Chicken Math For The Budding Production Flock
How much space does a chicken need and other key questions
Chicken math is more than counting your eggs before they hatch. For those of us who want to expand our home flock enough to feed more than just ourselves, there’s some vital chicken math to calculate. If you’re looking to start a flock that may even (gasp) turn a profit for a small farm or youth project, then this article should serve you well.
Things like square floor space, linear feeder space, birds per nest box and how many birds a single water nipple can serve all represent important physical chicken math. This is the math behind the basic operation of a happy flock. Then there is the financial side of a flock.
It’s okay to run a hobby flock, but if you want your flock to at least pay for its self or turn a buck, then understanding some basic business chicken math will help and guide you along your journey.
Floor space per bird is a debated topic these days, and the answer is dependent on who you ask. An adult hen should have at least one and a half square feet of space according to Penn State Extension Service. The Merck Veterinary Manual suggests a whopping three feet squared per hen, so somewhere between those two numbers is likely best. The University of New Hampshire recommends two square feet per broiler bird if you’re growing meat birds. When you’re deciding how to build a chicken coop, knowing how many birds you want in a flock will help determine the size of your coop.
Chickens like to roost, and roosts add space to your existing barn or coop. I’m fond of using a good old two by four for a perch because they’re cheap and sturdy. Be sure to supply six linear inches of roost space per bird in the flock. Having plenty of roost space is particularly important when introducing new chickens to an existing flock. Having room for new hens to escape the floor and evade aggressive pen mates will help ease the transition.
Penn State Extension Service suggests one nest box per every four hens, although Virginia Tech suggests one box per every five hens. Most commercial operations shoot for one nest per six hens, so again, the ideal number is up for debate.
Feeders come in all shapes and sizes. Regardless of the type of feeder, there should be three inches of linear feeder space per bird to avoid competition between birds. Unlike floor space and nests, everyone seems to be on the same page with the three-inch rule for feeder space.
If you’re using an open-trough-style waterer, you’ll need to supply at least one inch of linear trough space per bird. This measurement rule includes round bell water dispensers and steel double-wall waterers. If you’ve made the transition to nipple valves, which is a far better system in so many ways, you’ll want one nipple valve per every 10 hens. I’ve seen some suggest up to 15 hens per valve, but more the merrier in my opinion. As a side note, as you’re looking into how to raise baby chicks, remember that day one is a perfect time to start birds on a nipple valve system. Unlike with trough systems, I’ve never had a chick drown on a nipple valve, and I’ve never seen a flock not take to a valve system.
Take into account how thick you want your bedding pack to be when you design new coops. I strongly suggest a deep bedding system of at least 12 inches or more. Having a deep bedding pack of pine shavings makes litter management a breeze, and you’ll quickly realize that time is not plentiful in farming.
When I coop in a laying flock, I use a bedding pack of about 18 inches thick. This gives me a bedding pack that should last a full 12 months if nothing catastrophic happens, like a significant water leak. The time and effort saved by only having to coop out the barn once a year is an enormous time saver.
The same depth bedding pack will survive two groups of broilers, which is 12 weeks of broiler bird population. I grow pullets to six weeks old these days, then sell them to backyard farmers. I can get up to four batches of chicks through one bedding pack. All this presumes that you’re following proper biosecurity procedures and that no flock has had an illness.
Two hundred layer chicks will burn through about 600 pounds of chick starter in six weeks, in my experience. A hundred broiler birds will eat about the same from day-old to six weeks. Birds eat exponentially more feed as they age, so be prepared.
The Business Side
Feed is one of the most significant costs associated with running a production flock. Buying feed one 50-pound bag at a time, while paying retail prices, will kill your chances of turning a profit. Research feed mills in your area and see if they allow small bulk pickup on site.
When I was running a small layer operation and growing broilers or turkeys, I would take my truck to the local feed mill and load up 55-gallon drums with the feed I needed. It’s a far more cost-effective way to buy feed, but it’s either equipment-intensive or labor-intensive. Don’t forget to consider your chicken feed storage situation, since spoiling your feed investment will cut deep into your profits too.
Feed conversion ratios are part and parcel of the critical chicken math equation for a successful flock. Big production farms get quite technical over conversion ratios, but for our purpose, merely understanding the concept will help.
Some breeds of birds are better at converting feed into eggs or meat than other breeds. I love the Barred Plymouth Rock, but they are a dual purpose bird that is a jack of all trades and a master of none. If you need a bird for a home flock that can provide meat and eggs, then they’re a great fit. When you’re trying to run an egg business, these birds will consume more feed to produce a single egg than, say, a commercial Leghorn or a sex-link variety.
Effectively, the equation looks like this; (Feed In):(Eggs out). It’s as simple as that. In a meat bird flock, your ratio is; (Feed In):(Dressed Weight Out). Understanding this concept will help you pick the best bird for your production flock.
Buying In Bulk
Feed is not the only opportunity to save money by buying in bulk. If you have a flock of 100 layers, you’ll find that buying virgin egg cartons in bulk is the best solution to your packaging needs. Additionally, purchasing bulk egg boxes gives you the opportunity to brand your egg cartons for that professional look.
Please don’t reuse cartons like so many people do. Reusing containers from USDA processing plants (aka all commercial egg suppliers) is illegal. If you don’t deface the branding, USDA markings, and the packing plant code, it’s mislabeling. The USDA frowns on that, and so does your local health department.
|By The Numbers|
|Floor Space||1.5′ to 3′ sq per bird|
|Roost Space||6 inches per bird|
|Nest Box||1 box per 4 to 6 hens|
|Feeder Space||3 inches per bird|
|Water Trough||1 inch per bird|
|Nipple Valve||1 per 10 birds|
|Bedding||12″ depth or more|
Profit And Loss
The most critical chicken math you need to do in a flock you’re keeping for profit is: are you making money? Tracking where your money went and where you earned the most will help you make business decisions down the road. Without these numbers, you’ll be “winging it.” Keeping these records in a basic excel sheet works well, or you can get fancy with a free accounting program. In either case, knowing the numbers can help you spot problems like higher-than-expected costs, or lack of profits. These numbers helped me find my niche in pullet growing, which is the best business model for me.
By The Numbers
Perhaps these numbers will help you raise a happy flock. Perhaps running the numbers with your children’s 4-H or FFA project will give them insight and teach them about business basics. Maybe, just maybe, these numbers will help you make your hobby a profitable venture. In either case, Let us know if this information helped you by commenting below!