So you want to start or expand a backyard flock? You’ve come to the right place! Keep reading for everything you need to know about choosing the right breeds, and don’t forget to stop in to Mike’s Feed Farm for all of your feed and maintenance needs!
Selecting the Right Bird
The many species of poultry come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes and colors. Most families interested in eggs or meat choose chickens, but show birds, game birds, waterfowl, and turkeys are becoming increasingly popular. Many people simply enjoy watching colorful and unique birds roaming their backyard. The species, breeds and strains you choose depend on your goals as a small flock owner.
For Egg Production
Maximum egg production is achieved using commercial White Leghorn-type hybrids. These birds are also the most efficient at converting feed to eggs. They weigh about three pounds at 20 weeks of age and about four pounds when mature. If well-managed, these birds will lay at a high rate.
For Meat Production
Meat-type chickens are not really specific breeds but rather hybrids or combinations of many breeds that result in very desirable growth and carcass traits. Chicks grow very rapidly, reaching four to six pounds by six to eight weeks of age, and do so with excellent feed conversion (the pounds of feed needed to attain one Dark Cornish Hen pound of gain is quite low). This allows them to get to market weight faster.
Dual Purpose Production
Many small flock owners prefer commercial production Reds (for instance, Rhode Island Reds or New Hampshires) or sex-linked hybrids. These birds produce brown-shelled eggs and have meatier carcasses than Leghorns. They may produce fewer eggs than Leghorn-type hybrids and are less meaty than true meat-type birds, but they do well serving the dual purpose of providing meat and eggs for your family. In addition, many breeds with a variety of colors and patterns fall into this class, making for a colorful, eye-pleasing flock.
For Show or Pets
There are a multitude of unusual, indeed exotic-looking breeds that are fun to show or simply own as unique pets. They display a wide variety of sizes, personalities, colors, patterns, plumage styles and comb types. Be sure to thoroughly research the needs of individual breeds before purchasing them, as some have very specific environmental needs and may not mix well into the average backyard flock.
Waterfowl, Game Birds and Turkeys in Backyard Flocks
It is more and more common to find people acquiring an eclectic collection of chicken, turkey, game bird (quail, pheasant, etc.) and waterfowl breeds (ducks and geese) and keeping them as one flock. While it can be done, it is not an optimal situation for the birds, as chickens, turkeys, game birds and waterfowl often have very different nutritional and environmental needs. They may also have distinct temperament differences that can cause problems if the birds do not have enough space to be comfortably separate. If you plan to keep waterfowl, game birds or turkeys as well as chickens, you should plan to be able to feed and house them separately for best results. Ducks are smaller than geese, require less room and are very fun to watch, but they are also more prone to predators. Duck breeds raised for meat include Muscovy, Pekin, and commercial Rouens, while Mallards, Khaki Campbell and Blue Swedish are becoming increasingly popular as Mallard Duck pets.
Geese are good foragers. Given enough acreage, they will generally need less feed than ducks. In addition, they are seldom bothered by predators. In fact, Canada geese are popular for their “watch dog” personalities. Breeds of geese commonly raised for meat or pets include Emden, African, Toulouse, Pilgrim and White Chinese. Game birds, such as pheasant and partridge can be beautiful additions to backyard flocks, but many have specific requirements for environmental “cover” plants. And their nutritional needs are very different from those of waterfowl and chickens, which resembles those of turkeys more than any other bird.
A wide variety of exotic and wild waterfowl can be raised, but many require special facilities for successful management, and you may need a special permit to own them. Always check what is required in your area.