Poultry for the Homeplace ~ A Practical Primer

Poultry are not paltry on the homeplace. They each serve a purpose and are profitable. Poultry refers to a variety of domesticated birds that are raised for their meat and eggs. It includes chickens, turkeys, ducks, geese, and guineas.

Plumage

I think of our birds as feathered flowers. They all have different colors and patterns, and are all beautiful in their own way. I marvel at God’s creativity and imagine Him as he created each one, thinking “how can I make this one different?”

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Guineas are downright comical. They’re the clowns of our homestead. Look at that funny “helmet,” their bright red “wattles,” and their polka-dotted feathers.

We’ve raised several different “heritage” breeds of turkeys over the years. I’ve enjoyed the Toms, in particular, as they puff their chest and strut their stuff. They prance in a circle, dragging the tips of their wings and making a drumming sound. They’re persistent in their pursuit of proper admiration!

Geese aren’t as varied in their appearance, but their feathers are wonderful for pillows and bedding. Not that I’ve used them for that, but just wanted to mention it.

Production

Not only do the birds have different colors, but their eggs do, too. I really enjoy having our own fresh eggs, and I also appreciate them for their beauty. The color of eggs varies with the breed. Duck and goose eggs are white, guineas’ are brown-speckled, and chickens come in a rainbow of colors including blue, green, pink(ish), white, and various shades of brown. You can’t buy eggs like these at the grocery store!

Goose and Chicken Eggs

You are probably familiar with chicken eggs, but the eggs of other poultry are edible as well. Duck and goose eggs are richer and great for baking! Guinea eggs are pretty small, so you need more of them, but you can eat them.

Pests

Living in the country, there’s no end to the pests we live among, whether they prey on us and our pets, like ticks, chiggers, fleas and snakes; or our plants, like beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and bugs. I try to garden organically, and our birds are great partners!

Chickens are omnivorous and if you aren’t already experienced with them then you might be surprised at some of the things they’ll eat. Of course, they eat grain, seeds, plants, fruits and vegetables, but given the opportunity, they’ll eat frogs, small mice and snakes. Turkeys’ diets are similar. They will also eat acorns, which we have an abundance of.

Guineas march around the yard peculiarly, almost in formation, pecking at pests, large and small. They eat many of the same things that chickens do, but they don’t scratch, so they’re gentler around plants. With all of the tick-born diseases, I’m especially grateful for their help with eradicating them. I’ve read accounts of guineas encircling large snakes. Although I haven’t personally witnessed that yet, I do think that they would help by eating them, chasing them off, or alerting us to their presence.

Poultry for the Homeplace
Crested Ducks, Lucille and Lincoln

Ducks eat slugs and snails, as well as insects and grass. They are credited with being lower-maintenance, hardier, and quieter than chickens.

Permaculture

Poultry offer prodigious perks to participants in permaculture. Chickens and guineas will seek out pests that might threaten your home, garden or orchard. As they’re doing that, they’ll periodically pause to poop, thereby naturally fertilizing.

In the orchard they clean up fallen fruit. This helps to lessen disease and insect problems. By scratching around the base of the trees, chickens can pick out grubs that later in the season would emerge and infect the fruit.

Chickens working the compost pile

When I’m working in my garden, I collect weeds and other waste in buckets. When they’re full,  I dump them over the fence into a compost pile in the bird yard. The birds excitedly race over to rummage through it. They eat all the weeds, seeds, and insects. Their scratching also turns and breaks down leaves. Let’s just say they help process the compost more quickly. The variety of things they eat makes for flavorful and nutritious, orange-yolked eggs.

If you have other livestock such as horses, cows, or goats, flies can be a problem. Chickens can help combat the fly problem by scratching through manure and eating fly larvae.

Geese helping with the weeding

We have African Geese and I’m amazed at how they eat grass and weeds. The bird yard is large, and it’s picked clean. My husband made an opening into a small paddock, and so far they’ve kept it under control, too. When I’m working in the yard, I love opening the gate and letting all the birds have access to our whole homestead. I especially appreciate the geese working the fence lines where it’s hard to control the grass and weeds.

Protection

While they may not actually attack anyone, birds can certainly alert you to the presence of people or predators that don’t belong, giving you the opportunity to investigate the situation.

Birds can be pretty intimidating. Have you ever been “goosed?” Recently, we had a delivery and the woman jumped out of her truck to greet our two large, barking, guard dogs. But I had let all of the birds out and when the geese started running towards her, flapping their large wings and honking menacingly, she asked me, panic-stricken and poised to jump back in her truck, if they were attacking. So don’t under-estimate the guard potential of birds.

Guineas are well-known for their prodigious pandemonium. When anything is amiss, or they detect a predator or intruder, they sound the alarm. Here is a little video to give you a peek at their prattle:

Personality

The simple country life is not complete, in my opinion, without the presence of the peculiar personalities of poultry. I’m perpetually pleased by their picking and pecking, plucking and peeping. It’s my idea of paradise.

Post Script

Did you know that poultry were so profitable? They are definitely a valueable resource for the homesteader. If you’re considering adding a new breed to your homeplace, do some research to learn even more about them and make sure that they’re a good fit.

I’ve only covered the poultry that I have personal experience with, but there may be others. Do you have something to add? I invite you to share in the comments.

Please pin this purty picture:

 


Patiently Pruning Peaches and Pears

My gardening chore today was to prune my peach and pear trees. In my mind it was urgent because the peach trees are in full bloom and already starting to leaf out. I really wanted to get them pruned while I could see the limbs and the structure of the tree.

We’ve been working on our home orchard for quite awhile now and I’ve been learning as I go. I read up on pruning and then go do the best I can.

Sculpture

Where gardening is an art form, pruning, to me, is like sculpting. Thinking of it that way makes it more fun, anyway.

Peach Trees

With peach trees you want to end up with a vase shape and an open and airy structure.

“Before” picture of our mature peach tree.

Our older peach tree was here when we bought our home, so it’s over ten years old. I don’t think it was planted there on purpose, because it’s right at the edge of the driveway, but I don’t know for sure. I also don’t know what variety it is. Although you can’t tell from the before picture, I gave it a real good hacking last year. In fact, I worried that I had done too much. But here it is again this year, looking like it’s been neglected. Texas A&M recommends removing about 40% of the branches (link at bottom) and I’m not even sure I took out that much.

The reasons for pruning are longer life for the tree, less disease, and better harvest.

I started with removing that broken limb.

First, I started by cutting out broken, dead, and diseased branches.

Hanger shoots are branches that grow from the bottom of the limb. Water sprouts grow straight up from the top of the limb. Suckers grow from the roots at the base of the tree. All three of these types of branches need to be removed, so I did that next. At the time, I couldn’t remember the reason for removing the water sprouts, but it made sense to me to remove branches where I wouldn’t be able to reach to harvest fruit.

Water Sprouts grow straight up

I’ve learned from experience, that during the time it’s growing fruit, it will put on a lot more growth. When it comes time to harvest, it can be hard to reach fruit towards the interior of the tree, as well as at the top. With that in mind, I pruned branches I didn’t think I’d be able to get to. I want the tree to focus its energy on fruit I’ll be able to reach.

I remove branches that are too low on the trunk, and if they were too long and close to the ground, I cut them back. They’ll grow longer during the season, and then with the weight of fruit they’ll hang even lower. You don’t want fruit laying on the ground. Some of the branches extend too far into our driveway and I don’t want vehicles brushing against them later on, so I shortened those.

This branch is growing at too small of an angle.

Branches growing at too small of an angle are more prone to splitting off from the weight of fruit, so those are cut off, too. You want about a 45 degree angle.

When cutting, I try to leave about 1/4″ from the trunk or other branch. You don’t want cuts to be flush. It’s easier for them to heal if you leave a small amount.

After Pruning
Peach tree after pruning.

Branches that crossed others, or were growing toward the interior were also removed. Whew! It’s a wonder there’s anything left after all of that! I go ’round and ’round while pruning, and I step back often to see how it’s looking. Finally, I thought it looked pretty good. As with art, I don’t think there’s just one right way. It just needs to be done, so do your best and learn as you go.

Bull Shoots

I learned that there’s another type of shoot, called a “bull shoot,” that grows from the trunk or the top of the tree and should be removed in summer after harvesting the fruit. I’ll try to remember to do that later in the summer.

Thinning Fruit

I’m waiting to see if we get peaches this year because we had freezing temperatures in the middle of the blooming. When there is fruit, it’s important to thin it. I learned this from experience. The first year I couldn’t bring myself to pull off all of those cute baby peaches. When harvest came, there were a lot of them, but by the time I removed the skin and the pit, there wasn’t much left! If you will thin the peaches, the remaining fruit will be larger and with more “meat.” You’ll have to remove most of the peaches. Before you start, look them over and take off any that are diseased or malformed, then the smaller ones. Try to leave the larger ones with the ideal spacing of 6-8.” It takes a lot of time, so it usually takes me several sessions before I have it all done, but it’s worth the effort.

Pears
Seckel pear tree after light pruning.

I also pruned two young pear trees. They are about four years old and haven’t flowered yet. Although there are a lot of similarities in pruning them, there are also a few differences. You don’t want to remove as many branches as you do with peaches, for one. They also have a different growth habit, so you aren’t wanting a vase shape as with peaches. Mine don’t need very much pruning yet. Mainly, I removed the dead, diseased, and broken branches. I’m really anxious for them to start bearing. We have two, a Seckel and a Starking Delicious Pear Dwarf. We bought both of them from Stark Bro’s about three years ago.

Organic Orchard

I was happy to see at the base of my trees where the chickens had been scratching. I hoped they found some nice juicy pests to devour. Maybe they even did a little fertilizing while they were there. Our chickens, and other birds, are part of my organic gardening methods.

Pooped

Now I’m pretty pooped from patiently pruning peaches and pears! I got a great gardening workout from that, plus a few other things I got done today. I’ll have to prune the apples and cherries another day!

Related Reading

Pruning Peach Trees by Texas A&M Horticulture

Patiently Pruning Peaches and Pears