Backyard Poultry

Bird Species for Backyard Flocks

Starting a Flock : Considering Chickens

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Purina Animal Nutrition

No two backyard flocks are the same.

Each flock is made of birds with their own personalities, color patterns and benefits to your family. Realizing the many benefits of various bird species, some flock raisers opt for mixed flocks. A mixed flock includes birds of several species.

Chickens
Think of a backyard flock and chickens will most likely to come to mind. Chickens are the most popular choice of new – and experienced – flock raisers because of the species’ production versatility and adaptability to new settings. A calm demeanor and individual bird personalities make chickens a good choice for families.

In addition, there are a large variety of chicken breeds. These many options provide possibilities to flock owners based on preferred temperament, climate zone and production options.

When managed and fed properly, chickens can produce high quantities of fresh, wholesome eggs and nutritious meat. If producing eggs for your family is a top priority, consider an egg-laying breed such as the Ameracauna (blue eggs), Rhode Island Red (brown eggs) or Leghorn (white eggs). These breeds lay roughly one egg per day for 300 days of the year. If raising birds for meat, choose a faster growing chicken such as the Cornish Rock. Dual-purpose breeds, like Rocks, Jersey Giants and Wyandottes are known for producing both eggs and meat.

Backyard chickens can live in several housing options, including: free-range, coops and fenced areas. Often requiring medium amounts of space (1-3 square feet/ bird indoor space and 4-10 square feet per bird outside space), the small size and often quiet demeanor of chickens make a small group of hens a good option for city dwellers. But be sure to check local ordinances before purchasing as many areas limit the number of hens and, in some cases, roosters are not allowed due to noise.

To keep chickens happy and healthy, provide free choice access to a complete feed that has been formulated for either egg or meat production and fresh, clean water. The coop should be well-ventilated and clean. Provide an outdoor run that will shelter chickens from weather and protect them from predators. Add a dust bath for bathing, nest boxes for comfort and perches for roosting to keep the hens content.

Turkeys
Turkeys are a fun backyard flock project for more experienced flock raisers. High production capabilities and increasing demand for healthy, local turkey products make this large, feathered bird a profitable option. Turkeys are known for producing healthy, flavorful meat (less cholesterol, calories and fat) and richer, larger eggs than chickens.

The road to a mature tom or jenny begins with baby turkeys or poults. Though poults start slower and are often more fragile than chicks, they are known to grow quickly after leaving the brooder - often becoming the dominant birds in a mixed flock. Because of the differences in growth patterns and nutritional requirements, we recommend raising turkeys and chickens separately. Support the quick growth of turkeys with a high-protein, complete feed.

Large, nutrient-dense eggs are a traditional benefit of turkeys that is again becoming popular. The eggs are unique and flavorful; however, jennies lay an average of two eggs per week as compared to the daily egg of a chicken. On the meat side, heritage breeds of turkeys produce the densest meat of this species but take longer to mature to their end weight of 15 to 18 pounds than traditional breeds. A traditional breed, like the BB White, can grow to 30 pounds from just July through November.

Turkeys thrive in spacious areas and in groups, often doing best in rural, outdoor areas. Provide additional space to turkeys as they grow. Space recommendations per bird are as follows: Age 0-8 weeks: 2-2.5 square feet; Age 8-16 weeks: 3-4 square feet; Age 16-20 weeks: 5-8 square feet; Age 20 weeks to market weight: 6-10 square feet.

Ducks and geese
Ducks are a popular way to add color, personality and entertainment to a flock. Ducks and geese roam the flock as pairs and ducklings and goslings can be a welcome springtime view.

Like chickens, ducks and geese can produce both meat and eggs. Duck eggs are typically larger with stronger shells and have larger yolks than chicken eggs. The nutritional breakdown of duck eggs is higher in all categories – mostly a benefit except for the higher levels of cholesterol.

Like other meats, duck is an excellent source of high quality protein containing a well-balanced array of amino acids. Duck also contains generous amounts of iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper, selenium, thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12. Duck meat is very flavorful and can be incorporated into a healthy balanced diet.

Geese are similar to ducks in their ability to produce both flavorful eggs and healthy meat. Geese produce very large eggs as compared to chickens and ducks, but the most productive geese, like the Chinese breed, produce only roughly 60 eggs per year, with the majority of those eggs coming in the spring and summer. For meat production, the Emden breed is a top recommendation. This white bird gains weight quickly with a mature weight of nearly 30 pounds.

Ducks are known to be friendlier than geese and will often bond to humans if raised from ducklings. Geese are more protective of their flock raisers, with territorial personalities.

In both cases, ducks and geese require different management than chickens because they enjoy both land and water.  Because of their webbed feet, ducks and geese compact soil over time. To prevent muddy areas, provide a swimming area and plenty of space for these fowl. Ducks and geese are happiest when they have a grassy area to roam and a pond for swimming. Geese, in particular, are foragers and will enjoy having grass to nibble on.

Game Birds
Quail, pheasants, chukar and other game birds are a unique option for flock raisers. There are multiple varieties of these birds being raised by flock enthusiasts today. This group of birds is known to be very hardy and able to produce eggs and meat in various sizes and flavors. The unique meat and eggs produced by game birds is often sought after by farm-to-table and high-end dining establishments.

Like other backyard birds, game bird babies should spend their first 4 to 6 weeks in a brooder and then be moved to a coop with a run or an outdoor setting. This group of birds flourishes with movement so provide larger areas for game birds than chickens. In addition, a cover crop is ideal for game birds. This means, annual grasses, evergreens and perennial plants can provide shelter and help promote full feathering.

Most game birds thrive when living in pairs (one male and one female), small groups of 1-4 females with one male or a group of female game birds. If several species are sharing one space, the ratio of males to females is important to prevent competition. A large area with places for the birds to find shelter and comfort can promote a comfortable flock community.

Because game birds have higher nutritional requirements than other flock species, feed a complete feed that is formulated for game birds.

Ready to build a coop? Learn how.