Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why Chickens and Ducks?

An earlier post discussed the functions of cows as a backdrop to the story on taboos.

Old MacDonald's farm replicated a balanced and resilient ecosystem.  It had a portfolio of plant crops, habitats and animals.  In addition to farm fields there were usually orchards, gardens and pastures. It was common practice to retain a "tithe" of woodlot for maple sugar, nuts, game and fuelwood.  Often there were creeks or drainage ditches and fence rows.

On the animal side of things there were:
-Ruminents and equines capable of extracting nourishment out of poor quality forage and turning it into dairy (protein, fat) fiber (wool, horsehair) leather, meat, fertilizer (poop and pee), work (pulling plows, drayage)
-Carnivores (cats and dogs) for pest control, security, hunting and companionship
-Hogs and poultry for gleaning nutrition out of kitchen waste and for bug control.  Roosters also made decent alarm clocks and geese and guinea fowl make dandy watch "dogs".

A key distinction between the Old MacDonald model and the "modern" model is that the animals rustled up most of their own grub on Old MacDonald's place.  Old MacDonald might supplement their feed, especially in times of peak productivity or peak work load.  But most of the time the animals were allowed to be their natural selves within certain parameters.

Certain parameters often meant fencing.  Fencing was a high art.

The Old MacDonald model resulted in a small volume of high value products (butter, eggs, whiskey, pork, hard cider, nuts) leaving the farm.  Because the actual tonnage leaving the farm was small, little of the native fertility was exported off-farm.


Picture Copyright Bill Mollison  Book
People getting their toes wet with livestock often start with poultry.  It is a good choice.

The ERJ family have raised dogs, cattle, sheep, chickens, ducks, goldfish and children through the years.  We are getting to the point in our natural cycle where the children are tapering down so we (I) have more energy for other things.


I like ducks.  They don't scratch around and their bills are like tennis rackets when it comes to catching bugs on the fly.  Free range chickens are hell on woodchip mulch and their ice-pick bills are at a disadvantage to catching bugs on the wing....although they are hugely entertaining as a gang of them chase a dim-witted, chilled, low flying moth.  Perhaps not as entertaining for the moth but entertaining for me.

The problem with ducks is they go over to visit the Captain and never come back.  He has a pond.  I may have to invest in a kiddy pool and install a drain in the bottom.  Ducks are slobs.


Not all chickens are equal.

Many breeds and strains of chickens exist for the sole purpose of showing, either 4-H or poultry fanciers.  Some of those strains of show birds are as non-functional as inbred Cocker Spaniels. 

Other strains of chickens are single purpose, battery raised egg producing machines.

Finding a strain of chickens that will fit with how you want to raise them is a bit of a crap-shoot. One solid strategy is to find somebody who is raising chickens the same way you want to raise them.  It is even better if he/she lavishes less TLC on them then you intend to.  Starting with chicks or cull hens from that farm ensures that your birds will mesh with your "ecosystem" and not be attention whores.

You might not be able to find somebody willing to part with chickens.  Fortunately, chicks are cheap and you can experiment until you find something that works well for you.


  1. If you've got chickens in the yard, you won't have fleas, ticks, or chiggers. When they're walking around pecking in the grass, they're eating bugs. Hereabouts, the old-skool bird to have is the guinea fowl. Great watch-birds.

  2. Thanks for commenting.

    Yup! I have to agree with you. Those birds go after bugs with all of the enthusiasm of a couple of 14 year old boys grubbing around in the bottom of a fast food bag. We might think of picking bugs as work. Birds see it as payday.

  3. Correction, should be "....grubbing around in the bottom of a fast food bag for the last few french fries..."