Friday, May 20, 2016

In the Coup: My Poultry Keeping Overview

Our family made the decision was made to raise our backyard flock several years ago. Having both grown up with family farms, poultry came to our homestead right after the garden was set in place. Planning our flock, we had to know the purpose for the birds we would be raising and the costs involved. Every year we stop and take into consideration our previous experiences, the success and failure, and the cost and outcome. Understanding the past shapes how we choose the flock we maintain, as well as the plan for their care.

 Concerning Breed

   Egg production is always our primary purpose; meat is secondary. Knowing this, helps narrow down the many breeds available. Predators, output and experience keep our focus on 'heavy breeds' or 'dual purpose' breeds; Orphingtons and Austalorps, are my all time favorite breeds; dual purpose birds mean the hens are a laying flock while surplus roosters can fill the freezer.
   Since our children were members of 4H, the poultry project led us to raising seasonal meat flocks. Now that the children have grown, our freezer will be filled with seasonal flocks of Cornish cross instead.
   Our desire is to raise breeds that are close to natural lines or heritage lines, however, that can be a challenge and a bigger expense. When that is not reasonable due to expense or availability, we strive to stay as close as we can. Currently, we raise Buff Orphingtons, Black Australorps, Maurons, and Auracanas in our layer flock; Cornish cross are the meat flock breed.

Concerning Housing

   Our homestead came with a large shop building that has become our barn and workshop. Simple modifications turned a metal awning into stalls with an enclosed coop on the side. Here, our layer flock resides near the stalls where our herd sleep offering protection from elements and predators, while giving us easy access to feed bins housed between the stalls and the main building wall. Our hens run free during the day leading us to 'cage' our garden beds preventing destruction.
   The meat flock is housed on the opposite side of our shop/barn; kennels under an awning provide their pen and brooder space. Feed is housed near these kennels, as is open pasture. When meat flocks are not housed here, these kennels are kept clean but closed off.
   While our structures are permanent, we do have two large kennel housings that can be easily moved to maintain a quarantine set, new birds, or as transitional pens when babies are added to an existing group. Sometimes these kennels are set in garden areas that need worked by the birds when full access would be a bad idea (such as, the corn was done, but the neighboring green beans were not..pen is set over corn beds for hens to work).

Concerning Feed

   Research and experience; keys to my feed decisions. I read everything I can find on feed products and work my goals from there. My layer flock is fed a pellet/scratch/seed mixture..a supplement to their long days grazing and scratching the earth. Layers receive purchased feeds with seed and greens added in; they are not much on grazing, so grazing is often brought to them.
   All our feeds are purchased at a co-op in a neighboring county; buying in bulk helps with cost and quality. We plan monthly trips for all our homestead feed needs (our garden seeds are purchased in bulk here as well).

Concerning Health

   Herein lies a touchy subject; to medicate or not to medicate. My conviction has always been 'less is best'. Having experienced flock loss due to Merk's disease and coccidosis, I do vaccinate and treat for these two ailments. Other situations are handled as they arise. Our flock and coop are treated with diotenatious earth (DE) for parasites/mites and regular feedings of garlic/cayenne/flax along with leafy greens keeps them in good health; raw apple cider vinegar is rotated into water fountains for health and nutrients. I always try natural treatments before going to the modern pharma medications.

   Poultry flocks require time, effort, and determination and experience helps immensely. Along the way there has been success and failure; life and death; trial and triumph- homestead life is not always as romantic as we like to think. There are failures and losses to contend with. This year's floods have proven quite a challenge during chick and meat brood season!

    No matter the inconvenience or the set backs..I wouldn't trade my little peeps for anything..they are Miss K's favorite farm animal as she has just started her own pen of cucu maurons!


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