Concerning BreedEgg production was our primary purpose; meat was secondary. Knowing this, led us to realize many breeds are considered 'heavy breeds' or 'dual purpose' breeds; Orphingtons and Austalorps, for example. Raising dual purpose birds meant the hens grew to be a laying flock while roosters would fill the freezer.
Since our children were members of 4H, the poultry project led us to raising seasonal meat flocks. This filled the freezer without taking up a large amount of space and without causing us to purchase layers as often.
Our desire is to raise breeds that are natural lines or heritage lines. When that is not reasonable due to expense or availability, we strive to stay as close to that as possible. Currently, we raise Buff Orphingtons, Black Australorps, and Auracanas in our layer flock; Cornish cross are the meat flock breed.
Concerning HousingOur homestead came with a large shop building that has become our barn and workshop. Simple modifications turned a metal awning into stalls with an enclosed coop on the side. Here, our layer flock resides near the stalls where our herd sleep. This offers protection from elements and predators, while giving us easy access to food that is housed between the stalls and the main building wall. Our hens run free during the day with restricted access to garden areas; they can only enter there when the crops are done.
The meat flock is housed on the opposite side of our shop/barn; kennels under an awning provide their pen and brooder space. Feed is housed near these kennels, as is open pasture. When meat flocks are not housed here, these kennels are kept clean for use during kidding season.
While our structures are permanent, we do have two large kennel housings that can be easily moved to maintain a quarantine set, new birds, or as transitional pens when babies are added to an existing group. Sometimes these kennels are set in garden areas that need worked by the birds when full access would be a bad idea (such as, the corn was done, but the neighboring green beans were not..pen is set over corn beds for hens to work).
Concerning FeedResearch and word of mouth; keys to feed decisions. I read everything I can find on feed products and work my goals from there. My layer flock is fed a pellet/scratch/seed mixture..a supplement to their long days grazing and scratching the earth. Layers receive purchased feeds with seed and greens added in; they are not much on grazing, so grazing is brought to them.
All our feeds are purchased at a co-op in a neighboring county; buying in bulk helps with cost and quality. We plan monthly trips for all our homestead feed needs (our garden seeds are purchased in bulk here as well).
Concerning HealthHerein lies a touchy subject; to medicate or not to medicate..a sticky situation. My conviction has always been 'less is best'. Having experienced flock loss due to Merk's disease and coccidosis, I do vaccinate and treat for these two ailments. Other situations are handled as they arise. Our flock and coop are treated with diotenatious earth (DE) for parasites/mites and regular feedings of garlic/cayenne/flax along with leafy greens keeps them in good health. I always try natural treatments before going to the vet recommended medications.
Poultry flocks require time, effort, and determination and experience helps immensely. Along the way there has been success and failure; life and death; trial and triumph- homestead life is not always as romantic as we like to think. No matter the inconvenience or the set backs..I wouldn't trade my little peeps for anything..they are excellent medicine!