One of the hardest problems in successful poultry keeping is to maintain the vigor and health of the flock. Housing has particular bearing on this problem. If the laying-house is poorly lighted, has insufficient ventilation, or is overcrowded, the health of the fowls will be affected. The purpose of housing is to increase productiveness. In order to accomplish this the fowls must be comfortable.
“Yes, with this approach to farming we make decisions and put our hands to some small manipulations but the very breadth of mixed crop and livestock systems often quickly leave us behind and spread out to do their own work of symbiotic osmosis and complementary relations.”
Ten years ago I answered a classified ad and went to a small western Oregon farm to look at some young laying hens that were for sale. That visit to Buck and Mary Rickett’s place made a quiet impression on me that has lasted to this day. On that first visit in ’71 my eager new farmer’s eye and ear absorbed as much as possible of what seemed like an unusual successful, small operation. I asked what must have seemed like an endless stream of questions on that early visit.
Duck raising is conducted successfully both as a side issue on general farms and as a special business on a large scale. The Pekin is the best breed for duck farming. Many breeds are very ornamental as well as useful, making the breeding of real interest wherever there are natural facilities for keeping waterfowl. The rearing of ducks for market on a large scale requires extensive capital and experience. A location on a stream of running water is essential for the best results in duck farming.
I confess that I am cold-hearted and cheap. Though I love raising poultry, I hate spending time and money anywhere but on my little farm. So I process at home. If you are only raising a few birds for yourself, say 25 or 30 at a time, I recommend having a party and doing it all by hand. My journey backward from machines to hands started with a chance encounter with a Kenyan chicken grower visiting the United States. He finishes 15,000 broilers each year.
While the heritage breeds overcome the shortfalls of the Cornish-Rock Cross (CRX) and similar modern hybrids, they come with their own drawbacks. They do not approach the rapid growth rate, low feed conversion rates, and low production costs of the CRX, but there is a lack of information as to which breed or breeds might serve as a potential alternative for niche markets. Thus, our proposed solution was to raise a variety of heritage breed chickens on pasture, to gain a sort of foothold regarding expected growth considerations and production costs.
The question of why one ought to consider raising heritage meat chickens can be approached, I think, from two different angles: farm-based reasons for the actual raising of heritage birds, and the marketing advantages that heritage birds offer for the small farmer. Heritage chickens are a distinctly niche product, and niche production is a boon to the small farm. To be sure, pastured poultry generally is a niche product, but one that is becoming more and more common in many local markets. By opting specifically for heritage birds we further differentiate ourselves and our farm.
I first got the idea of the squab business from a gentleman who boarded with us who used to raise pigeons. Then I happened to see Mr. Rice’s advertisement of the Plymouth Rock Squab company in the Philadelphia Inquirer and answered it. I wanted to know just what I had to do to raise squabs for market before I purchased any birds. I hardly knew what a pigeon was and had never seen a squab. After carefully reading Mr. Rice’s Manual I decided to give the business a try. I started April 1, 1921, All Fool’s Day. We thought we were a little foolish too.
Java temperaments, laying abilities, and meat quality have been a tremendous help for us in interesting potential new breeders. These birds are very calm and easily handled while still being a very active breed. They are excellent foragers and do well in the barnyard. Hens lay large rich brown eggs and many are good mothers. Young cockerels make excellent table fare. The size of Javas also makes them a very desirable bird. Roosters average about nine and a half pounds while hens tend to be about six and a half.
When I was a boy in the mountains of East Tennessee, we didn’t know anything about ordering baby chicks or even gave it a thought. With the help of a nesting box, or boxes, a household with fifteen or twenty hens could hatch out 300 to 500 chicks each year. We would let the hens go broody by leaving the eggs in the nest until a hen laid 15 eggs, (plus or minus 1 or 2) and the hen would go to setting on them. Often times we would put boiled eggs in place of the fresh eggs under a sitting hen until we had 4 or 5 hens setting at one time.
The pigeon industry has two branches; the breeding of squabs for market, and the raising of breeding stock for sale. The first brings the surest and quickest returns, squabs being safely turned into cash at 4 weeks of age. The second requires more room for raising the young, also more care, more feed, more cleaning of the houses, more advertising, and often involves more losses; but it offers freedom from the unpleasant weekly task of killing and dressing, and better prices for stock sold, if of good quality.
An important feature of the range shelter described in this circular is that it is portable. Two men by inserting 2x4s through the holes located just below the roost supports and next to the center uprights can easily pick up and move it from one location to another. Frequent moving of the shelter prevents excessive accumulation of droppings in its vicinity which are a menace to the health of the birds. Better use will be made by the birds of the natural green feed produced on the range if the houses are moved often.
One of the things that has been bred out of today’s chicken is the ability to go “broody” and hatch out a clutch of chicks. Chickens nowadays will go broody, but will abandon the eggs after a few days – the brooding instinct has been bred out of them. It takes 21 days of continuously setting on the eggs by a nice warm hen for the chicks to hatch out. None of the common domestic breeds available will sit the eggs long enough to hatch them out.
Both houses are the same except for roof construction. Floors are on concrete laid over hollow tile on gravel fill. Windows are provided with draft shields and tip in. Additional ventilating sash are located in rear walls under dropping boards. Nests are made so that they are easily removed from wall for cleaning the roosts or made so that they may be raised over dropping boards for the same purpose.
Success with raising poultry, whether for eggs or meat, feathers or breeding stock, all of it depends on keeping the birds healthy and vigorous – and one important element in that equation is housing. Good breeding and the best feeding are vitally important but even those factors won’t get you maximum return unless the birds enjoy the best possible, disease-free, environment.
We kept our eye on this rooster. He was high entertainment for 3 boys and 3 younger sisters on that farm. We didn’t give him a name, just called him “Rooster,” and Rooster ruled. Other roosters moved out of his way. Hens cowered when Rooster appeared. My dog Browser wouldn’t go near Rooster. Rooster was invincible. Or so he thought.
“Don’t let them out in the rain, they’ll stare up into it and drown…” Our experience with turkeys has been completely the opposite. While most poultry species aren’t exactly bright, we find that turkeys are lovely, personable, and most important for the self sufficient homesteader — extremely efficient converters of grain and forage into delicious meat. In 5 months, a turkey can grow from a few ounces to 20-30+ lbs.
Little need be said about the first principles in poultry raising, but a few introductory remarks about comfortable quarters for the flock may pave the way for the description of the straw-loft poultry house illustrated in sketches shown. It goes without saying that the laying hen must have comfortable quarters if she is to be expected to produce her maximum yield. Warmth, dryness and protection from preying animals are the prerequisites to comfort. The poultry house sketched here is a practical starting unit embodying all of the protection features so essential in poultry raising.
The importance of poultry-house ventilation is generally conceded, but just what is meant by ventilation and how it may be accomplished is not so well known. It is becoming increasingly evident that adequate ventilation cannot be accomplished merely by throwing doors and windows wide open to let the wind blow into the house; the air conditions within the pen must be so controlled that weather has only a secondary effect.
The goal of every flock owner is to produce eggs in late fall and winter when prices are highest. This can be done if the chicks are hatched early enough so as to develop into pullets that will begin laying in the fall. No matter how good the pullets are unless they are housed in a building which will provide them with warm quarters and at the same time give them plenty of fresh air, the maximum production cannot be secured.
Warm barns make for cheery farmers but they are not so good for the animals. Furry farm creatures, especially ruminants, are suited by their natures for temperatures far lower than man finds comfortable. As has been observed widely, farm animals, given the choice, will often spend their time out of doors even at very low temperatures in winter. Animal shelters need only prevent the occupants from being exposed to draft and humidity, for it is these and not the cold, that lead to winter diseases in bird and beast.