Raising chickens for their eggs and meat is the single best step you can take in feeding your dog an organic, home-raised, raw diet, without breaking the bank.
Many people shy away from feeding their dog a raw diet because of the price of raw foods, but I’m living proof that feeding raw is the single best diet for your wallet (and your pets’ health, of course) and raising chickens to feed your dogs is one reason why.
On January 1st of this year my first eight chickens arrived in the mail. It was a new experience to say the least because -as far as I could remember- I’d never even held a chicken, let alone cared for one. Today I have upwards of 50 laying hens and my raw feeding costs are lower than ever.
First, let’s talk about raising chickens for eggs.
Not only are raw eggs an inexpensive way to add a safe source of nutrients to your dog’s diet, they are also a complete source of nutrition.
Eggs are the most bioavailable source of protein and high in vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, healthy fats and more. They function as a whole, balanced food derived from the reproductive process. What this offers your dog is a food that is nutritionally complete.
Here’s why raw eggs are so healthy:
- Amino Acids: Raw eggs are one of the most complete sources of amino acids. Amino acids are necessary for creating new enzymes and are needed for proper protein digestion.
- Vitamin A: Also known as carotene, this vitamin is beneficial to your dog’s coat, nerves, skin, vision and muscles.
- Riboflavin: Also known as vitamin B2, riboflavin aids in the growth of new cells and helps dogs metabolize energy from fats and proteins.
- Folate: Folate (or vitamin B9) is needed for the formation of healthy blood cells.
- Vitamin B12: This vitamin helps your dog’s nervous system function properly and aids in cell growth.
- Fatty Acids: Fatty Acids not only help your dog’s skin and coat look healthy, they also control inflammation, aid in joint health, improve the function of organs and help rid dogs of allergies.
- Selenium: Selenium has a wide range of benefits from cancer prevention to preventing skin problems, heart disease and arthritis.
Note: For eggs to be a complete source of nutrition for your dogs they must be fed with their shells. However, do not feed store bought egg shells as they have been washed and coated to enhance their appearance.
How many eggs per dog, per day?
I suggest 1 egg for every 10 lbs. of dog, per day. The key is making sure the bone ratio within their raw diet is still balanced, so adjust as needed.
My recommendation to you is this- feed raw eggs to tolerance. Not all dogs can eat 1 egg for every 10 lbs. of their bodyweight, per day. Some do better with half that amount. Start with one egg and work your way up. Eggs are very rich so don’t overdo it! Add them slowly.
Why raw eggs? Is that safe?
The number one concern of feeding raw eggs is the contamination of bacteria. We know that if we come in contact with salmonella there could be a very serious outcome. While dogs have different bacteria in their digestive systems that equips them to handle many more bacteria than the human digestive system can, salmonella can be a concern.
However, we’ve been taught to fear that all uncooked eggs could contain salmonella. The truth is that it is the health of the hen and the cleanliness of her surroundings that determines the bacteria that her eggs will carry. Unhealthy egg laying hens that are kept in unsanitary, confined spaces are more likely to transmit bad bacteria to their eggs.
The truth is that when your hens are healthy, live in a clean environment and are fed an optimal diet, transmitted illnesses are few and far between. Needless to say, the safest way to feed your dog raw eggs is to feed eggs from healthy, organic fed, free range chickens.
In fact, did you know that dry dog food can contain and transmit salmonella? 2012 CDC Salmonella Report on Dry Dog Food
As a raw feeder and chicken owner, I put my faith in my animal husbandry over a highly processed, commercial product.
Getting Started With Chickens
Before you buy chickens, supplies and stock up on feed, consider the following.
- Before you start out raising chickens, make sure that you’re allowed to keep chickens in your backyard (if you live in a suburban area).
- Decide whether you’d like to raise your chickens from eggs (hatch them yourself), buy them as baby chicks, or buy chickens that are ready to lay. Because it would be nice to start feeding your dog(s) fresh eggs and cut your raw dog food bill immediately, I recommend buying chickens that are ready to lay. If you raise chicks you may have to wait as long as six months to a year for your first eggs.
- Decide on how many chickens you need. Instead of overcomplicating your life by having a huge flock, concentrate your efforts on a small number of chickens at first. Most chickens in full production will lay an egg every day.
Chicken Breeds I Recommend
My first recommendation to someone just getting into chickens would be Australorps. They are very sweet, incredible egg layers and I’ve found that they are very hardy birds.
If you have a lot of property and want your chickens to forage for most of their food, my Welsummers are nearly fearless in that regard and will expand their bug search far beyond their coop, unlike some other breeds.
Australorp: The Australorp is the “national breed” of Australia. These popular additions to backyard flocks are known as egg-laying machines. There are reports of Australorps laying eggs nearly year-round with the recorded record being 364 eggs in 365 days!
Orpington: Orpingtons are docile with quiet demeanors and are good layers of light brown eggs. They come in buff (golden), black, white and blue varieties.
Barred Plymouth Rock: Barred Rocks are friendly, hardy chickens that are great layers of large brown eggs, making them very popular for backyard flocks. This breed began in New England.
Red Star: Owners of Red Stars are passionate about the breed, raving about the birds’ extremely friendly personalities and amazing level of egg production. If you want an egg-laying machine, get a Red Star.
Rhode Island Red: Exceptionally hardy, the Rhode Island Red lays large brown eggs. Some chicken owners say RIRs have easygoing personalities; others say they are bossy. They aren’t the quietest either, but are great layers.
What Your Chicken Coop Needs
- Space, space, space: You’ll want to make sure that your chickens have at least 3-4 square feet of space each. So, if you have 12 chickens, your coop will need to be at least 36 square feet. When chickens are forced to battle for room, it decreases egg production and increases the stress level which increases disease vulnerability.
- Roosts: Chickens love to roost at night. Set your roost at least two feet off the ground and give six-ten inches of space per bird.
- Nesting Boxes: Laying hens need at least one square foot of laying space for every 4-5 hens. It’s best for nesting boxes to be about two feet off the ground and be easy to get in and out of.
- Food and Water: Keep waterers and feeders where you can easily reach and refill them, and where the chickens can find them as often as they need to.
- Light and Ventilation: Give your coop lots of windows so that natural sunlight and fresh air can get into the coop.
What To Feed Your Chickens
When deciding what feed to buy for your chickens, remember that you and your dogs will be eating a byproduct of what your chickens eat.
Choose a healthy (preferably organic) feed. Chickens need to be fed and given clean water every day. Chickens need a variety of foods and the best way to achieve this is to feed them your kitchen food scraps. Chickens will eat a variety of bugs as well. Letting them free-range adds to the healthfulness of their eggs! Between feeding food scraps and free-ranging, the cost of keeping chickens can be very minimal.
What if you’re not ready to raise chickens yourself, but want to add raw eggs to your dog’s diet?
Because eggs are such an inexpensive source of nutrition for your dog, it’s important not to skimp on quality. It’s essential that you buy organic eggs from pastured hens, or eggs that are from a local organic farmer.
In buying local you’re also able to see firsthand where your eggs come from. Are the hens healthy? Do they have a clean place to live? Are they treated with care?
All of the above questions are important to consider because it’s the health and wellness of the hens that determine the healthfulness of the eggs.
Raising Chickens For Meat
First let me clear up misconceptions about chicken bones by saying that cooked chicken bones are an absolute no-no for dogs as they will splinter and can cause injuries. However, raw chicken bones are soft and therefore completely safe for dogs. Consider wild dogs (wolves, coyotes, fox, etc.) and how likely they are to kill and eat an entire bird. Raw chicken (not to mention, quail, duck, turkey, etc.) is no different than any other bird a wild dog would eat.
Still have concerns about feeding raw chicken? Join the Raw Feeding and Natural Healing Facebook group! We’ll answer any questions and/or concerns you have!
Choosing a Meat Bird Breed
Chickens raised for meat are commonly called “meat birds” and are usually a different breed from laying hens. Meat birds are truly a breed apart from laying hens. Cornish Rocks, which are a cross between a Cornish and a White Rock, are the typical meat bird breed.
Housing Meat Birds
You will need a coop for your chickens, just like for your laying hens. Many people raise meat in more temporary shelters like hoop houses or in pastured poultry houses.
Raising Meat Birds on Pasture
Once your chicks are old enough to live without heat lamps you can keep your chickens in a coop with just a small run attached, but pasture is arguably superior. The meat is higher in omega-3s, and the birds are just happier.
Processing Chickens on the Farm
At 8-10 weeks, your birds have grown to full size and are typically 5-7 pounds, depending on whether you’re raising broilers or roasters. You can butcher on-farm, or you can find a poultry processor and transport the birds to the site to be slaughtered and processed.
What Your Meat Chickens Need:
- About 2-3 sq. feet of space per bird, for room to move around.
- If you use litter for the flooring, it should be maintained to a depth of around 6 inches deep.
- If you have them on fresh grass, moving their pen daily will keep them healthy.
- Constant access to clean water is a key to bird health. Refresh their water on a regular basis.
- Dust baths to stay cool.
- Roaster chickens for meat, or broilers need a feed that is 21% protein to gain weight properly.
- Feeders must be large enough to supply the flock’s needs for at least a full day.
How much raw chicken (meat, organs and bones) should you feed your raw fed dog?
Chicken should account for no more than ¼ of your dog’s diet. A balanced raw diet is 80% muscle meat, 10% organs and 10% bone. This should be made up of a minimum of four different sources (meat animals: for example, chicken, beef, lamb and venison).
So, if your dog eats 50 lbs. of food (raw meat, bones and organs) a month, 12.5 lbs. of that can be chicken.
That’s only 3-4 whole chickens per month!
Raising chickens for meat and eggs is not only a healthier food source, it’s also incredibly rewarding. Knowing where your dogs’ food comes from and knowing that it was raised with care is priceless. Though laying hens provide more return over time, both meat birds and layers have their rewards. Choose what works best for you!