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:

 


The Big Day ~ The Chickens and Their Peeps Move Out

Several years ago we had a large assortment of poultry, but over the years the flock had dwindled until we were down to a rooster and four hens that were all about seven years old, and a lone drake.

Carried Away

We decided we were ready to get some new birds, so we went to the feed store with a mental shopping list.  There’s just something about the peeping of baby birds and, well, we got a little carried away. After we had picked out all that we wanted, the breeder gave us a few large handfuls of baby bantams as freebies. (Bantams are small chickens). We returned home with four geese, three ducks, seven guineas, four turkeys, and at least forty chickens of various breeds and sizes!

Make-Shift Brooder

We had a giant round livestock tank that, being blue and 8′ in diameter, strongly resembled a child’s wading pool. My husband used his tractor to put it in our garage where we used it as a temporary brooder for all of those birds. We lost one chick that first night but the rest thrived. We had forgotten how quickly they start to smell. Over the course of two weeks the odor grew stronger until it started to pervade our home. It became unbearable!

Emergency Preparations

We had a “shack” in the chicken yard that we prepared as best we could to house the chickens and their peeps because we had to get them out of our garage. My husband reinforced it to protect them from snakes and drafts, added fresh shavings and a heat lamp. Our daughter was nice enough to help me catch birds and we put them in boxes and made several trips back and forth between the garage and shack. It was so wonderful to have them relocated and be able to clean out our garage!

Rough Start

That night it stormed and, unfortunately, some rain dripped through the tin roof, shattering the heat lamp. As a result, three of the chicks got wet and cold, and died. My husband made more repairs, put a tarp over the roof, replaced the heat lamp bulb and added a second heat lamp, and everything went well after that.

Free at Last

The geese grew like dinosaurs in comparison to the bantam chicks which didn’t seem to grow at all. We decided it was time to open the door of their shack and let them come and go freely in the fenced chicken yard.

I stayed out there with them for awhile. It didn’t take long for the goslings and ducklings to come bouncing out into the greenery. They soon found a patch of clover and settled into it. It took quite awhile for some of the others to venture out, but finally half the turkeys, all the guineas, and a few chicks found their way over the threshold and started exploring. I had worried that our geriatric chickens might bully the newcomers, but they didn’t.

Older Chickens Checking Out the New Brood
Older Chickens Checking Out the New Brood
The Big Day - Young Birds Enjoying Their New Home
The Young Birds a Few Weeks Later
Libby, the dog, Watching Over the Young Birds
Libby Watching Over the Birds
Country Girl Initiation

The new flock reminded me of the first chickens that we got about ten years earlier. Our kids were young, and we handled the chicks a lot, so several of them were pretty tame. There was one in particular, named Esmerelda, that was a gold Sebright banty hen. When I went out to tend the flock, Esmerelda often flew up to perch on my shoulder, or when I squatted down she’d hop up on the back of my waistband. One day the kids brought her into the house because she was acting funny – she wouldn’t stand up. I held her in my lap to look her over and see if I could figure out what was wrong. I didn’t have any idea, but she laid there quietly so I stroked her and talked to her. All of a sudden she stood up and laid an egg in my lap! That was a turning point in my life. I had started my transformation into a country girl.

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