How to Raise Chickens for Fly Tying Feathers

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Roosters have the most desirable feathers for tying flies.
Roosters have the most desirable feathers for tying flies. (Image: rooster image by jimcox40 from Fotolia.com)

For people who like to fly fish, tying flies is a common second hobby. It is fun and challenging, and can be done during those times when you can’t be out fishing. The main thing you need for flies is plenty of good feathers in a variety of sizes, colors and patterns. There are many places where you can buy such feathers, but they are expensive. Raising chickens to grow your own fly tying feathers is one solution to the high cost of materials.

Things You'll Need

  • Chicken wire or hardware cloth
  • Lumber
  • Feeding can
  • Watering can
  • Chicken food

Choose which breed of chickens you want to raise. Consider factors such as how much room you have for chickens, what size feathers you want, what color and pattern the feathers should have, and how much money you are willing to invest in chickens. If you want grizzly feathers, consider barred rock chickens. Buff orpingtons produce light golden feathers. For plain feathers, you can dye choose pure white leghorns. Bantam chickens are miniature versions of regular chickens and have smaller feathers which work well for certain types of flies.

Build a suitable pen for your chickens. Use chicken wire or hardware cloth with holes no larger than 1 inch, to keep them from poking their heads through the wire. Make the pen big enough that your chickens will not feel crowded and end up fighting, as this destroys the feathers that you want. According to Virginia Tech, adult chickens need at least 8 to 10 square feet of ground space per bird. Provide shelter from bad weather and a place for them to go at night for protection from predators.

Place your birds in the pen. If you are starting with young chicks, keep them in a brooder until they are old enough to be moved outside. They should be fully feathered and acclimated to the weather before being left permanently outdoors.

Provide the chickens with clean food and water. A hanging feeder prevents the chickens from getting into the feed and scratching it out onto the ground or standing in it and fouling it with their droppings. A commercial feed high in protein encourages good growth and will help your birds to produce nice feathers. Water can be kept clean by the use of a water can which is set up on blocks to prevent dirt and droppings from being kicked into it.

Observe your chickens on a daily basis, to ensure they have food and water. Check the fence for signs of digging, which will alert you that a predator is trying to get in. Consult a veterinarian if you see any signs of illness in your flock.

Harvest your chickens when they reach maturity. In general, you can tell when the birds are ready to be harvested by the appearance of the feathers. Birds should be fully feathered with both inner and outer layers of feathers present. Males will have well-pronounced hackle feathers on their necks. Actual age at harvest will vary by breed, time of year, and feed, but birds generally mature and are fully feathered at about 6 to 8 months of age.

Tips & Warnings

  • Hatcheries often sell "fly-tying" assortments of roosters at a very low price, since most people want hens for the eggs.
  • Chickens can carry some diseases, such as salmonella, so wash your hands any time you have been working with them or handling them.

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