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A Bounty Of Birds | Spring 2008 Out Here Magazine

There's more to poultry than chickens

By Christine Heinrichs

You may already love your chickens, but you can expand and add diversity to your poultry by adding other kinds of interesting fowl to your flock.

Ducks are outdoor birds that do well with a simple shelter. You don't even need a pond. They require protection from predators but a basic shelter where they escape the worst of the weather is adequate.

Artificial lighting can lengthen their laying season, and some lay as well as chickens.

Geese are generally hardy and easy to manage. They are usually gregarious and prefer to live in flocks.

Simple structures are adequate to protect them from the weather.

As long as they are well fed, their natural insulation protects them. In a winter storm, they may be out looking around while other fowl are sheltered indoors.

Swans, like geese, are primarily grazers. They prefer to have water around for swimming. Supplement waterfowl diet with alfalfa pellets and grain or commercial waterfowl formulations.

Turkeys vary in size; most range from 12-30 pounds.

Turkeys, which are friendly and personable, like to roam, so they need to be contained.

Heirloom breeds will mate and brood naturally. Keeping a historic breed makes you part of livestock conservation. Keeping flocks of breeds such as Narragansett, Royal Palm, Blue Slate, Bourbon Red, White Holland, Black, and Bronze turkeys increases the genetic strength of these birds.

Guinea fowl are an African breed, and though they're domesticated, they retain a lot of wildness. They prefer to free range and you may find them roosting on the barn or house roof.

Many keep them for insect control. They eat ticks, Japanese beetles, and other pests. On sufficient range, they will eat enough for their entire diet. If they don't have enough bugs and seeds to eat, supplement them with chicken layer crumbles or gamebird feed.

Peafowl, more commonly called peacocks (males) and peahens (females) are the largest of the pheasant family. Males weigh up to 15 pounds, tails extend longer than 6 feet, and wingspan measures 4 feet. They are excellent flyers and will roost high up.

Pheasants, quail, partridge, and chukars can be incubated from eggs or purchased as chicks.

Pheasants are originally from Asia and chukars are the national bird of Pakistan, but they manage well in North America. Breeders often raise them for release as game birds.

Ostriches, emus, and rheas are flightless birds that are raised in the United States for their meat.

Adult ostriches, which weigh 300-400 pounds and stand 7 to 8 feet tall, are the world's largest bird. Emus stand about 6 feet tall and 125-140 pounds. And rheas measure about 5 feet tall and weigh between 60-100 pounds.

These birds usually are raised on pasture with supplemental grain. Because they easily can jump higher than 5 feet, they need strong fencing that measures at least 6 to 8 feet high.

Pigeons weigh less than 2 pounds and five breeding pairs can live comfortably in a coop 6 by 8 by 7 feet tall.

They come in a dazzling array of colors, feathering and abilities, around 300 breeds and varieties.

Christine Heinrichs is author of How to Raise Chickens: Everything You Need to Know.