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Pure Poultry by Victoria Redhed Miller

 
A.J. Gentry
pollinator
Posts: 154
Location: Ohio
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Photo Source: Amazon.com

Publisher: New Society Publishing

Summary

In this book, Victoria Redhed Miller shares her wealth of experience and knowledge regarding heritage breeds of chickens, turkeys, and ducks and their role in the homestead. Victoria shares her first-hand experiences from the very beginning of her personal process all the way through integrating these fascinating creatures into daily life. The book also includes a planning worksheet designed by the author to make sure readers are as prepared as possible when incorporating heritage breeds.

Where to get it

New Society Publishing
Amazon.com
Amazon.ca
Powell's
Amazon.uk

Related Videos


Pure Poultry book trailer video

Related Websites

Victoria's Page at New Society Publishers
Victoria's blog
Pure Poultry's Facebook page


 
Scott Stiller
Posts: 280
Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Hello Victoria, and thanks for stopping by Permies. I'm completely new to having my own flock. I'd like to buy hens that are robust, good layers, and easy for my children to get along with. They don't have to be particularly cold hardy since I live in zone seven. My plans are (at this point) not to use them for meat. Do you have any suggestions on breeds I should consider? Thanks again for stopping by. Scott Stiller
 
Scott May
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Hello Victoria,

I live in central Indiana. My youngest son has severe food allergies. If he eats a "humanely raised", " 100% vegetarian diet" egg, he has an allergic reaction. He can only eat pasture eggs. I have never raised chickens. But, I have been a chicken sitter a few times for some friends. They have about a dozen layers. (1 rooster) They use store bought feed and a 10 ft x 10 ft tractor.

I am planning to build a coop and few paddocks this year. I am going to start small. So, my chicken to forage area ratio is great (more acres than chickens). It seems that I will need some feed. Mainly to control and train the birds. I would like to use this first year to grow the feed that I will use next year. I am already planning to design as "permie" as possible (mulberry trees, etc.)

What should I plant this year that I can harvest this year to feed the birds next year? I do not trust store bought feed.

I would like to have everything set up (shelter, fencing, food and water) before I get the chickens. I don't think I can use corn because I am concerned about GMO contamination from the surrounding farms.

Thank you for the free advice! I WILL pay it forward!

Peace,

Scottie
 
Sarah Loy
Posts: 14
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I want to get started with just a few chickens for eggs, I think about 6. I have been doing a lot of reading about meat birds and trying to decide if I could bring myself to process them. My question is, why do layers need roosts and broilers don't. That was mentioned in a couple things I read. I wanted to use chicken tractors and it seems like boilers would be easier for that if I really don't need roosts but I thought it might be stressful for the chickens to sleep on the ground.
 
Conrad Farmer
Posts: 22
Location: Western Upper Peninsula MI
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Hi Victoria,
What great timing.

We are planning for our flock this year while looking out at nearly 40" of snow sitting on the ground, filling the old chicken yard the previous owners had constructed. Our biggest question is what do we do about deep snow?? We want to encourage foraging year round, but seems pretty impossible when there is that much snow on the ground.

Looking forward to reading your book!
Thanks for stopping by.
 
idit lev-ran
Posts: 5
Location: israel
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hey Victoria

i was wondering what is your'e top 5 (or 10) heritage chickens by:
1. suitable for outdoors condition (here its a short rainy season and long dry and hot summer)
2. low grain input
3. egg quality and production
4. birds nature (evil, friendly...)
5. easy to grow chick-lings to adult

we raise brahama's and we are totally in love with their peaceful and friendly nature

many thanks
idit
 
Victoria Miller
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Hi Idit,

Top 5 heritage chickens, eh? I tend to like to recommend based on my own experience, so I'm not sure if I'll have a list of 5. For several years now our main laying flock has been mostly New Hampshires. This is a dual-purpose breed that was bred out of Rhode Island Reds and selected for (among other things) fast maturity. They are quite calm compared to other chickens we've had in the past, quieter than most (even the roosters seem to crow a bit less), and rarely aggressive. The hens are excellent layers for a dual-purpose breed, and readily go broody. The eggs are usually all large or extra-large, making for strong chicks. They are wonderful mothers too. New Hampshires are very good foragers, which was important to us because all our birds free-range during the day. Most of the heritage breeds are better foragers than the hybrids, though. We also have a few Ameraucanas.

Based on what we've heard from friends, some good choices are Orpington, Australorp, Rhode Island Red, Buckeye, and Barred Rock.

Egg quality, in our experience, is dependent a lot more on what the birds are eating than what kind of bird the eggs come from. We know people who feed their birds the exact same organic grain that we use, and they say thei eggs don't taste as good. What's the difference? Our birds spend all day out on pasture. Not only are they getting a lot of green stuff in their diet, they are also eating worms, bugs, etc. Chickens are omnivores, and the more varied their diet, the happier they are and the better the eggs.
 
Victoria Miller
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Hello Conrad,

We live up in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains in WA state, so we deal with snow too, although not nearly as much as you do! The most I remember having at one time is about 25". It is definitely a challenge with poultry, especially with ducks who have very short legs. Usually what we do is, if we are pretty sure we're going to get some snow, we lay a big tarp or two out in the pasture, covering up a large patch of grass. When it stops snowing, we pull off the tarps. If the snow is deep enough, we have to clear paths for the birds to get to these patches; we also clear paths from their coops to the feeding stations. I don't know how well tarps would work with as much as 40" of snow; probably it would be quite heavy. The other thing you can do, although it's not quite as good and can get expensive, is to give the birds some alfalfa or other greens. We usually ask our feed supplier to add some alfalfa pellets to the grain mix during the winter; even if we don't have a lot of snow, the pasture is fairly dormant so we try to get them some greenery another way.
 
Victoria Miller
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Hi Sarah,

Ah, very good question about roosts. Things like "broilers don't need roosts but layers do" have gotten copied and pasted all over the Internet to the point where everyone thinks it's a fact. Really what they mean is, if you want to raise broilers in a chicken tractor or other mobile coop, the birds will survive without roosts. You're right that is very stressful for birds to sleep on the ground, partly because they simply don't feel as safe. It is also, in my opinion, healthier for the birds to be up off the ground. The air can circulate around them, their poop drops to the ground and they're not sitting in it (a big problem with crowded chicken tractors that you rarely see mentioned anywhere), and during colder weather their feet get very cold when they're on the ground. On a roost of the right size, a chicken's toes go only partway around the roost; then the bird settles down with her feathers covering her feet so they stay nice and warm and dry.

Is there some particular reason you want to use chicken tractors? If you can let them range a bit during the day they will get all the benefits of being pasture-raised, and then they can go into a roost area where they can be safe and warm at night.

 
Victoria Miller
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To Scott Stiller:

I would probably recommend the same birds I mentioned in my reply to Idit: Orpington, New Hampshire, Rhode Island Red, Barred Rock, Australorp. These are all commonly available breeds and are very good dual-purpose breeds. If you're mainly interested in egg production, I'd go for the Australorp. They are large, fairly calm, friendly birds. They were developed in Australia from the Orpington, and are likely to be a little more heat-tolerant than some others. I don't know how hot you get in Zone 7? If it regularly gets above 95F at least part of the year, you really need to provide some means of cooling for just about any breed of chicken. I have heard that Turkens are more heat-tolerant than a lot of chicken breeds, but I have no experience raising them myself.

Australorps are possibly the best layers of all the dual-purpose chickens. Also, their relatively large size makes them a little less vulnerable to some predators, a consideration if your birds are free-ranging at all. They are also excellent mothers and do go broody like all Orpingtons.
 
Betty Lamb
Posts: 62
Location: Vancouver Island, Zone??
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Victoria Miller wrote:Hi Sarah,

Ah, very good question about roosts. Things like "broilers don't need roosts but layers do" have gotten copied and pasted all over the Internet to the point where everyone thinks it's a fact. Really what they mean is, if you want to raise broilers in a chicken tractor or other mobile coop, the birds will survive without roosts. You're right that is very stressful for birds to sleep on the ground, partly because they simply don't feel as safe. It is also, in my opinion, healthier for the birds to be up off the ground. The air can circulate around them, their poop drops to the ground and they're not sitting in it (a big problem with crowded chicken tractors that you rarely see mentioned anywhere), and during colder weather their feet get very cold when they're on the ground. On a roost of the right size, a chicken's toes go only partway around the roost; then the bird settles down with her feathers covering her feet so they stay nice and warm and dry.

Is there some particular reason you want to use chicken tractors? If you can let them range a bit during the day they will get all the benefits of being pasture-raised, and then they can go into a roost area where they can be safe and warm at night.



I gave my chicken a roost and she wont roost on it. She's not very smart but she's pretty. She is a cochin/silkie bantam. The roost is the right diameter so it's strange the silly thing wont use it.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Scott May,

Very good questions. I'm so glad to hear that you're planning ahead and trying to get everything lined up before you start raising your birds. Because of our elevation I have not been successful (so far) growing very many kinds of grains, although oats have done consistently well. You would probably need to get in touch with your local county extension agent to find out what grains typically do well in your climate and growing season. I'm not sure about raising grains this year to feed out next year; unless you have a climate-controlled storage system (and really good protection from rodents) I think that most grain is best used within about 3 months, and sooner once it's ground up. Like a lot of food, grain starts losing nutrients soon after it is harvested. This is not my area of expertise, though, so try your county extension office or even a local master gardener.

We keep laying ducks as well as chickens. We've heard many people say that they are allergic to chicken eggs but they can tolerate duck eggs. There is a difference in the amino acid makeup of the duck egg albumen that apparently is the key. I totally believe that your son can only eat pasture-raised eggs. Chickens that eat a normal diet-- which for chickens is an omnivorous diet-- definitely produce better quality eggs.

I hear you about the GMO contamination from surrounding farms. We're very fortunate in our situation; we're at the end of a road two miles up the hill from our nearest neighbor, surrounded largely by State land. On the other hand, we're high enough that the growing season is a challenge. Having plenty of pasture space, plus additional paddocks where you can move the birds when the pasture is eaten down, is one really good way to offset your grain inputs. I also understand how you feel about store-bought feed. We're organic, so we only buy certified organic feed, which by definition cannot be GMO. We have just in the past month or so been able to get organic corn from our supplier for the first time in well over a year; the 2012 drought, as you know since you're in the midwest, decimated the organic corn supply.

Some chicken breeds are definitely better than others at foraging some of their own food. Many people have said to us that they don't feed their birds at all, they just let them scrounge for food. This can be moderately successful, provided you have the right breed and have a lot of pasture space per bird. However, I don't really recommend it. The birds' growth and egg production is directly tied to good nutrition, and it's difficult in most parts of the country for chickens to forage enough food to meet all their nutritional needs. If you're moving toward a permaculture setup, I would definitely advise growing some grains to feed to the birds. You can grow them in an adjacent paddock, and then open the fence and let the birds in to harvest the grain themselves. Trust me, they LOVE to do this. I have some funny video of chickens actually leaping in the air to grab grain heads off the stalks. When I was growing oats, I'd let the turkeys in first, as they are taller and can reach the heads better. They knock a fair amount of grain on the ground and the other birds then come in and clean it up.

Also, you will probably be wanting to hatch your own chicks or let the hens hatch them for you (my preference). Here again, good nutrition for the hens makes for good breeding characteristics, large eggs and stronger chicks. So do keep that in mind when you're brainstorming your feeding plan.
 
John Devitt
Posts: 34
Location: Belfair WA
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Hello neighbor!,

I have a two questions...
1) I have heard conflicting answers on the question as to the harmfulness of vetch to chickens. Thus I have not used it as a cover crop. Is it OK?
2) I have heard conflicting answers on the question of roost height versus nest box height. Should the roost be higher than the nests boxes?

Thank you,
John
From the end of Hood Canal

 
Myrna Throckmorton
Posts: 1
Location: Holdenville, OK
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I'm new to the forum, but always anxious to learn, so thanks for being available, and keep up the good work!
 
Sarah Loy
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Hi Victoria,
Thank you for your response. You asked why I was thinking of using the chicken tractors. Years ago we had a few chickens that my kids hatched and raised. They were completely free range with no fences at all just a coop for nighttime. We have about a half acre of lawn, shrubs and trees around our house and a 6 acre field that we farm and have some in rotation with cover crops. With the freedom to go anywhere, the chickens rarely ventured into the field. They usually stayed closer to areas were they would have protection from aerial predators with trees or shrubs nearby. We are hoping this time around that we can take advantage of the manure and insect control that the chickens provide to improve our vegetable fields. The chicken tractors seemed like a good options to provide the protection they like and have them out in the otherwise open field. It also would allow us to get a more even distribution of nutrients I think. Maybe we could do the same thing with a movable coop and fences. I worry if we aren't home at night to close the coop door that they will get killed. We have all manner of wild critters in the woods nearby. Any suggestions on the best system would be great. Thank you again for sharing your thoughs here.
 
Valerie Dawnstar
Posts: 292
Location: North Central New York
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Hi Victoria,
Thanks for sharing your know how with us!
I am interested in keeping the chickens healthy in winter. Do you do anything special for their coop to make it ready for winter?
Are chickens aware when their eggs keep disappearing from their nests? Are they likely to abandon the nest?
And what about growing amaranth for grain for them?
 
Kim Schmidt
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Maybe I should read the book first but as you are here today, let me throw this out:

what type of poultry might be manageable if we aren't home to lock them up at dark?

We have plenty of land. I grow an annual garden and am adding more perennials (permaculture approach). I wouldn't mind some type of paddock shift or free-range option, but we have coyotes, raccoons, foxes, and even stray neighbor dogs. We have 2 indoor/outdoor dogs that do a good job of keeping critters out of my garden but even if I could train them (1/2 Shepherds) to watch the poultry, they are family pets and we want to bring them in at night to watch the house.

The cost of a livestock guardian dog doesn't make sense for a small flock of poultry. We are in that "place" where we would like to add livestock but need to keep the day jobs. There are occasions where I leave at dark and get home after dark.

We do have an old farm pond, so I wondered if a duck island/shelter in the middle would be a solution to allow us to keep ducks? I would love to have duck eggs.

We also have plenty of forest and potential grazing areas. Rarely, we spot a wild turkey in our woods. I had a crazy idea of wondering if we could just start heritage turkeys in the woods near the house, and if they could take care of themselves (most likely I'm guessing they'd either be killed or they would disperse so much we would lose them).

Any thoughts on how to start out with a small number of poultry if unable to consistently move them or lock them up ?
 
Colin Skelly
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Hi Victoria,

This post is perfect timing for me. I have just convinced my wife that a small flock of chickens would be a wonderful addition to our garden and a great experience for our 3 year old daughter.

My question for you is what is the best age of chicken for us to buy. I am planning to use a small tractor to house 3 to 4 hens. I live in Snohomish, Wa. When growing up I remember getting chicks with my parents from the local feed store. I wonder if this is the best source or is mail order better?

Thank you for you help!

Colin
 
John Polk
master steward
Pie
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Most mail order hatcheries have a minimum of 15 (or 25) chicks.
They need this quantity so the little critter's body heat will keep them alive in snail mail.

For 3-5, a feed store should work out cheaper - plus, you get to pick out your own.

 
Colin Skelly
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When buying chicks, at what age can the sex be determined and are there breeds that are easier to do this?
thank you.
Colin
 
Victoria Miller
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To Betty Lam:

We had a little Silkie for a while and she almost never went onto a roost. We now have 2 Cochin banties (the best surrogate moms in the chicken world, at least at our farm). Silkies have funny little wings and don't seem to be able to fly up to a roost as well as most chickens. Our Silkie always used to just go into the nest box to sleep at night. This is okay, except that about 60% of all chicken poop gets deposited in the coop or roost at night; this is especially true in the winter, when days are short and the birds are in the coops more.

The best advice I can give you about this is to make sure the roost is low enough for the bird to hop up onto it. I think chickens really do prefer to roost given the choice. However, since your Silkie is in the habit of not being on a roost, she might just need some encouragement. You can pick her up and put her on the roost, especially if she's already in the coop for the night and settling down. It might take a few tries, but I bet she'll get the hang of it before long.
 
gordo kury
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Hi Victoria,
I live in a marshy area of Argentina and am about to get into duck production. I have deside almost for sure to go with Pekins, but I would like to have your opinion: I am looking for a good egg production (a reasonable amount of meat in the drakens would be good for selling aswell I guess, but is not the top priority), a hardy bird wich could forage for all or near to all its food (they will have all the marshes they could possibly dream of, plus river, lots of big, big snails and frogs). The weather is mild, with no snow in winter (a few days here and there with 0ºC/32F or a little under that) and a summer with maximun of 40º C/104F some days, rain and fluds are comun, that's about it I guess. I wonder also what your opinion might be about the Foruno method (the power of duck) of mixing ducklings with fish in a paddy.
So, what do you think? is Pekin the right breed for my requirements? Oh, I almost forgot: I would rather they don't fly
Thank you
 
Victoria Miller
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To Colin Skelly:

Interesting question. At hatcheries they have experts who "sex" the birds shortly after they hatch, or at least within the first day, since most chicks are shipped as day-olds. I believe their are some breeds that are easier to sex than others, but I'm not sure which breeds they are. I can tell you that when we bought New Hampshire chicks (before we started hatching our own), the sexing was consistently very accurate; not once did we get a male when we ordered all females.

It is sometimes possible to sex young birds by their color, for instance, Sex-Link hybrids. The way this works is: When a genetically silver parent (such as Australorp) is crossed with a genetically gold parent (such as New Hampshire), it is easy to tell the male babies from the females by color. I have never done this myself, as we prefer to breed purebreds, but it is an interesting subject for sure.

There is a book available on the subject of sexing birds, I believe it is by one of the founders of Stromberg's Hatchery. You might check their website for that if you're interested in learning how to sex birds yourself.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Gordo Kury:

I love ducks! That's so great that you're going to raise ducks in Argentina. First, I have heard of the Foruno method but don't have any experience with it myself, although it sounds very interesting. Sorry I can't give a useful opinion on that.

I have never raised Pekin ducks myself, but my understanding is that the Pekin is specifically bred as a meat bird. I know a few people who raise them and have never heard much about their egg production. Here's my experience. We have raised Khaki Campbell, Indian Runner and Blue Swedish ducks. At this point we have only Khaki Campbells. They are excellent layers, possibly the best in the duck world. They are on the small side for ducks. You mentioned that you don't want your ducks to fly. Domestic ducks, even small breeds like the Khaki Campbell and Indian Runner, are considerably heavier than wild ducks, and most of them really won't fly much at all. I certainly have never seen one of our ducks actually get airborne. You can, of course, clip their wings, although we choose not to do that. If you do clip their wings, you will have to remember to do it again once a year, because they grow all those feathers back after they moult in the fall.

Of the ducks we have raised, I would recommend the Blue Swedish as a good all-around dual-purpose duck. It is a lot bigger than the Khaki Campbells so it has potential as a good meat bird. Our female Swedes were still laying 3 eggs a week when they were 5 years old. All three of the kinds of ducks we have raised are excellent foragers; I haven't seen a slug anywhere near my garden since we've had ducks.

Really, I think any of these three might work well for you. If you're not planning to breed them, it doesn't hurt to have more than one type in the same flock. It sounds like your climate isn't very different from where we are, although we get colder in the winter and do have snow. The Blue Swedish in particular is a very cold-hardy type. In warm or hot weather, it's really important to have not only plenty of water, but shade for the ducks. Ours often sleep under our cars during the day when it's hot. I think they also feel safer with some kind of visual barrier between them and aerial predators like hawks and eagles. Mostly ducks just love water, so if you give them plenty to drink and to splash in, they will be happy.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Colin Skelly:

Regarding the best age of the chickens you buy... well, that depends on availability among other things. If you are prepared to brood chicks for a few weeks (depending on the time of year) and wait 5-6 months or so for egg production to begin, I think raising baby chicks is a great idea. While they don't necessarily have the same kind of relationship with you that the family dog has, they do interact with people and I think it's good to establish that relationship early on. Also, they can more easily get used to whatever your situation is; for instance, you might or might not have pasture for them when they're older, or you might have other farm animals or pets to consider.

It used to be that you could only buy day-old chicks from the hatcheries. These days, you sometimes can order"started" pullets, birds just about at the age where they will start to lay. Be aware that this is a very expensive way to buy chickens, especially when you add in shipping. I would say that if you want older birds for whatever reason, check your local craigslist, feed store, etc. Many people I know have found chickens, turkeys, ducks and even peacocks on craigslist.

If you can find a local breeder that you can birds from,that is definitely what I would recommend, especially if you're looking for turkeys or ducks. Shipping from a hatchery is very stressful for baby birds. Plus, it's an advantage to be able to pick out exactly the birds you want. Breeders often also have older birds that they want to rotate out of their flocks.

Another reader already posted something about the minimum numbers of chicks when ordering from hatchery. This is a another good reason to try to find your birds locally if you can. You can buy from a feed store but there is usually a limited selection of breeds.

By the way, if you are certified organic or planning to get certified, be aware that poultry must be managed organically from Day Two of life. This means that you must either start them as day-olds, or buy them from a certified organic source.

I hope this is helpful. I think ultimately it's up to you to decide what will work best for you in your situation. Many people underestimate how much time is needed to tend baby birds in the brooder. So take some time to think it over.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Kim Schmidt:

This s a really common issue, but most people don't take it too seriously until after they get their birds. I'm glad you're thinking about it ahead of time.

Our experience has been that once young chickens get used to where to go at night (usually just a few days), they put themselves into the roost at night. If you make sure your roost area is up off the ground, most predators won;t be able to get at the birds once they're in the roost. However... if you have weasels in your area, you'll need to have a door that closes on the coop. We also replaced the ramps going up into the coops with platforms about 18" off the ground; this was after a skunk walked up the ramp into the coop and killed two hens. They're bit pricey, but you can also install automatically-closing doors on the coops so you will know the birds are safe even if you aren't there to close them up.

Re: Ducks. I personally would not recommend the island, at least not as a place for the ducks to sleep at night. Ducks really like to feel safe and they hate stray light at night, so if you have traffic nearby or lights from houses,I would definitely recommend housing them in a coop at night. (Plus you get the eggs this way.) We have two large ponds on our property, and the ducks do go down to them sometimes, but they always come back up the hill to their coops at night. You could always put a coop down near your pond too. Caveat: If you are going to use a coop, train your ducks to go to it at night BEFORE you let them get used to being on the pond all day. Trust me, ducks know where they feel safe, and once they're used to being in a coop at night, that's where they will want to be.

We have been raising heritage turkeys for about 6 years now. Most of our property is woods. Heritage turkeys are usually good foragers, but I would not encourage you to try to leave them on their own to forage all their food. Turkeys, even smaller ones like our Midget White, are large birds that need a lot of protein for best growth. Certainly if you are planning to raise turkeys to slaughter for meat, you'll get a lot better results if you give them a good high-protein turkey ration; if you can't turkey feed, some people substitute game bird feed. They need 24-28% protein feed for the first 6 weeks or so, then at least 20% from then on. Our turkey "grower" formula is 21% protein.

Once they're at least half grown, heritage turkeys are large enough that they don't have too predator issues. In our area, we have only ever lost an adult turkey to a cougar. On the other hand, we don't have coyotes or neighbor dogs here, and they may be a problem for you. I would recommend that you do not clip their wings, so they can fly up into a tree if they need to. We never clip our turkeys' wings, for this reason.

I would definitely recommend starting out small, figure out what works well for you, and then add more birds as you find you have the time and comfort zone to do that.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Valerie Dawnstar:

We live up in the foothills of the Olympic mountains in WA State, so do have some cold weather and snow in the winter, as well as the occasional windstorm. Most chickens are quite cold-hardy down to about 0F. Below that there is always the possibility of frostbite. Mostly this affects roosters, who, unlike hens, do not tuck their heads under their wings when they sleep, so their combs are vulnerable. If your roosts are the right size, the birds' feet won't go all the way around them. This is important because the birds settle down on their feet on the roost, and their body feathers keep their feet warm. If their toes curl around the roost, part of the toes can be exposed to frostbite as well.

One easy thing to do is choose breeds known for cold-hardiness. Types with a large single comb are more vulnerable to frostbite than those with rose or pea combs. We've never gotten below 0F here,and although we raise mostly New Hampshire chickens (a single-comb type) we have never had any issue with frostbite. Our coops are not insulated or heated, and the birds seem to be just fine. I've also heard that people rub Vaseline into their roosters' combs to protect them from frostbite.I've never had to do this, but you might keep it in mind.

One thing to consider is that during the short days of winter, the birds spend a lot more time in their coops. They need plenty of room and good ventilation. Be prepared to clean out the coops more often in winter. Birds are very susceptible to respiratory problems, so cleanliness and fresh air is really important.

I haven't grown amaranth myself, although I know some people who do. I have no idea if chickens would like it or not, but chances are that they would. If it will grow in your climate, I would go ahead and try it. Chickens always love harvesting their own food. You might try growing one of the red types of amaranth; chickens are always attracted to anything red.
 
Johnny Niamert
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Location: Colo
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Hello, Victoria. Thanks for taking the time to answer the questions here.

I was wondering what were your thoughts on getting good genetics for heritage chickens? Like most things online, some people love certain hatcheries, other people don't. Is it possible to get good genetic heritage chickens from a hatchery? Or should I seek out the smaller producer who has more time to choose their breeding flock?

I'm getting my first chickens soon, and since I'm new at this, just ordered online from a hatchery. I ordered 3 dual purpose breeds for 'backyard' egg production and some meat birds. How much should someone like myself even worry over this sort of thing? I'd eventually like to hatch my own, but am still obviously just beginning.

 
Scott Stiller
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Location: North Carolina zone 7
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Thank you Victoria for such a great reply. I will take your advice. You have my thanks. Scott
 
Valerie Dawnstar
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Location: North Central New York
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Much thanks for the detailed response to my question and great suggestions, Victoria!
 
Victoria Miller
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To Thomas Norris:

You asked about the best dual-purpose chicken breed. Well, I'm a bit partial to New Hampshires myself. They were originally selected out of Rhode Island Reds, and one of the things they were selected for was quick maturity. How fast they reach a good slaughter weight depends on whether they are free-ranging and foraging some of their own food(a good trait in a dual-purpose breed); all our birds free-range on pasture but are also fed an organic grain mash. We've found that the males get to a good slaughter size in 16-18 weeks, pretty good for a dual-purpose breed. By good size I mean they dress out at 5-6 lbs. The hens are very good layers of large and extra-large eggs, they are inclined to go broody and hatch eggs, which is important for us since we're off the grid and don't use incubators. They are also very cold-hardy and excellent foragers.

There are certainly other dual-purpose chickens out there that might work well for you. I'm always a bit reluctant to recommend anything I haven't tried myself, but everyone's situation is different so you may have to do some experimenting to figure out what works the best for you. We definitely learned this the hard way over several years. I would look for breeds that are known for the things I mentioned above about New Hampshires: inclination to forage, good growth rate, broodiness, good mothering, etc.

I hope this helps. There are so many breeds to choose from, and chances are that more than one breed will do well for you.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Michelle Gonsalves:

I definitely recommend staying away from medicated feed if you can. Of course, we're an organic farm, so we aren't allowed to use medicated feed, but we would avoid medicated feed in any case. Usually medicated feed is meant to minimize the risks of certain chickhood diseases. Part of the problem with medicated feed is that it provides a sub-therapeutic dose of antibiotics; that is, they get the medicine even when they don't actually need it. Over time, this results in more and more drug-resistant strains of bacteria, so that ultimately, the birds might be even more vulnerable to disease. Also, it's known that some residue of antibiotics stays in the birds' bodies, so if you're planning to raise birds to slaughter for meat, this should be a consideration.

First, I would check with your local county extension agent to find out what kinds of poultry diseases are known to be a problem in your area. If you get your chicks from a hatchery, they will vaccinate the chicks against some of the more common diseases that are a problem for chicks, usually for a minimal fee. This will eliminate the need for using medicated feed. If you hatch your own chicks, I would recommend using older hens if possible to provide your hatching eggs; the older they are, the more disease resistance they have, and they actually pass that on to their babies.

I know that in some areas, it's difficult to find feed that isn't medicated, especially the chick starter formulas. If this is the case for you, ask your feed supplier if they will order non-medicated or organic feeds. Organic feeds by definition cannot contain antibiotics, so if it's available (and within your budget) you can try that.

One thing we do, especially with young chicks, is we supplement their diet with chopped-up hard-boiled egg. We have an egg business, and we're not allowed to sell eggs if they're cracked, so the cracked ones get hard-boiled and fed back to the birds. They go nuts over it, and it's a very good protein supplement for them. NOTE: Don't feed raw egg to chickens. They love it, but what will happen is one or more of your hens will decide they like it so much that they will start breaking eggs in the nest boxes to get the raw egg. (Yet another thing we learned the hard way.) It's a hard habit to break, and it's easier to prevent by not feeding raw egg.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Aakash & Aasha Livingstone:

So your hen went broody and hasn't produced any eggs for 4 months. I was wondering how old the hen was, and also what time of year this happened. If she went broody in the summer, for instance, close to the time of year when she would be moulting, it might just mean that she's taking her annual break early. Sometimes this also depends on what breed of chicken it is; some are so persistently broody that even after they hatch their chicks they will still be so broody that they won't lay eggs for quite a while.

Is she still brooding her chicks? Probably not after 4 months, but you never know, some hens have a hard time letting go. If she is constantly in a nest box or trying to sit on another hen's eggs, I would try keeping a close eye on her and taking away any eggs from her as often as you can. If a broody hen isn't allowed to sit on even one egg for any length of time, she should stop being broody fairly soon and hopefully start laying eggs again. I'm inclined to think that if you give her time, she will eventually start laying again. Check the condition of her comb: A hen that is broody or moulting (not in good laying condition) will have a comb that looks pale, a little dry and smaller than usual. When they're in good laying condition the comb will look full and soft and deeper red.
 
Victoria Miller
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To John Devitt:

Is vetch harmful to chickens? Well... there are several kinds of vetch, of which we have one that grows rampantly in the Spring and Summer. Every year I spend a couple of days pulling the fast-growing vines off the fences. In the process it all gets piled up before it's hauled away to the compost areas. All our birds, the chickens, turkeys and ducks, simply love foraging through these piles. I'm not totally sure if they are just eating the seed pods or what, but they seem to love it and I've never seen any of them show any aftereffects from it.

However, I don't know for sure which variety of vetch we have, although since it grows wild I'm guessing it's one of the more common types. You might check with a local master gardener or your county extension agent to find out what varieties grow wild in your area, or which ones do well when cultivated. I know what you mean about all the conflicting information out there. I'm sorry I don't know more about this particular subject. The only other thing I can think of to suggest is getting hold of The Livestock Conservancy (thelivestockconservancy.org) and talk to Jeannette Beranger. She's a friend of mine and extremely knowledgable about all kinds of poultry issues.
 
Victoria Miller
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To John Devitt (again):

I posted the first reply and then realized I hadn't answered your second question. My feeling about nest box height is that they should be easy for the birds to get into and out of without risking injuring themselves. In our coops, the nest box it at the back of the coop. There are several roosts, starting with the lowest in the front of the coop, that is, where the birds enter the coop. The roosts get progressively higher toward the back of the coop, and I like to have the highest roost about the height of the floor of the nest box behind it. This way the birds can easily hop or step from the roost into the nest box.

My main thing with roost height is you don't want any of the roost so high that the birds might injure themselves coming back off it. This is especially true for larger, heavier birds and definitely true for turkeys. Chickens do like to get up as high as they can, and they seem to like hopping from the lower roosts onto the higher ones toward the back. You'll need to figure out for yourself how far apart to space the roosts; this depends mostly on how big your birds are. There needs to be enough space so that a bird on a roost isn't pooping on the roost behind it, for example.

I hope this helps. It is confusing to know what to do when there is so much conflicting advice out there. I know I say this a lot, but so much depends on your situation and what kind of birds you have. When I build coops, I like to make the roosts easily adjustable so they can work for any kind or size of bird... another lesson learned the hard way.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Sarah Loy:

Keeping your birds safe from predators is an excellent reason to use chicken tractors, especially if you have to be away during the day. I would just advise making sure that the tractors get moved often enough. It's amazing how fast even a few chickens can graze down 20 or 30 square feet of grass when they're confined. You'll probably have to experiment a bit, depending on how many chickens you have in there, to see how often you need to move it.

Also, be aware that small predators like weasels can find their way into chicken tractors quite easily. At our place, we've only seen weasels show up when we have a lot of very young birds on the ground, but they are perfectly capable of killing a hen in a nest box. If you have weasels, I would suggest making sure that the birds can easily get upon a roost or somewhere out of harm's way if they need to. That said, unless you keep your birds in a fortress, there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of predation. With dogs, coyotes and hawks, though, a chicken tractor is a very good way to keep the birds safe and give yourself some peace of mind when you're away.
 
Victoria Miller
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To Johnny Niamart:

For questions about genetics in poultry, I suggest you talk to my friends at The Livestock Conservancy (thelivestockconservancy.org). Not only do they know an awful lot about the subject (since their mission is to preserve the genetics of heritage breed livestock of all kinds), but they can also refer you to a breeder in your area who is breeding heritage poultry. It's certainly possible to get birds with good genetics from a hatchery, and The Livestock Conservancy can probably recommend one to you if you want to go that route. I certainly advocate buying from a local breeder if at all possible, but you'll need to do your homework first.

How much should you worry about the genetics? Well, that probably depends on how serious you want to get about breeding, and it also depends on what breed(s) of poultry you plan to raise and what you are raising them for. If your long-term plans include a steady supply of healthy, robust, disease-resistant birds for meat and eggs, I would put some thought into it. In this case, a lot will depend down the road on what birds you start with. If you're raising birds for show, then definitely genetics is something to take seriously. If it's more like a hobby or the birds will more or less be pets, then genetics probably don't matter quite so much. Again, The Livestock Conservancy can give you good advice about this.
 
Nick Kitchener
Posts: 464
Location: Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada
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I saw this today and thought everyone here would find it interesting:
http://www.geekosystem.com/chicken-eye-matter/
 
laurie branson
Posts: 35
Location: SW Washington. zone 8a
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Hi Victoria! Lots of great info packed in here - thanks for doing this. I'm on Bainbridge Island - so howdy neighbor!
I have a flock of Buff Orpingtons, Barnevelders and a couple of crosses between the two breeds. 14 birds total that range from almost 3 years down to almost 1 year. I noticed that several of my birds have crooked toes - is that normal? One or two toes will be pointed in the opposite direction, like they were twisted.
Thanks!
 
Valerie Dawnstar
Posts: 292
Location: North Central New York
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Nick,
Fascinating article, although I had to read it 3 times before I could even start to get it. It is always cool to learn that there is always something new to learn about nature.
Thanks for sharing that!
 
today's feeble attempt to support the empire
The stocking stuffer game for all your Permaculture companions
http://www.FoodForestCardGame.com
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