So You Want Chickens? Take Mine; I Prefer Ducks

| 3/22/2013 11:28:13 AM

barred rock chickenFor most people, one of the first steps into self sufficiency is the aquisition of chickens. It was no different for us; within a few months of moving to our place in the country, we had 27 little birdies peeping away in our basement. Everyone ooo-ed and ahhh-ed over them, spending time sitting with them watching them go about their little chicken business. We were just tickled to be on our way down the homesteading path, and now we had our first animals to show for it.

We ordered 25 day old birds, 13 Buff Orpington and 12 Barred Plymouth Rocks, and the hatchery shipped two extras in case one died during shipping. Both Orpingtons and Rocks are heritage egg laying breeds that are touted as having great personalities, as well as being able to hatch their own eggs. Check, check and check, I go down my list of chicken traits that I want. These two breeds fit the bill well (see what I did there?  Fit the bill...some foreshadowing for my dear readers).

Within 24 hours many of their little behinds began to get matted with poo, and I began hitting keys on my computer trying to discover what I was doing wrong. I find that the problem is endearingly called "pasty butt".  It is caused by stress, and is relatively common in shipped birds. Nearly every person you ask will give you a different treatment idea, from apple cider vinegar in their water to oatmeal in their food. Of course there will also be the often seen advice of "Kill it, It's weak, I cull heavily, I'll tolerate no illness in my animals, Who cares about a three dollar bird, It's not worth my time", etc. etc., blah blah blah. I ignore those folks. Seems to me if you are trying to produce your own food, or sell what you are growing, it only makes sense to try to save every animal; a grown chicken will produce FAR more than three bucks worth of eggs in it's lifetime. If I saw three dollars on the ground, I'd darn sure pick it up. But I digress.

The only cure for pasty butt is to clean their little rear ends several times a day until it passes, because if you don't it forms a crust that prevents them from eliminating waste, and they die. Not a pleasant way to go. I've had to battle pasty butt with every species of bird brought here from hatcheries or farm supply stores, including guineas. Not so for my ducks. Never had one incident of poopy behinds with my ducklings.

After the chickens were grown and had been in their coop for several months, I noticed the scales on their legs looked odd, kind of rough and raised. Tappity tappity tap, I start looking on The Internet. My chickens have leg mites, which requires catching each bird and slathering their legs with vaseline. How did my birds get leg mites? Was it from the wild bird population that pops around eating chicken scratch? Who knows, but my ducks have never gotten them.

My first rooster was a Barred Rock that was an accident, shipped with my original flock of what was supposed to be all hens. That's okay, I decided, it will allow me to constantly resupply my own flock! HA! This rooster was the meanest creature I have EVER encountered. I would have sworn he was mean just for the fun of it, except chickens have tiny brains and they don't do fun things. He tore up the backs of my hens, making them featherless (clickity click, what to do about this? Buy chicken saddles, of course!), even though there were 26 of them, which is more than enough for one rooster. We had to carry weapons into the coop just to let them all out in the morning, a chore which the children could no longer do for fear of losing an eye. Going into the chicken yard was no longer a pleasant Little House on the Prairie experience; this dumb bird would come at you with murder in his beady little eyes. I couldn't let my birds free range, because my rooster saw every person on the property as a threat. My poor sister threw her coffee at him when he came after her while she was just trying to get from the barn to the house, and he just kept coming even after she threw the cup at him, too. The solution? Off with his head! My male ducks have never tried to kill me.

11/23/2013 8:47:13 PM

I agree completely. Khaki Campbell Ducks lay almost as much as the best egg layers I've ever had. The ducks are also so easy to gather up in the evening since they tend to flock together unlike chickens that want to go everywhere. The eggs are great and ,when I was hatching with an incubator, had about a 98% hatch rate. If you sell at a local livestock auction or farmers market they bring more than chicks. Thanks for the great article.

Billy Joe Foodfarm
4/8/2013 2:14:23 PM

Donna, thank you so much. I have wanted to write my entire life, from the time I was four years old and wrote my first book, The Hanted Haos (yes, that is how I spelled it!). So glad you enjoyed this article, I have many more on the way!

Donna Clawson
3/29/2013 12:55:01 AM

You could be a writer! I enjoyed reading your post and laughed from beginning to end!

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