Duck, Duck, Goose: Choosing the Right Farm Poultry

Read these poultry breed facts and tips to pick the right species of poultry for your farm.

| January 2018

  • Each poultry breed can brings its own unique characteristics to your farm.
    Photo by Pixabay/Myriams-Fotos
  • Backyard flocks of hens are increasingly accepted in suburban areas and are experiencing a boom in popularity.
    Photo by Pixabay/Capri23auto
  • Duck lay eggs more often than chickens.
    Photo by Pixabay/ajohnson0712
  • In the right place, geese are a good choice for a conservation project.
    Photo by Pixabay/ZuluZulu

An Introduction to Heritage Breeds (Storey, 2014) by The Livestock Conservancy explores the origins of livestock and poultry species and the benefits of having each species on your farm – or not having them. In this excerpt, they discuss the benefits of having chicken, ducks, or geese on farms, giving facts about each species to help you decide which species is best for your farm.

Which Species Is Right for You?

Each species of poultry has its own unique combination of physical and behavioral characteristics. That means that each has specific needs for environment, space, and physical support such as fences and barns. Take time to figure out which species most fits your budget, space, facilities, and interests.

Below we discuss the specific needs of each species, in order of size from smallest to largest. Just about anyone can manage the smallest species. As size increases, so does the complexity of managing and housing the animals.

Chickens

Chickens are a good introductory poultry species for many beginners, with many breed options to appeal to a wide variety of tastes. Their prolificacy and short generation interval make them nearly ideal for learning the basics of selection and seeing the results quickly.



Size: Generally small, but variable. Bantams are as small as 1 pound; the largest Brahma roosters are up to 14 pounds.

Average life span: 5 to 7-plus years. (Phil Sponenberg’s grandmother had a pet hen that lived 23 years!)

Handling ease: Usually easy to handle, but roosters of some breeds can be aggressive, depending on how they are raised. Some breeds are nervous and flighty, others calm and docile.

Noise and odor level: Roosters crow, and this can be loud in some breeds. Hens chatter and cluck, occasionally at high volume. Odors are minimal if facilities are kept clean, but overwhelming if manure builds up.

Shelter and space requirements: Shelter is needed, especially from rain. A coop about 3 × 5 × 2 feet (1 × 1.5 × 0.6 meters) can comfortably hold 5 hens of most breeds.

Zoning restrictions: Regulations excluding chickens are common in many areas, although zoning is changing with the increased popularity of backyard chickens. Restrictions against roosters still remain in many areas.

Daily food and water requirements. Chicken feeds are widely available at feed stores, and chickens also avidly eat kitchen scraps. Fresh liquid water is a daily requirement and should be available at all times.

Social structure. Chickens are sociable, but the term “pecking order” originated with chickens! Crowding in confined spaces can lead to bird-on-bird aggression. Most breeds require a rooster for every seven to ten hens, and multiple males in a smaller group can worry the hens incessantly. Introducing new adults into a flock can result in turmoil.

Reproduction. Many breeds lay nearly an egg a day depending on nutrition and light levels. Pullets (young hens) usually start laying eggs at about 5 to 6 months old. Incubation is about 21 days.

Predator control. Essential. Tight housing can eliminate most predation — and a good guard dog will also do the trick.



Products. Eggs, meat (fryers from younger stock, broilers from larger stock), feathers for jewelry or fly-tying, and manure for gardeners.

Processing and transportation. Slaughterhouses rarely take small numbers of chickens, but some do. Chickens are easily transported in cages. Several states allow sale of a certain number of home-processed birds.

Breed associations and other resources. The American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association are two main resources for information. The Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is geared for heritage breeds, as well.

Other. Chickens can be useful allies in insect control. They scratch as they forage, which helps to break up manure pats of other species. This behavior helps to control parasites and flies.

Ducks

Ducks have many of the advantages of chickens: small size, docile character, prolificacy, and a short generation interval. These combine to make them a good choice for beginners learning the intricacies of animal management and selection. They are a useful, and often overlooked, species.

Size: Ranges from 1-pound bantams to 10-pound Rouens and Pekins

Average life span: 5 to 7 years

Handling ease: Easy and docile

Noise and odor level: The ducks (females) quack; the drakes (males) are nearly silent. Ducks are wet in their habits and can make a lot of mud and odor if not kept clean.

Shelter and space requirements: Hardy and resistant to wet and cold; they need shade in the hot summertime. Water is essential for health, at least enough to wash their heads and eyes in. A cage about 3 × 5 × 2 feet (1 × 1.5 × 0.6 meters) is sufficient for 5 or so ducks of most breeds.

Zoning restrictions: Variable depending on location but usually few restrictions

Daily food and water requirements. Duck feeds are widely available at feed stores, although somewhat less so than chicken feeds. Water is essential, and water for swimming and bathing is appreciated.

Social structure. Ducks form groups of multiple ducks and a few drakes. Drakes can serve up to 10 ducks. When too many drakes are in a group they tend to worry the ducks incessantly.

Reproduction. Specialized egg-producing breeds can lay an egg a day, which is more than most chickens! They mature at about 5 to 6 months old. Incubation is about 28 days. Larger breeds, such as the Rouen and Aylesbury, require a swimming area at least 6 inches deep so they can mate properly.

Predator control. Essential. Tight housing can eliminate most predator threats, especially necessary at night.

Products. Eggs, meat, feathers.

Processing and transportation. Small-scale slaughterhouses may be willing to process small numbers, but check your local facility for availability and pricing. Some states allow the sale of a set number of home-processed birds.

Breed associations and other resources. The American Poultry Association and the American Bantam Association are two main resources for information. The Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is geared for heritage breeds, as well.

Other. Ducks can be useful allies in slug, snail, and insect control. Some ducks are voracious consumers of flies.

Geese

Geese are long-lived and larger than other poultry, with a unique character and products. They require a different sort of commitment than other poultry species and can be tricky for beginners.

Size: Shetlands, as small as 7 pounds; Toulouse, up to 26 pounds

Average life span: Up to 20 years or more

Handling ease: Moderate to difficult. Even with friendly individuals, geese can become highly stressed and will struggle when handled, so take great care when hands-on care is necessary.

Noise and odor level: Very high. Geese have been used as alarm animals because they make so much noise when startled or confronted with new situations. Minimal odor if kept on grass.

Shelter and space requirements: Geese are hardy in a wide range of weather conditions, so need only minimal shelter. They do not tolerate close confinement particularly well and prefer to range freely in large paddocks. They appreciate shade in hot weather.

Zoning restrictions: Common

Daily food and water requirements. Mature geese are grazers, and grass can meet most of their needs. Young growing geese need a protein boost from prepared feeds, as do geese during egg production. Most geese do best with access to at least enough water to swim in occasionally.

Social structure. Geese prefer to form pairs, although some breeds will form trios of two geese and a gander.

Reproduction. Egg production is modest (35 to 60 per year for most breeds) compared with smaller poultry. Birds mature at about a year old. Incubation is 30 to 34 days. Larger breeds, such as the Dewlap Toulouse, require a swimming area at least 12 inches deep so they can mate properly.

Predator control. The size of adult geese protects them from smaller predators, but larger ones (foxes and on up) are a threat. Goslings are susceptible just like ducks and chickens.

Products. Meat, eggs (few), feathers, and down.

Processing and transportation. Transport geese in cages. Processing may be limited, as not all slaughterhouses are equipped to process geese.

Breed associations and other resources. The American Poultry Association is the main resource for information. The Society for the Preservation of Poultry Antiquities is geared for heritage breeds, as well.

Other. Geese are grazers and very selectively go after grasses. They are sometimes used to weed other crops.


Excerpted from An Introduction to Heritage Breeds © 2014 by The Livestock Conservancy. Used with permission from Storey Publishing.

 






mother-audience

MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR

February 15-16, 2020
Belton, Texas

Join us in the Lone Star state to explore ways to save money and live efficiently. This two-day event includes hands-on workshops and a marketplace featuring the latest homesteading products.

LEARN MORE








Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).


Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters

click me