Chickens are unarguably the gateway to farm life. If you’ve dipped your toes in the small farm, homestead or hobby farm lifestyle I’m sure you’ve read all about keeping chickens. But do you know about the other kinds of barnyard birds?
I’ve had experience keeping Ducks, Geese, Turkeys and Guinea Hens in the past. At the moment we have geese and a few ducks along with our chickens.
Where do you get them?
Tractor Supply or the equivalent local bird vendor usually has ducks. I’ve never seen geese or guinea hens there. You can order them online like chicks or find them from someone local.
Hatchery birds should be certified disease free and healthy. If you decide to buy birds from someone locally make sure you keep them quarantined for 6 weeks.
It works out pretty well for babies, they usually stay inside that long. But it can be tricky with older birds.
After chickens I think ducks are the most popular birds. I have muscovy ducks which are actually pretty hard to track down unless you can find them locally. Most of the messages I get on Facebook are people looking for Muscovy ducks!
Ducks are not hard to raise. You don’t need a pond or lake but they do require a bowl of water deep enough to dip their faces and keep their nostrils clean.
I keep a large kiddie pool in my back yard that I dump and refill a few items a week. Ducks (and geese) are much messier than chickens.
It all goes back to the water. Along with making a huge mess in their water they have wet poop.
Ducklings are a nightmare in the house, they are messy and smelly and you’ll be counting down the days until you can kick them out.
NEVER EVER feed ducklings medicated chick starter. They will die.
I fed mine unmedicated game bird starter. Get the highest protein you can find, 28% if they have it. You can also supplement with brewers yeast for niacin.
Like with chickens you can get ducks for meat or eggs, and like with chickens there are ducks that do both moderately well. The most common meat ducks are the white Pekin; Muscovy (very different flavor) and Rouen will also give you a large bird for the table.
Did you know that there are duck breeds that will lay more eggs than the average chicken? The Khaki Campbell is a slight bodied tan duck that can lay 340 eggs a year!
To be fair, that’s an exception and you’ll be more likely to get around 200. That puts them about even with my Wyanodotte hens.
If you’re looking for hilarious ducks you can’t go wrong with Indian Runners. The best description I can come up with for Indian Runners is a bowling pin with anxiety.
They are very upright when they walk. They’re amazing and hilarious.
Keeping Guinea Fowl or Guinea Hens
Guinea Hens are loud. Louder than geese. They also love to roam.
While chickens are generally happy to hang out at home guinea hens are always on the go. Which is both helpful and annoying.
I’ve had 7 guineas hens over the years (if you know how loud they can be you’ll agree that that’s enough) and every single one has died via car.
The biggest pro for guinea fowl is that they are tick eating machines! I’ve had zero ticks on me, my kids or my dog.
Another on the cons list, guinea hens can be bullies. I’ve seen them pick on my chickens, even big roosters, when I was feeding them.
They’re also pretty crazy. Once I saw the group chase off a fox. I don’t think the fox was expecting a flock of pissed off evil clowns to jump him that day.
They lay triangular eggs, it sounds odd but if you see them that description makes sense. Mine have always hidden their nests, one I found in the garden and a few others out in the tall weeds fo the back field.
I have never had luck letting them sit and hatch.
Baby Guinea fowl are called ‘keets’ and they’re tiny. They have a well-earned reputation for being fragile, at least for the first 2 weeks.
Guinea fowl are from Africa (they even make an appearance in Wild Kratts season 3 episode 6! That was Mary’s favorite show for a long time and we’ve seen every episode 150 times) and they are made for hot, dry weather. Even damp grass can kill a small keet.
I’m not a big fan of making more work for myself but when I have guinea keets I keep them separated from the chicks until they’re a few weeks old and more sturdy.
Ordering keets can be a real pain in the butt too, a lot of hatcheries won’t ship them with other birds (again, fragile) so you need to get 15+ at one time.
Put marbles in their water to keep them from soaking or even drowning themselves. The marble trick also comes up a lot with turkeys. Speaking off…
I have raised both Royal Palm and Bourbon Red turkeys. All the BRs went in the freezer, along with most of the RPs.
I had a replenishing flock for a few years until a huge storm and a pack of coyotes collided and took me down to Gobbles and Henrietta. They did an OK job hatching and raising poults but I had better luck hatching the eggs myself in an incubator.
Turkey poults have a reputation for being dumb. I didn’t see that but some people recommend you put marbles in the water so they don’t drown.
I’ve raised them with other turkeys and with chicks. Poults are a bit larger, they have longer legs and they have a little pimple on the top of their beaks.
You can usually find something called ‘Game Bird Starter’ which is unmedicated and has more protein than chick starter.
Adult turkeys get much bigger than chickens. They can be intimidating if you’re used to small 6 pound birds.
Turkey hens are fairly calm. I love the sounds they make too. It’s a very soft, throaty sound.
They lay large, slightly pointed speckled eggs.
Tom turkeys are another story. They can get aggressive. Gobbles hated my ex-husband. He would jump at him any chance he had. He would even go after me if I was dressed like my ex in similar boots and jeans.
Gobbles used to court me, I think he saw me as a potential mate and Mike was his competition. I also watched him seduce a garbage can for 2 hours via game camera so… Not the brightest bulb.
After Henrietta disappeared (nesting in the woods isn’t a great hobby) Gobbles lived out the rest of his life harassing my ex-husband and wild life and hanging with the guinea hens.
We have a lot of wild turkeys that cross through the field behind our property. One day I heard a huge commotion and when I looked out the window I saw Gobbles had called in a big wild tom.
That was pretty cool but the amazing part was watching his guinea buddies run up out of nowhere. They yelled and attacked the poor wild turkey and chased him past the fence line.
I’ve said quite a bit about my geese already in a very snarky post where I question whether or not geese are evil.
Much like ducks they are very messy. I’d honestly say even messier, Geese are giant, messy ducks with anger problems.
The goslings are cute as hell. And they are awful to keep in the house. I wouldn’t recommend it past a few weeks.
I moved mine into an outdoor coop with a heat bulb because I couldn’t handle the stink. They will tip the water no matter how you try to avoid it.
They’re loud, can be aggressive (especially in the spring) and leave giant wet poops all over.
Final Thoughts on Barnyard Birds
I prefer chickens out of the whole bunch, I think they’re the easiest and I have a batch coming in April. A flock of hens is nothing compared to the rest of this bunch!
Right now I’m guinea fowl and turkey-less. It’s likely to stay that way this year.
I am looking at getting more ducks. I want them for snail control. After I get the alpacas re-situated in the field I want them to be as safe as possible.
I’m not willing to use pesticides in the field so ducks are my last hope. If you’re wondering why my alpacas need pet ducks, the snails carry a parasite.
Meningeal worm is a white tail deer parasite that can kill alpacas. We had not one or two, but three cases in my very small herd of exactly 3 alpacas. That’s a very good reason to wan the snails gone!
What kind of barnyard birds do you keep? Have you ever tried one out to find it wasn’t for you?
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