Fairbanks Weather

Click for Fairbanks, Alaska Forecast

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Raising chickens the "old fashioned" way

Before commercial production, it used to be that every early American farm kept a laying flock.  The old, weak, lazy layers and young roosters were culled and made their way to the stew pot or family table, and the rest were kept for eggs.    I’m not sure anyone keeps a flock this way anymore, the people we know who have raised chickens either keep them for eggs, or raise the commercial Cornish Cross breed for meat, or both, but I don’t know anyone who raises their flock in the “old fashioned way”.  

Last year we started keeping chickens.  We have 18 hens and 1 rooster, and have several different breeds, all dual purpose, that we keep for eggs.  We have Barred Rock, Buff Orpington, Ameraucana, and Australorp.  Our rooster is a Barred Rock, chosen because they are supposed to be docile and easy to get along with, which I can confirm he is. Anyone who grew up terrorized by a mean and aggressive rooster will understand why I made my choice based on personality.   I wanted all heritage breeds, but the pretty blue eggs of the Ameraucana won me over, so we got a few, and I’m really glad we did.  All our breeds handle cold weather, and confinement well, although the barred rock rooster has a large comb which can get frost bite if allowed to get too cold.   This is not a problem for us because we keep their housing above freezing year round. They are not known to be good foragers, but they do quite well I think.   They also handle being shut in their coop for the winter, and have continued to lay all winter with some artificial lighting.  I’ll write more about their housing in a later post. 

Chuck and his girls

Initially we planned on eating a few to see if we liked them well enough to raise them the “old fashioned way”.  However, after getting our Cornish Cross and turkeys in the freezer, we never got around to it. From my research they grow slower and smaller, have a tougher texture, but more intense “chicken” flavor.  We, like most Americans our age, have eaten only the commercial breed of chickens, for most of our lives. We have grown the Cornish Cross, and I’ll write more about that experience later, for now I’ll just say I can’t stand growing them and am looking for more natural alternatives.  We bought a simple table top incubator; it has a fan, but not a digital thermometer or turner.  We separated our Barred Rock and Ameraucana’s from the other two breeds, and are starting with those two first.  I wanted to have an idea of how each breed did, so this was the only way I could figure out who laid what.  I’ll talk more about our collection process and will make regular blog updates on our progress.

 Enjoying the return of the warm sun

I have some questions for those of you out there who keep chickens.  Do any of you keep dual purpose breeds for meat as well as eggs?  Would anyone mind sharing their process?  To what age to you raise them? How large do your birds get? Does anyone caponize their roosters?  


  1. I have a feeling I know what you are going to say about Cornish Cross. I used to raise them every year when the girls were in 4H. I won't do it again. I will take a smaller, slower growing bird any day over these hybrids. I like the Barred Rocks for a dual purpose bird. They are gentle, winter well and are excellent layers. The only drawback is the darker feathers make darker skin and some folks don't like that. As far as when to butcher? I would buy 25 straight run in March. At the end of the summer I would butcher all the roosters.
    I look forward to following your story.

  2. Hey! This is my first visit here, lovely blog! We raise chickens and always have to slow stew our old hens and culled roosters unless they're very young. We have raised meat birds in the past and they do make butchering much more worth your while, with nearly twice the sized breasts and legs!



  3. I can't help because we only have layers right now. But I'm looking forward to hearing how it works for you. We may incorporate other breeds into our flock.

  4. Michaele, I'm with you, I'd rather never eat chicken again than to grow Cornish Cross. I had heard bard Rocks are good for meat, The Buff Orpington are supposed to be tasty also. We'll see how we do hatching our own Barred Rocks. those are the eggs I've been collecting.

    Mary, thanks, You have a great blog too. They are nice sized birds, that's the only nice thing I can say about them :)

    Mindy, we once had all of our birds molt at once and so decided to get some different breeds, this is the first time we did and it has gone well.

    Thanks for the information everyone.

    1. Hi! Found your response on this blog and just wondering about your comment and the nice size of Mary's birds being the only nice thing about them??? Not trying to be cheeky. I just want to learn about breeds, etc. It's my first year with 15 Buff Orps and 3 leghorns. We're in Northern MN zone 2 colder than some Alaska zones. :)


    2. Hi Missa.

      The comment you are asking about was a response to Mary saying that Cornish Cross having much larger breasts and legs to make it more worth growing. I dislike the Cornish Cross, they are unpleasant birds to me, they don't act like chickens, but I do have to agree that they are the only way to make growing chickens for meat financially worth it. We are zone 1 here, so pretty close to your weather there. I've never grown leghorns, but have grown Buff Orps, Deleware, Ameraucana, and Australorp, all do well here in our weather and do well with the confinement required for the winter.

      Nice to "meet" you.

  5. Hi I just found your blog. I'm on the Kenai Peninsula and I'd love to hear more about your chickens. We kept our first flock this year in a coop that was already on our property. Our girls are a scraggly looking bunch coming out of the winter. They are thin and have begun feather picking. All of the books I read on chicken management seem geared toward warmer climates leaving me stumped. I'd love to hear from another Alaskan how you managed your birds.

  6. Hi Lavina, I was going to make a post one of these days about how we keep our chickens, give me a day or two and I'll go into some detail on what we do. I'm not sure it's the "right" way, we just kind of figured things out as we go.

  7. Hi there! I am very excited to find your blog. We live in Willow Alaska and are starting to build our chicken coop. We had chickens down south but didnt have the weather conditions we have here. I am searching for info on how to keep the girls happy and laying during the winter. And how warm they need to be kept. We run off of generators. We had barred rock chickens before and thought they were a pretty good dual purpose bird. They laid good and tasted good too. Havent tried the cornish cross but hubby wants to try them. Dont know if we will or not after reading what other people have to say about them. I am excited to keep reading and learning from you and your readers. Keep up the good work and thank you.

  8. Hi! Just found your blog. It is great. We live in Willow, Alaska and am excited to get my coop built and birds bought. I am researching on how warm they need to be kept in winter before we build our coop so I can build it right. It is nice to get info from other Alaskans that have done it before. Thank you.