When it comes to the list of homestead animals to raise, exotic birds usually aren’t at the top. In fact, for many homesteaders, exotic birds may not even be on the list. As far as usefulness goes, these bird breeds give more in good looks than meat or eggs.
However, Jake, a Missouri homesteader who runs an exotic bird menagerie and the YouTube channel White House on the Hill, has found that colorful birds such as Mandarin Ducks or White Peacocks actually have real profitability that you might want to start considering.
Though Jake now lives and homesteads on his own land, he originally started his homesteading career on a rental farm in Missouri. As a farm renter, he realized he had the chance to raise chickens, so he and his family started with a dozen chicks—10 of which turned out to be roosters.
That batch of chicks didn’t pan out as he’d hoped. But these chicks were the first step in Jake’s homesteading career.
Soon he became aware of other homesteading families who had expanded their homesteading efforts into self-sustainability. “When we started to look up how to take care of chickens, it just kind of opened our eyes to a whole other world,” he says. “There’s growing your own food and raising your family out in the country where you’re doing it all together.”
Working with his landlords, Jake expanded his homestead into gardening. But since he was on a rental property, he had to keep his main focus on birds. Unabashed, he turned an old shed into a chicken coop, built mobile chicken tractors to house his growing chicken flock and started hatching his own birds.
“That’s where we got into some other types of exotic birds,” he says. “We got some Red Golden Pheasants and Mandarin Ducks and peacocks.”
Once he mastered hatching birds, Jake was ready to set off and explore the vast world of exotic birds, ranging from White Peacocks and emus to midnight black Ayam Cemani chickens. And much to his benefit, the exotic bird world held a promising niche market.
The Exotic Bird Market
An exotic bird may not top everyone’s Christmas list, but Jake has found the market surprisingly vigorous. “There’s a good market for a lot of the birds,” he says. “Emus can get pretty expensive the more mature they get. An egg can be about $50, and a hatched emu chick can be a $150 and then a 6-month-old can be $300.”
Jake’s rainbow-sheened Mandarin Ducks also do well on the market. Their sales offset many expenses on his homestead, making it easier for him to expand or start other homesteading projects.
However, though the exotic bird industry is a promising and growing industry, you need to be aware that the market has scammers lurking in it. Facebook is one of the places Jake recommends beginners look for exotic bird breeds, but he warns that exotic bird scammers also consider this platform prime hunting grounds.
“You have to be kind of cautious when you’re on Facebook,” he says, “because there are a lot of foreign scammers who are scamming people in the U.S. who will pay $200 for a bird. You might try to buy ducks, pay $200 and you never get the ducks.” Jake advises that people buy their exotic birds locally off of Facebook, or preferably, meet up with or have someone vouch for the seller.
Still, scammers online aren’t exactly a new phenomenon. And it shouldn’t be too difficult for homesteaders to pick up the difference and do well in the exotic bird market. Jake has already noticed more exotic bird breeders entering the market, causing the market to blossom with demand. This demand is leading breeders to import and breed more rare fowl, like Jake’s White Peacocks, Red Golden Pheasants and the vast array of other rare birds he raises.
Jake has also noted that postal deliveries have made raising and selling exotic birds much simpler and even provide guarantees for the safety of shipped livestock. The exotic bird market demand and new delivery conveniences make it less of a risk for homesteaders to try exotic birds as an investment, at least enough to get their feet a bit wet before taking the full plunge into raising exotic birds.
Housing & Feeding
For those ready and set to bring exotic birds onto the homestead, the first step is constructing an enclosure. Jake houses his birds in stress-free chicken tractors or 6-by-11-foot coops that are 5 1/2 feet high. Concerning how many birds you can keep in an enclosure like this, he keeps two peafowl in one, six pheasants in another and six ducks in another.
“I also recommend a hallway pen (15-by-15 feet) situation or larger for several birds to breed together,” he says. “For 10-plus birds together, I would go a little larger and build a run and shelter that would be at least 30-by-30-feet with a netted top to give them space to roam, space to get out of the elements and protection from predators.”
And as with any living animal you raise, you’ll have to consider feed for your birds. The feed Jake likes to use includes layer pellets and game-bird feed which is a combination of corn, milo, whole oat groats, sunflower seeds, Canadian peas, maple peas and oyster shells.
However, he does occasionally use pigeon or chicken feed. And in order to add some natural feed to his birds’ diets, he uses movable fencing and chicken coops to rotate his birds on pasture.
Tricks of the Trade
You may have already discovered the hazards of jumping into a new project with blinders on. Somehow that picture in your mind’s eye just doesn’t pan out like it should have. Raising exotic birds is no different than any other home-based project, which is why Jake emphasizes: Have. A. Plan.
Exotic birds aren’t like regular barnyard chickens and often have different needs that should be well-researched before they are brought onto a homestead. For instance, while chickens might be happy behind chicken wire, a 6-foot emu will kick right through such flimsy fencing. Jake recommends doing plenty of research to ensure the proper enclosure for an exotic bird.
When he started keeping Red Golden Pheasants, a breed known for flightiness, one of his male pheasants taught him that researching an exotic bird’s needs, like an enclosure, can save a lot of effort later. The bird lived in a structure not built for flighty birds and could easily fly out when someone was entering the coop’s door—which it did.
“We chased him around the property, and he could have very easily flown away,” Jake says. Thankfully, Jake and his family were able to get the bird back where he belonged. But not everyone will be so fortunate. In the long run, well-researching an exotic bird’s needs will keep both the bird and you happy.
The big step, and maybe the most exciting, is the exotic bird’s big arrival on the homestead. At this point, Jake always considers what sort of container his birds will arrive in and how he can safely and securely move them to a quarantined area before adding them to his main flock.
Though many birds come in boxes or are delivered to doorsteps, some birds, such as Jake’s emus, arrive in big trailers and have to be carefully transported to well-prepared pens. Also, since bird diseases aren’t anyone’s cup of tea, Jake aways makes plans to ensure that new birds don’t accidentally contaminate his other birds while they are on their way to their quarantine pens.
So far he hasn’t had any problems. But when it comes to expensive birds, he doesn’t want to take any chances and always prepares when new arrivals come to his homestead. “There’s always that first time that wipes out other birds, and that’s why we spend a few days observing them just to be sure,” he says.
Like most livestock introduced on a homestead for the first time, the preparation for raising exotic birds is the expensive part. You’ll need some sort of plan to make back the money you put into the project. Otherwise, you’re going to end up with a very pretty, but expensive and time-consuming, pet. Jake recommended that, in order to make back the finances put into raising exotic birds, you should make a business plan for selling chicks, adult birds or eggs.
“When you’re on a homestead, everything costs money,” he says. “You’re growing your own food and raising your own animals. Wherever you can offset expenses or make money is a good thing.”
Of course, as with other livestock, homesteaders interested in exotic birds must keep in mind that predators can still be a problem. Jake must contend with the usual suspects: owls, foxes, hawks, raccoons, etc. Fortunately, trial and error have helped him deal with his predator issues.
“Most of our birds are kept in coops and closed up,” he says. “We put fencing in the ground and electric outside the fence so a raccoon can’t climb up the fence. We’re trying to make it as protected as possible. Normally, we use chicken tractors, and those are cheap.”
Why Should I Do This?
Naturally, you may wonder why you would raise exotic birds in the first place? Homesteaders are supposed to raise things that give back in some way, right? And Jake would 100 percent agree.
“While exotic birds can’t provide food for us, we can sell them to make money and offset feed costs,” he says. “Having something to provide a product of value is a good thing on your homestead.”
Jake added that homesteading, in addition to creating income and food for the family, should be enjoyable. Though Jake always seeks to make back his money, he picks many of the breeds he raises just because they strike him as interesting or beautiful. And he enjoys his fowls’ beauty each day as he and his family work to care for the birds that help supplement their income.
“We want to have beauty everywhere we look, so we really enjoy having birds that are both fun and for profit,” Jake says.
This article originally appeared in the May/June 2023 issue of Chickens magazine.