#4 Turkeys

Ahhh turkeys. Great tasting homestead birds if you can A. Teach them how to drink and to do so without drowning. B. Keep them alive past 3 weeks in an environment after hatching and C. are content with the fact that if a duck's environment smells, turkeys stink to high heaven. That is if you want them to grow big and strong enough to process or breed due to high protein rich feed. 

Turkeys that I have grown are actually very social don't have any issues with the Tom's being hostile. 

Female Turkeys (Jenny) lay between 4 and 15 eggs once a year. Those eggs take between say, 25 and 30 days to incubate. Because of this laying cycle you wont likely see a market for turkey eggs for eating. 

This also makes turkey, in my opinion, a hobby bird for the homestead. They simply do not produce enough birds to warrant the high volume of food that they eat.

Some breeds do however have a very high market for fertile eggs but you will need a strong set of females to make this reasonable. I believe the general rule of thumb here is that if she hatched in the spring she will lay in the spring. I have never had a turkey lay anytime other than spring so in my experience this is the case.

Processing a turkey is much like a Chicken except bigger. 

While I have heard that it can be done I tend not to have turkeys and chickens living in the same coop. Histomoniasis (blackhead) is something that will kill your turkeys. I have never dealt with it because I have never had them living together. Sounds really rough on the turkeys and can be fatal.

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#1 Quail


Some people might be surprised to find that I think that Quail are the easiest to manage. It's a simple fact. Quail take about 1/10th of the human time to manage of any of the other birds I am going to list here.

Quail require little in the way of space (about 1 sq ft per bird), are prolific layers once they are of age, and it takes about 16-18 days to incubate an egg.  If you were to google quail variety you would find a very wide sample of breeds. I am fond of Texas A&Ms due to the size and rate of growth for a food system design but also love some of the very colorful breeds as well. 

They eat less, make less of a mess and can be housed comfortably and humanely just about anywhere you can find on your land. They are quiet  which makes them very suitable for urban environments and if you provide them with quality feed can be an extremely tasty, rapid growing and nutritious source of food. 

The eggs seem to have a reasonably strong demand in the marketplace, and with a little bit of marketing time and finesse can become a solid source of income. Your mileage may vary on this point.

Processing is quick and clean as is cooking. Eggs are very tasty but a quail egg tool is usually the best way to crack them. 

Birds can be kept in a coop or you can create a "quail tractor" to simulate the option of free ranging. I do not free range quail as they are easy targets for just about every predator, daytime and night alike.

In my experience, Quail can be picky eaters (unlike chickens and ducks) and once raised in a captive environment seem to have a bit of challenge switching from provided food to something a bit more natural.

#3 Ducks

So let's say you throw a pool party at your house... And then let's say a bunch of people show up to that party, swim in your pool, lay all over your nice couch dragging dirt and water all over your kitchen floor while downing cases of brew and eating everything in sight. Then imagine that they stay up partying alllllll night long for what seems to be days at a time... all the while wooing you with wagging of tail feathers and big eyes that say "OH! I am SOOOO glad to see you!!!" just as you are about to shut the party down...

That's ducks. :) No joke, messy birds. Amazingly social and often very beautiful birds with a big personality.  They can share a space with Chickens with very little issue (though I don't recommend this in situations where the birds will be confined to a coop). 

I have seen Duck eggs go easily for 8.00-9.00 per dozen at local and farmers markets. Very popular in baking due to size and flavor. Ducks eggs take 28 days to incubate but as with all water fowl require specific attention to humidity inside the incubator. 

Processing Duck is a bit more of a challenge than chickens due to the enormous crap ton of feathers that they have. They can of course be skinned instead of scalding and plucking but I like crispy duck skin on mine so I pluck.

It's been my experience that ducks will eat just about anything and are the kings and queens of fly control. They are remarkable foragers and once they know that your place is the place to party... they won't leave. 

A common misconception is that ducks need a pond. Well they don't. I mean they probably WANT a pond but they just need enough water deep enough to bathe and dip their bills. 

Another misconception is that you should allow them to swim early on in life. Don't do this. Wait for about a month or so if being raised in captivity. Then they will have some of the essential waterproofing they need and will not drown.

#2 Chickens

My biggest issue with Chickens is that I always, and I do mean always, end up with way more than I actually need. In fact many times after I design a food system that includes chickens for someone I am called to come out and either process or give a class on how to process them. Not sure what it is but for many people, myself included, they are addictive. :)

Depending on your philosophy of use, chickens need about 3 sq ft in a coop and about 10 sq ft of chicken run per bird with about 1/2 ft of roost space per bird. 

Typically a non free ranging, non pastured or "tractoring" chicken requires 1.5lbs of feed per week. Your mileage will absolutely vary based on size and age of bird. 

If you are smart about how you build your coop/run, chickens don't really make too bad of a mess unless you have no way to easily manage and clean their area. Their nitrogen rich dung is amazing for planting.

Eggs can be nicely profitable especially if you are creating a laying flock of birds that lay different colored and sized eggs. As I write this my local grocery store is selling 45 day old eggs for 6.00 a dozen because of a "cage free" label (I could rant about this for hours ...) A chicken egg takes 21 days to incubate.

Like Quail they can be kept in an adequately sized coop, they can free range and are AMAZING mini tractors that will aerate, till, clean and fertilize all in one fell swoop.

Chickens will eat just about anything (to include anything you *just* planted) and in many cases are very social with humans. You should be aware that many times you will end up with more roosters than you know what to do with. Keep the attentive and reasonably social ones... the rest go in the pot.

One of the most common question topics I have received over the years is about birds. Chickens, Ducks, Turkey and Quail. What breeds, how to raise them, how to process them and how to sell them (and eggs).

Below is my very simple guide to them. I simply believe less data is better for someone starting out with birds. As you learn what you want the birds to do for you (and they can do a LOT for you) then you can begin narrowing down breeds, location/environment (notice that this is the second consideration), shelter and how to manage them.

I will start from least management intensive and move to most management intensive below.