Sunday, July 17, 2011

Mixed poultry flock - how is it going?

I do like novelty. As i child i kept aviary birds and sat and watched them for hours. I'm sure i learned a lot about bird behaviour in those many hours  perched on a chair. New birds were always extremely interesting. You could see how they interacted with the current birds and what their habits were. What they liked to eat?

Feeding time

So when i started up my poultry flock i was determined to have a few things. I kept Turkeys in Alice Springs and noticed how much greens they consumed compared to chickens. I thought they would be a great free range bird to have if you had a lot of grass. The more grass they eat the better their meat would be. We have plenty of grass, and when they hatch out new babes in the spring we'll have a meat supply that will be delicious and healthy.
Turkey hen in her youth
Turkey male in his almost constant display mode

back to the collection:
Chickens of 4 varieties, Indian runner ducks and Guinea fowl.
Amongst the chickens i have a pair of White Orpingtons'. The plan is to breed a few more Orpingtons' as well as cross them with the Rhode Island Reds. The offspring will be fast growing and probably very suitable for meat birds. The Hamburgs' were a very welcome gift and were our first layers.

This mixed flock are all Hamburg's

The ducks were a bit impulsive but i knew we had a major snail problem - one which the ducks have largely solved especially around the house garden. Now they are laying an egg each a day in the middle of winter which is great.
The Guinea fowl were sought out to be hunters of grasshoppers. We have a lot of little grasshoppers in the paddocks and they get in very high numbers. I figure that i can get rid of a lot of them around the garden as well as turn grasshoppers into eggs and meat. The plan was for these birds to free range and roam in the paddocks but they tend to hand around the house and out buildings. They keep to themselves and have a loud cackle to warm of intruders. It is extremely loud and surprising if you have not heard it before.
The guinea fowl perch in the orchard, but fly out every morning with no trouble.
Guinea fowl at the feeding station

So how do they go together? The ducks, Turkeys and chickens roost together. That works OK but the Turkeys are a bit harder to train to roost in the chook house. They still need to be chased in at the end of the day on most days.
The Ducks were raised with the Turkeys and they often stick with them but lately they go with whoever seems to be foraging more widely. The ducks muck up the water for the chickens but we have got around this a bit by placing the water containers on bricks which makes it a bit harder for the ducks to put dirt in the bowls. Any more than 2 or 3 ducks might be a bit too mucky. However the ducks get along well with the other poultry and certainly forage on stuff that the other birds don't. I think they are a useful addition and they lay great eggs.

As for free ranging; I thought the Turkeys would be big free rangers, then i thought the Guinea fowl would be. I wanted them to venture out into the paddocks and use the pasture. Instead they tend to hang around the house where they might see some people who give them food. They don't hang around all the time but enough to be annoying sometimes.  Surprisingly it is the ISA browns that seems to be taking the flock into new areas they have never been. Maybe because they are so hungry (egg laying machines that they area).

We lock up the birds in a secure pen at night and let them out daily to free range. In winter this amounts to most of the day while in summer we tend to let them out for half of the day. The free ranging , as well as providing the birds with freedom to move and think, provides them with green grass as well as bugs, slugs and snails. It also think that the birds are able to self-medicate when they are sick by eating different plants which provide them with different nutrients. So far we have had no adult birds die due to sickness, but we have a few more months of winter to go!
On the health front, we do provide them with chopped up beach kelp in their mash for general health and garlic mash once a month to control worms.

At the current size, this strange mix of poultry works well together. I didn't buy all the poultry at once. That happened slowly so i could learn about their habits and where and how they might fit into the farm. After i though we had worked out one species, we added something else to the flock.
I have learnt a lot about poultry in the last 9 months and still continue to learn. However we are near capacity with our current housing so any new additions may have to wait a while.

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