When I mention homesteading to people, I find that most tend to immediately think of three things: Chickens, gardens, and homemade bread.
And there’s nothing wrong with that! But when it comes to poultry, I always feel like it’s worth pointing out that there are SO MANY different kinds of poultry that can help a homestead prosper. And really, there’s a big benefit to keeping more than one type of poultry. I raise both chickens and ducks, and I’m able to house and free-range them together. Because they take a break from laying at slightly different times, I’m really never without eggs. And since I breed them, it makes it so I can offer both chicks and ducklings for sale (doubling my customer base), without the hassle of maintaining separate breeding pens, as I’d need to if I were keeping multiple chicken breeds.
I’ve compiled a list of different poultry options below, that might be worth considering. Keep in mind that just as there’s no “perfect chicken breed” for everyone – not all of these will perfectly complement any homestead, or even most of them. But depending on your homestead location, your needs and goals, and the character traits you enjoy working with in your animals, it might be worth considering adding one of these “chicken alternatives” to your homestead.
11 kinds of poultry you can raise on a homestead
I’d be just plain remiss if I didn’t list chickens first. They really are the quintessential homestead bird, and wonderfully dual purpose. I raise pure Icelandic landrace chickens and absolutely love them! They’re hardy, efficient foragers, good mamas, and have lots of personality. Chickens can be kept even in many urban communities, and next to quail, are probably the easiest fowl to keep just about anywhere.
Pros: Most breeds are excellent egg layers, many are good foragers, and good mothers. Appropriate feed is easy (and relatively inexpensive) to find. A huge variety of breeds are available, and there’s a ready market almost everywhere, if you decide to breed and sell them for extra homestead income.
Cons: Roosters can be loud, or even aggressive, and may not be allowed in all communities. Most chickens are pretty vulnerable to predators, like hawks, foxes, and even skunks, so may need adequate fencing for protection.
Y’all, I LOVE our ducks. Honestly, if I could only have one species of homestead livestock – this would be it. But don’t tell the chickens.
I love them because they’re so full of personality, they’re perpetually cheerful (just TRY feeling sad, while you’re sitting in a duck yard…it’s really tough!), and they’re so darn easy to keep healthy and happy. We raise Welsh Harlequins, and they’re amazingly prolific layers, excellent foragers, and very quiet compared to many other duck breeds!
Pros: Ducks are extremely hardy – see them sitting in the snow? They love it! Because of this, shelter requirements are comparatively minimal – probably the least minimal of any poultry variety, as far as I’m aware. Many breeds are excellent layers, and good mothers. Feed for ducks is easily available in most places, and they can easily be fed chicken rations with simple supplementation. Most areas have a ready market for both ducks eggs, as well as ducklings if you want to hatch and sell them.
Cons: Some varieties of ducks can be loud. All ducks are passionate about water, which means mud – which can mean quite a mess. So setting up the duck coop and yard takes a little more thought and strategy than getting set up for chickens.
We had a pair of geese growing up. They were big old White China geese, and they started out as adorable little fluffballs that idolized my dad and followed him everywhere. They grew up to be wonderful watchdogs, but were eventually pretty aggressive. The male would sidle up all sweet and lovey, and then latch onto your leg and TWIST. Think “purple nurple” on your leg. It was awful!
Now, I’m not actually trying to talk you out of geese here. I’ve met many wonderful geese of several different breeds that have been just absolute sweethearts. And some of my dearest poultry-keeping friends are completely passionate about their flocks of geese. They really CAN make a wonderful addition to a homestead. I’ve found this blog to be an excellent source of tips about getting started raising geese.
Pros: Geese are known for being great watchdogs, and excellent foragers. Many breeds make wonderful mothers. Many feel that keeping geese along with chickens can help to deter predators. While geese may not lay as prolifically as geese, hatching eggs and goslings do command higher prices, so maintaining a breeding flock can still be a profitable venture.
Cons: Geese can be fairly loud, and while this is certainly not the rule, they do have a reputation for getting aggressive. They also POOP. SO. MUCH.
My dear friend Kim tells me that her turkeys are her absolute favorite homestead animal. And that sweet lady keeps quite the wonderful menagerie, so that’s saying a lot! She feels that they’re one of the friendliest barnyard animals, and loves how tidy, graceful, and easy they are to keep, once they’re full-grown. I’m actually trying to talk the mister into raising a few heritage breed turkeys, this year (wish me luck!) This post from Lisa, over at the Self Sufficient HomeAcre, is a great place to start if you’re considering raising turkeys!
Pros: At least in our state, turkey poults command high prices and sell out quickly every spring – there may be an excellent market for hatching and selling poults if you have an incubator.
Cons: Young poults are more delicate than chicks, and can be more challenging to raise to adulthood. Appropriate gamebird-type feed is more expensive than chicken or duck feed. Heritage breed turkeys can fly, so you may need to be prepared to clip wings or create a covered run, if keeping them contained is necessary. Poults are more expensive to acquire than chicks or ducklings.
Quail seem to be the new “it” bird – in our area anyway. I know so many homesteaders who have really enjoyed adding this quirky little fowl to their flocks. What absolutely amazes me is HOW QUICKLY they mature. They start laying eggs and are ready for processing by 6-8 weeks. That’s faster than growing spinach!
My friend Tiffany blogs at ImperfectlyHappy.com, and I think she’s got one of the best posts about getting started raising quail. I also love Amy Fewell’s delightfully transparent look at the ups and downs of adding quail to the homestead.
Pros: Fast maturing, require little space, and are inexpensive to acquire. During their first year, they’re prolific layers of small eggs that may have a ready market in your area. Easy to butcher and excellent eating.
Cons: Because of their small size, it takes several birds to equal the output of a single chicken – both for meat and eggs. They’re only prolific layers during their first year, and require at least 14 hours of daylight to lay. Since they’re excellent flyers, they need appropriate housing to keep them contained.
Here’s one poultry variety that gets seriously mixed reviews. This is a good post from Jill at The Prairie Homestead, about why you should keep Guinea fowl on your homestead. And here’s one from my friend Sara at The Free Range Life, with 5 reasons you might NOT want to!
Me? Someone in our neighborhood kept them one year. Which meant that THE WHOLE NEIGHBORHOOD had guineas. And listened to the guineas. And had to try not to hit the guineas that didn’t have the sense to stay out of road. It was good times.
Pros: Guineas are excellent foragers, and are prized for their tick control, as well as their ability to even catch small rodents. They’re also less prone to disturb gardens than chickens, and, much like geese, can make good “watch dogs”. While they don’t lay as prolifically as most chicken or many duck breeds, their eggs are edible, and they are actually a fine source of meat as well.
Cons: They’re very loud, and prone to wander from home if not contained.
Amy at A Farmish Kind of Life is my go-to expert when anyone asks me if I know anything about raising pheasants. She’s been keeping them for a few years now and even hatches her own. Her post here is a great place to learn about the joys of raising pheasants. And this site is just packed absolutely full of helpful information about getting started raising pheasants.
Pros: Pheasants can make excellent eating, and are valuable for selling as gamebirds. Their eggs are also edible, and they’re fairly prolific layers, as far as gamebirds go. Many also enjoy raising them for release into the wild.
Cons: They’re very flighty birds, and don’t warm up to humans the way chickens, ducks, or even geese can. They have a reputation for being poor mothers, and can be cannibalistic when kept in stressful environments.
I babysat a trio of peafowl one time. They were breathtakingly beautiful birds, but extremely aloof. The birds’ owner could almost get them to eat from his hand, but even with a lot of patience, they would only tolerate me at a bit of a distance. Thankfully, I was caring for them during a time of year that wasn’t their mating season, so they weren’t exceptionally loud. Deb, at ThriftyHomesteader.com has a great post about getting started with peafowl.
Pros: They’re gorgeous, and add a lot of beauty to a homestead. Males shed their lovely feathers, and these can be used for crafts or sold. Females are not prolific layers, but fertile hatching eggs and peafowl chicks command a very high price, so they be profitable to breed.
Cons: They’re flighty and prone to flying away if not properly conditioned to stay in their home territory. Not prolific layers, or very multi-purpose, compared to other poultry.
Partridges are another small game bird, much like pheasants. They’re prized as being excellent for eating, and easy to butcher (like quail). They can also be purchased as chicks and raised out to be sold for hunting. As with Pheasants, many folks also raise them out simply for the joy of releasing to the wild.
Although this website is primarily about quail, I actually find that they have some of the most helpful information about raising partridges as well. I’d really like to try my hand with partridges this year. Since we raise nearly all of our own meat, we raise out a batch of roosters, and another batch of drakes for filling the freezer each summer. Adding a small game bird for some extra variety could be an enjoyable way of mixing up our winter food supply!
Pros: Excellent eating, and when raised only to 16-20 weeks, can be profitable for raising to sell for game bird hunting.
Cons: More susceptible to diseases (like blackhead and coccidiosis) than chickens, so require more effort in terms of housing and environment to prevent disease in the flock. Game bird feed is more expensive than chicken feed, and partridges are generally not free-ranged.
If you’ve read my post on 52 Ways to Make Money on a Small Homestead, you’ve already heard me mention the idea of raising Pigeons for meat. They make excellent eating, and are actually in demand with high end restaurants in many areas. My friend Kris at Attainable Sustainable has a good post here, on getting started with raising pigeons for meat. Interestingly, meat is not the only reason to raise these petite fowl – they’re also kept as racing birds, and white homing pigeons are actually rented out for release at weddings. While this website is based out South Africa, as I was trying to learn about the culture of pigeon racing, I found it to be one of the best online resources, with just a wealth of information about racing homing pigeons.
Pros: Easy to keep and breed, pigeons do very well rearing their own offspring. They make excellent eating, and can be sold for meat. Homing pigeons can be raced for both pleasure and profit. In the right locations, there can be a market for white homing pigeons to release at weddings.
Cons: Many find pigeons to be messy, and if not contained, they can escape and become a nuisance in the neighborhood as they find other barns and outbuildings in which to take up residence.
Now, so many people I talk poultry with think that Emus are adorable. Personally, I always think they look like want to kill me, so let’s just say we won’t be bringing any home to Wynterwood Farm any time soon. However, there are plenty of people who are really enjoying raising them – and doing it profitably! Both this page and also this website have a lot of good information about getting started with emu farming.
Pros: They can actually be used as livestock guardian animals. They’re fairly efficient at feed conversion, so for their size, are not as expensive to feed as I might have thought. In many areas, chicks can be sold for fairly significant prices, so breeding pay be profitable.
Cons: They can be dangerous – Emus have extremely sharp talons. Fencing requirements are much more rigorous than for other poultry, since Emus are tall and can also jump. They may attack animals they don’t perceive as being part of their “flock” so great care must be taken with introducing new animals.
You know, as I’ve been writing this post, a couple of things have really struck me. First, is HOW DIFFERENT so many of these birds are from each other. Doesn’t it seem almost crazy to lump them under one category, even one as broad as the word “Poultry”?
The other thing that struck me is that while I myself have only kept a few of these poultry types – I have dear homesteading friends who have not only kept each of these various poultry types, but have found these extremely different birds to complement their unique homesteads, bringing them joy, profit, or both. While there might be no such thing as one perfect poultry for every homestead, chances are, there’s a kind of poultry here (or even a few kinds!) that will perfectly complement YOUR homestead.
For me – I’ve got my eyes set on turkeys and partridges! How about you? What birds on this list have you raised? I’d love to hear about it!
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