Backyard poultry are one of the first choices gardeners make when they want to introduce some animals into their garden. Which isn’t that surprising considering the many attributes these birds offer our yards.
However, which one do you choose?
Chickens are obviously more common than ‘hens teeth’ and with their many varieties most gardeners can source some great birds cheaply that will be function reliably. But, have you ever considered introducing a Peacock? Or Guinea Fowl?
It depends entirely upon the purpose for keeping poultry in your backyard. Are you looking for egg layers? Meat providers? Something unusual to show the neighbours? Or pest foragers? So while roadtesting different species of poultry may be helpful it really is an individual choice. Your garden and the way you enjoy your yard will dictate which birds will be appropriate.
Chickens! What’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about these backyard stalwarts? If you don’t have them already grazing your backyard or penned in a chicken coop, then chances are you will know at least 2-3 others that do.
What is our fascination with chickens? Is it their daily laying capacity, opportunity for fresh meat, or their scratching efforts in the garden? Maybe it’s (d) All of the above. Whatever the reason they have etched their usefulness into our psyche and when we mention the term “backyard poultry” chickens would top the list.
Some of the more common breeds of chicken are Leghorn, New Hampshire Red, Sussex and Campines. And, if you don’t have the space for a brood of chickens then opting for bantams may be an alternative.
- Common and easy to get stock
- Usually good layers and easy to feed
- Great garden scavengers and food refuse disposers
- Produce excellent manure for your garden and vegetable patch
- Susceptible to disease and are also heavy carriers of bacteria
- If not supervised while allowed to roam freely through your garden, they will demolish many of your plants in search for small insects and worms
- The male version is far too noisy for most suburban backyards so breeding them will always be a problem
While many think that geese are helpful backyard poultry protecting it nearly as good as a trained Alsatian, their guarding intuitiveness is fairly limited. They won’t safeguard your property nearly as much as they will protect theirs – and their territory is anywhere they are. Which means that where they’re not, is of little concern to them.
Geese have been with us since Adam was a boy and their many breeds ensure that they will be a backyard favourite for years to come. They were popularised for their livers, and have now become the centre of controversy, as French peasants would fatten them for the delicacy foie gras.
While geese can be a bit pesky in the garden they certainly are worth a try. Some breeds to consider are; the beautiful African Goose, the common Roman Goose or the fluffy Sebastopol Goose.
- Their eggs can be readily substituted in recipes that call for chicken eggs
- Much easier to herd than chickens or even ducks
- They can become quite territorial and bark their bullishness at you to keep you at a distance
While Warner Brothers would have us believe that ducks are a sandwich short of a picnic, they are in fact quite an intelligent species. Obviously we’re not talking dolphin or chimpanzee intellect but for a bird they certainly have some street smarts.
Having kept ducks in our garden previously, I can certainly vouch for their ability to hunt and scavenge without wrecking the joint. They’re a bit more classy than your average chicken and have a great appetite for snails, sourcing them from unimaginable locations.
Their only downfall is the mess they leave in droppings. While this may actually be advantageous in the vegetable garden it creates a whole set of problems if they escape onto your lawn. For a bird, they seem able to poop far more than one would expect for an animal their size.
- Great snail harvesters
- Average egg layers and their eggs are excellent both in recipes and also to eat on their own
- Ducks can be raised for their meat which is more gamier in flavour than chicken and their body shape usually holds less flesh than their poor cousins
Great breeders and they do well to look after and raise their young
- Obviously the mess. While they won’t destroy your garden they will defecate it with ease. Plus if you have a pond or water feature that they can access, don’t expect it to remain crystal clear
- They’re fast. If you thought chickens were hard to manage try chasing down a duck – plus these birds can fly
Now here’s a bird that has become the brunt of many derogatory comments. We call each other ‘Turkeys’ when we do something stupid and we even have a saying that goes “Why live with Turkeys when you can soar with Eagles.”
Turkeys, to backyard poultry, are seen the same way sheep are in relation to livestock. They really are a sandwich short. Which is not surprising then that most gardeners only raise them for the Thanksgiving or Christmas meal. Apart from this function, they don’t have much else going for them.
They lay 1/3 less eggs than chickens and need to be twice the age to start producing. Once they do, their maternal instincts kick in and they will sit on them and brood while most domestic chickens will head off for more stimulating activity.
- They’re a big bird and carry a large amount of edible meat
- Apart from the meat, I can’t see any other benefits to this bird
- They’re large and noisy
- They’re brooding layers and certainly won’t lay enough for family consumption
- Preferring grains than slugs and snails they won’t forage much
Guinea fowl are usually overlooked when considering backyard poultry but they really shouldn’t be. Their easy going temperament and ability to be tamed and petted from an early age make them a great option for the home backyard.
While their diet doesn’t usually draw them to slugs and snails they do have an appetite for parasites. Their thin shaped beak is perfectly poised to pick out fleas and ticks and if these are a problem in your yard then guinea fowl are the obvious solution.
- Good layers and non-brooders
- Edible eggs being about 1/2 the size of an average chicken egg
- Easily hand-reared and able to be tamed
- As they are non-brooders it’s not as easy to have them rear young without human intervention
- Buying older birds will add some problems as they will try and return to where they came from
Peacocks are the most gorgeous birds that one could keep in their backyard. A member of the pheasant family they have a long history dating back to Solomon’s reign when they were popularised as a bird species. And it’s little wonder that they became so sought after.
There are two main species of peacock from which these domesticated birds are derived: the Blue Peafowl and the Green Peafowl – fairly easy to remember. From these two come several more types while the most common, and arguably the most beautiful, is the Indian Blue Peacock.
- Very rarely get sick and are immune to many common poultry diseases.
- They won’t stray far from home
- Great conversation piece
- Don’t like being confined to a cage
- Just like a model, these birds are too gorgeous to actually do any work. They’re not into snails or insects but instead might happily feast on your vegetable seedlings.
- While the males are the more beautiful of the species they don’t lay eggs
- Peacocks are an edible game meat, but who’s going to murder something so splendid?