste.

Broodiness

Broodiness is a hen’s tendency to try to hatch her eggs and raise chicks. Broodiness can be a pain for keepers who are just trying to produce and gather eggs, but it’s a great boon for survivalists who want their flock to be self-sustaining. It may cause some short-term issues with possessiveness and moodiness. However, in the long run, you’ll want at least some broody hens to hatch eggs, raise chicks, and keep your flock going without much interference from you.

Independence

The ideal survivalist’s flock will be full of independent birds who are happy to free range and forage as much of their food as possible. This will help reduce your workload and the amount of resources you must expend to feed and maintain your flock.

Defensiveness 

As part of having a self-sufficient, hands-off flock, you want your birds to be able to defend themselves from predators. Obviously, you’ll still want to put up fencing and other deterrents if you can. You’ll also want to avoid breeds such as the Polish, whose fancy feathers limit their visibility and make them easy prey. Flightier breeds and bantams may be good choices, as they will be better able to escape predators. Keeping roosters, which you’ll want to do anyway to have chicks, will also help protect your flock. One of the rooster’s jobs is to warn his hens of approaching danger.

the red rooster sings on the stump. concept: it's time to
Keeping roosters will help protect your flock. One of the rooster’s jobs is to warn his hens of approaching danger.

Fertility

If you’re keeping chickens in a survival situation, you won’t be able to order from your local hatchery if your flock fails to produce enough healthy chicks to maintain your diet and egg supply. Be sure to choose breeds that are good maters and reliably produce many healthy chicks.  

Building Your Set-Up 

The considerations for a survivalist chicken coop and setup are, for the most part, the same as they are for any aspiring chicken keeper. After all, the birds’ needs won’t change just because the world has. In this section, we’ll cover the basic requirements for a safe chicken coop and discuss some features that survivalists will need to be especially concerned about.

The most important thing to consider when designing or purchasing a chicken coop is its size; if you’re keeping standard-sized chickens, you’ll want about four square feet of space per hen, and about five each for roosters. Bantam birds only need about two feet of floor space, but you’ll want extra height to account for their flightier nature. Keep in mind that some breeds are more active than others, and it’s always better to err on the side of too big, rather than too small. Make sure to add nesting boxes — one for every three hens — and perches near the roof for sleeping, with about a foot of space per bird.

Poultry farm on a sunny day. Chickens sit in open-air cages and eat mixed feed
Wood is probably the ideal material for survivalist chicken keepers because it is the easiest material to replace and reuse.

The two biggest safety features you want in a coop are predator-proofing and ventilation, which will protect your flock from airborne and heat-related diseases. Make sure most of your vents are closeable for colder weather. Leave a pair of vents near the ceiling that sit above the perches and can stay open all year.

As for predator-proofing, your best friend will be hardware mesh, a type of close-knit wire fencing that will keep out even the smallest and wiliest of predators. To be extra safe, cover the entire coop in the stuff. The most important areas are the floor, vents, the lower 1.5 feet of the walls, and any seams or joints where two pieces of wood or other material meet. You can take other predator-proofing measures for when your chickens are outside, such as hanging shiny, dangling objects to scare off birds and clearing ground cover to eliminate hiding spots for ground predators.

For survivalists, when planning for your coop, you should always be mindful of how easy it will be to repair. Obviously, durability is the name of the game when designing and building a survivalist coop, but even the best-built coops will eventually need repairs. Therefore, wood is probably the ideal material for survivalist chicken keepers.

Wood may be prone to water damage, ice heaves, and general decay, but it is the easiest material to replace and reuse, especially if you live near a forest or wooded area. Hardware mesh will be harder to replace. However, because it’s made of flexible wire, small tears can easily be repaired by twisting the wires back together again.    

Raising for Survival

While it’s optional for many chicken keepers, raising your own chicks is an absolute must for survivalists. If you can’t raise chicks to maturity and replenish your stock of laying hens, there will be no way to maintain you flock for longer than a few years in a survival setting where the local hatchery is no longer operating.

A flock of chicken eating seeds on the grass in a rural area
Chickens are remarkably hardy, adaptable, and self-sufficient creatures who can easily survive the worst the world might throw at them.

Fortunately, as we discussed when talking about breed selection, broody hens are happy to do the work of raising chicks for you. Therefore, broodiness is such a crucial trait to look for when choosing the breeds for your survival flock. Many modern laying strains have intentionally had the tendency to go broody bred out of them. That makes it easier for farmers to collect eggs.  Broodiness was originally a survival and flock preservation instinct to protect eggs and chicks, and this instinct is invaluable to survivalists who are keeping chickens.

Chickens are remarkably hardy, adaptable, and self-sufficient creatures who can easily survive the worst the world might throw at them. If you take the time to build your flock well, and prepare it thoroughly, they’ll help you and your family survive it too.

Have you ever thought of raising chickens for prepping and survival? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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