1. Selecting the type of "standard" (Heritage) chickens that will perform well in your climate, elevation, weather conditions and terrain.
Selecting the right breed for your needs can be tricky. Not all chickens perform the same way in all conditions. Heavy breeds do not always thrive in very hot climates. They may need some extra care. Light breeds often make better foragers in hot climates and some of the lighter breeds continue to lay eggs throughout the colder months. Elevation plays an important role. Commercial heavy breeds may suffer from congestive heart failure, difficulty breathing or upper respiratory infections or complications at elevations above 2000', in hot, dry desert climates. The high winds, hot days, cold nights and flash floods associated with Mojave Desert climates can stifle the production of commercial, heavy, breeds.
Leghorns (White, Brown, Mediterranean, Italians, Tuscany, etc.) make excellent foragers and can thrive in harsher climates. They are prolific egg layers, and will even lay eggs during the cooler months. Some set backs may include, that the hens make poor mothers and do not go broody as often as some other breeds. Another is that due to the fact that they are superior foragers, they burn a lot of calories, and rarely put on enough weight to make a satisfactory family dinner.
Your chickens will need a good source of fresh, dry bedding in the coops, and will perform well in cleaner living conditions. This means they prefer to lay eggs in clean coops, and if the coops get filthy-dirty, or go without maintenance, you may see a reduction in egg production. They perform well on open free-range with plenty of room to forage, fly and express their freedom.
About Nutrient-Dense Eggs:
Nutrient dense eggs are from heritage-breed, healthy chickens. This means that the chicken must be healthy, to provide healthy, nutritious eggs. Avoid vaccines, pesticides, hormones, steroids, antibiotics, and foods that cause gastrointestinal disorders. Never fed your hens any corn, soy, wheat, packaged fish/crab meals, Genetically Modified Organisms, coconut fillers or gluten. Keeping chickens and providing your family with nutrient dense eggs can be fun and educational for the entire family. It is also a good step toward supplementing your protein needs and a forward move toward sustainability.
Sustainability means that the egg layer flock should not be dependent upon commercial poultry feed products. Most pre-packaged poultry feeds contain artificial bacteria to aid in digestion, and grains which can harm your chickens crop flora. Chickens fed a diet comprised of corn, soy, wheat, gluten, fish/crab meals, coconut fillers and unnecessary herbs can lead to enteritis and shorten the layers-production time. In most cases layers fed a grain based diet only lay well for the first 2-3 years. Hens fed a grain-free, filler-free diet grown on true free-range and good forage can often lay for over 6 years!
Your small, backyard, free-range flock does not need you or anybody else to feed them, they can forage for themselves provided you supply enough space and forge materials. Chickens are not fond of grass, and they are not ruminants (cows, buffalo, goats, sheep, etc.) they do not have the ability to digest or breakdown grass and derive the necessary nutrients (fat, protein etc) from grass. They need bugs, larvae, beetles, grubs, worms and such. They prefer decaying organic matter such as a mulch or compost piles and fallen fruit. They also eat soft ripe vegetables, fruit, young greens, sprouts etc.
Our free-range flocks forage and eat from seasonal forage and home grown, heirloom-fodder availability. They eat native weeds, fallen Joshua Tree seeds, cactus paddles, prickly pears, they forage in our seasonal gardens, and hang out with the horse, hogs, cows, sheep and goats and forage through the livestock dung for bugs, flies, grubs, beetles, gnats and all sorts of goodies. We also provide plenty of mulch/compost and organic decaying matter for all our flocks.
A strong flock should consist of about 6-12 hens and 1 rooster.
Stay tuned for more on "Standard" Heritage chicken breeds and foraging methods....