For the beginning farmer, poultry are often a ‘gateway’ animal. They are the start of many small farms, but do not require the infrastructure or time commitment of larger livestock. This makes them perfect for people dipping their toes into self sufficiency.
If you are thinking about adding birds but don’t know where to start, or you’ve only considered chickens, here are some helpful tips about what birds might work best for you.
Chickens are a wonderful place for a backyard farmer to start. Within the world of chickens there are many different breeds, and this variety means that your flock can be spectacular looking or very cold hardy. You can go for many different colored eggs or raise your birds for meat.
The varieties are also very fun if you’re raising chickens with young children. Many farm kids have their first entrepreneurial experience by starting a fresh eggs farm stand.
Chickens require a coop that keeps them safe from the outside elements and offers them roosts to sleep on and nesting boxes to lay their eggs in. Depending on your property, you probably should also offer a fenced outdoor run for your hens.
Chickens are good foragers but still need feed provided, as well as grit in their diet to help them digest what they eat. Hens tend to be friendly, or possibly shy, while roosters can become aggressive as they grow up.
Ducks are sometimes overlooked but make excellent additions to a small farm. They are still excellent egg layers, and duck eggs often fetch a premium.
Like chickens, there are several varieties of ducks, and you can get breeds that are primarily for egg laying or meat. You can also try some of the more showy birds like Call Ducks, Runner Ducks or Crested Ducks.
Ducks can imprint and therefore make excellent pets, and they are usually very friendly with people. However ducks are aggressive with each other during mating season, so it is important to ensure that you don’t have too many male ducks.
Ducks do not need any bells and whistles in their coop—just a place safe from the elements and predators. They will need plenty of water, and while they do not need a pond, they should be offered a pool or trough large enough for them to bathe in.
Guineas are a unique bird, and for the right farm they are perfect.Small, active foragers, guinea fowl wander far and are very loud—not ideal if you have close neighbors.
However, if this is not a concern, they make excellent farm ‘employees,’ constantly eating ticks and other bad bugs. They are highly entertaining and their eggs are delicious—although they often hide them in some secret nest.
Guinea fowl aren’t friendly—in fact, they’re usually pretty impossible to catch. They should have a safe coop to roost in at night, and are often kept with chickens.
It can be hard to encourage them to return to the coop at night, but raising them from keets in that space often helps.
Like guineas, geese are perfect for the right farm but don’t fit in everywhere. They’re much larger birds and require a bit more space.
Contrary to popular belief, geese can be friendly and even imprint and bond with the people who raise them. They also lay delicious seasonal eggs.
Geese can be loud. And even if they’re imprinted, they can sometimes be aggressive with strangers or with smaller birds.
Like ducks, they don’t require a pond but do need space to wash off. Geese are very hardy but still need a coop and can wander far if they aren’t enclosed in a run.
There are plenty more wonderful poultry options out there! Consider turkeys, peafowl or gamebirds. With a little bit of research into what poultry works best, the beginning farmer can have a fun menagerie of entertaining, unique and useful birds.