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Picking Poultry for 2018, Chickens, Ducks and Geese

Well, I just placed this year’s poultry order, hopefully it will be my last larger poultry order for a couple years as I will have most of what I wanted to raise on the farm!  This year I ordered 50 Black Austrolorp chicks to join our remaining 27 Barred Rocks whose numbers will increase the natural way!.  We chose the austrolorp due to its great foraging abilities,  known cold weather survivability and exceptional egg laying for a heritage breed.  Originally, I was thinking the Dominique but at the end I switched over to the Austolorp due to egg production.  At adulthood Austrolorp cocks weigh up to 8.5 pounds and hens about 7 pounds. The coloration of the Australorp is an intense blue-black, and its blue-black feathers shimmer with beetle-green iridescence. The cocks have large bright red single combs and wattles and they have a black beak, while the dark slate-colored legs have pinkish white soles. Austrolorps lay eggs that are normally a light brown color.  

Stock image of Black Austolorp from the internet

The plan for these birds will be similar to the barred rocks last year, to keep all of the hens and at 20 weeks or so trim the cocks down to a 1:5 ratio to the hens.  Initially the plan was to put these guys in a mobile coop over at the farm property, and that is still the long-term goal. However, for this year the mobile coop may actually be at the homestead property as we prepare the farm property for cattle.  More on that in a later post. The goal this year will be to enter the winter with 75 laying hens between the two flocks.
The chickens are not what is exciting me this year however, it is the ducks and geese that have me excited! This year I ordered 18 ducks and 12 geese to join us.  The ducks and geese are a very important part of farming naturally and holistically.  Since we are trying to avoid the use of insecticides and herbicides we need to address both of these issues biologically.  For the insects we will use ducks and guinea fowl and for the weeds, geese.  This year we will have 6 acres of crops to manage (details on that is a later post) and these numbers will give us a good idea what stocking rate we will need next year when that number increases. 

For the breed of ducks these are  the qualities I wanted to find:

1.       Cold Weather survivability
2.       Foraging Ability
3.       A balanced dual breed
4.       Ascetics, I wanted more than a plain white duck!
5.       A heritage breed that is on a conservatory watch list
6.       Availability through Stromberg’s hatchery (we had good survivability with them last year with both our chickens and our guinea fowl.  The fact that part of their operation is in Mn also helps.)

At the end of the day there was two breeds that caught my eye, Blue Swedish and Cayuga and I could not choose between them so I ordered 8 Blue Swedish ducks and 8 Cayuga Ducklings.  I probably should have just gone with 16 of one breed in hind sight. Ducks are like chickens and should be the same 5:1 ratio. I was thinking the geese ratio which is more 1:1. Only 8 per breed does not give a lot of wiggle room or genetic diversity if there is issues and only leaves me room for 1 drake most likely.  I wanted the two breeds however in order to see what one will work best for crop insect control without eating to many plants or compacting the ground to much!  One set will be at the farm and one set at the homestead in order to keep the breeding lines pure if we decided to hatch our own eggs next year.  At the end of the season I will rate them both on the above criteria and go with it from there. Just like the chickens the excess drakes will be culled in the fall.  What really has me excited about the ducks however is the egg quality, the eggs are much bigger then the chickens and they are supposed to be a lot better for baking as well as excellent for those on a keto or paleo diet due to the higher fat percentage.  Ducks can produce eggs at almost the same rate of chickens.  But I will do a separate blog post on their eggs later in the week,

Stock image of Swedish Blue from the internet
Stock image of Cayuga from the internet

Now on to how they fit my criteria.  Both of these breeds were developed/originated in northern climates, so weather should not be a factor with the Cayuga from the New York area or possibly Great Britton and the Swedish, well I should not have to explain where they are from!  Both breeds are rater to be good insect foragers by various sites and their medium frame means they do not compact the ground too much which is important for the crops. On a conservation stand point the Blue Swedish as listed by the Livestock Conservancy as being in a watch status while the Cayuga is listed as threatened, so they both can use some help.  Both breeds balance meat and egg production nicely with 5 to 6.5 lbs adult weight and laying an average of 150-160 eggs a year, basically every other day.  The general rule of thumb with most poultry is the smaller the bird, the higher the egg production so it is normally a matter of finding the balance to what is important to you.
Finally, I think they are both very pretty birds.  

For the Geese, I hate to admit it but there were so many options each with its pluses and minuses.  I could not decide so I decided to let fate figure it out for me. I ordered the “Variety” pack from Stromberg’s which will be a mixture of 12 geese from the following breeds, White Africans, White Chinese, Embden and Toulouse.  Each of these had their strong and week points.

African Geese- This is not a breed I would probably have picked on their own, growing up to 16 lbs by 15-18 weeks, and 22-24 for the full-grown ganders.  These birds will be to heavy to do any weeding in the crops very quickly, however they will likely do very well in the orchards.  They are known to produce very good lean meat and is considered an excellent roasting goose.  Despite the name they handle cold weather well with the exception of a knob that the Ganders grow on their beak which is susceptible to frost bite. While most geese take up to 2 years to reach sexual maturity.
Africans can start laying 7 to 9 ounce eggs in their first year.  They typically lay 25-30 eggs a year

Stock image of Brown AfricanGoose from the internet

White Chinese-  This breed is considered a lighter breed with adults weights topping off about 12-14 lbs for ganders.  They are one of the stronger layers with an average of about 50 eggs a year (for geese that is a good amount!).  They are also considered the strongest goose for weeding due to the light weight and high activity levels.  Honestly the main reason I did not pick this bird is that they are pure white, and I like some color.  They are  winter hardy but have the same knob issue as the Africans.
Stock image of White Chinese Geese from the internet

Toulouse- These geese grow to about 16 -18 lbs and are considered good weeders by various sites.  Toulouse are typically broken up into two types, those with a dewlap and those without. These without are considered the “production” type and that is what we are looking at here.  They will lay typically 30-40 eggs per year.  This breed is mostly a meat breed and is sought out due to its over size liver.  They are not considered overly aggressive or loud and are in my opinion is by far the prettiest goose in this package.
Stock image of Toulouse from the internet

Embden- This is another white, heavy goose weighting about 20 lbs at adult hood and is one of the most popular meat breeds, they will typically lay 25-35 eggs a year but appear to be a little slower to sexual mature then the Africans. The strongest point for them is that they are likely one of the most cold hardy of the geese listed here with no issues with sub zero temperatures. 
Stock image of Embdon from the internet

Chances are only two pairs of geese will make it through to next winter. Geese are more effective as weeders with less ground compression when they are younger and smaller.  In addition, due to their large sizes they are not the most economical to feed through the winter.  Most farmers who raise them for weeding purposes process them all in the fall in time for holiday marketing and then purchase new stock the following year.  I however do not see any sustainability to butchering them all every year and having to order new ones and since sustainability is a driving principle of my farm we will not take up that practice.  So, I will initially plan on taking a breeding pair from two of the above breeds unless they can do a better job of winning me over!

All of the birds are expected to arrive between the 10th and 15 of April so be looking for pictures then! As always thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments!  I will leave you all with a picture from our upstairs window on Chistmas Morning, it was a white Christmas, that was for sure!  
Just a peaceful Christmas Morning from the homestead


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