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By Katie Thear
Most smallholders will want to keep poultry, whether it is just a few for household eggs or a larger flock for selling produce. They will need a secure house and ranging area, with the facility for keeping them inside or separated from wild birds if avian influenza becomes a risk.
Appropriate nest boxes are required for laying birds, while perches or other roosting areas are needed by most poultry apart from waterfowl. Straw bales are often used for turkeys. The latter also appreciate outside perches.
Compound feeds, including organic, are available for each type of poultry. They will also need grain such as wheat, insoluble poultry grit and of course, feeders and drinkers that should be kept away from wild birds.
Birds can be bought as day-old chicks or older. It is also possible to buy hatching eggs, but obviously a certain proportion will fail to hatch or will be males to be disposed of. Even purebred males can be difficult to sell or give away, unless they are particularly fine examples of their breed. Incubating and brooding facilities will be required for young birds.
Anyone with 50 or more birds has to register with DEFRA’s Poultry Register or its equivalent in Scotland and Wales. For the purposes of this legislation, the birds involved include chickens (including bantams), ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, partridges, pheasants, quail, pigeons (only those reared for meat), emus, ostriches, rheas, cassowaries and kiwis.
It refers to all these birds that are reared, given, sold or kept in captivity for commercial purposes, including breeding, showing, production of meat or eggs for consumption, production of other commercial products and the restocking of game.
For any other purposes, poultry are recognised as being chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and guinea fowl, and there are organic standards for these groups. When it comes to eggs, however, it is only chicken eggs that come under the Egg Marketing Regulations.
Surplus eggs from a small number of chickens can be sold at the farm-gate, as long as they are not graded into sizes. If they are, the producer must be registered with the Egg Marketing Inspectorate of the area. (Ask the local DEFRA office for the appropriate contact).
If eggs are sold as organic, it is not sufficient just to feed them on organic rations. The producer must be registered with one of the organic certification bodies that were referred to earlier. The land must also be recognised either as having been converted to organic status or be in the process of conversion.
Whatever type of poultry is to be kept, they should only be considered if the terrain is suitable for them. Geese, for example, will need good grassland because this is the mainstay of their diet. Ducks need access to a pond or other water source that is clean, well aerated and deep enough for them to dabble about in. Chickens, turkeys and guinea fowl need well-drained land with trees and hedges for shelter and security. All will need to be protected against the fox.
The choice of breeds will be determined by the reasons for keeping poultry. If it is for commercial reasons, it makes sense to use hybridised crosses that are suitable for outside conditions, unless good examples of productive traditional breeds can be found. Examples of suitable laying chickens are indicated below.
|Black Rock |
|White Star |
For table chickens, suitable breeds would include the French Sasso and the Hubbard-ISA range of birds. These are available under a variety of names, depending on the supplier, and include Poulet Anglais, Cotswold White, Devon Bronze, etc.
Commercial geese would tend to be Legarth strains, although Embdens and their crosses are frequently used. Where ducks are concerned, Kortlang Khaki Campbell and Cherry Valley 2000 make good layers, providing a consistent supply of eggs in winter when hens’ eggs may be declining. Even so, it will still be necessary to provide some winter lighting for all laying birds when the days are short.
Table ducks are usually Pekin/Aylesbury crosses such as the Cherry Valley SM3. When it comes to turkeys, the Kelly strains of Bronze are more popular than the white feathered birds which, in recent years, have become associated with intensive production. These are available in different weight ranges, which is useful if the turkeys are to be grown to fit the average oven. Over-large ones can be difficult to sell, especially if orders for a certain weight have been accepted in advance.
Small numbers of poultry can be killed at home for sale at the farm gate but the site should be registered with the local Environmental Health department. Recommended reading is Practical Slaughter of Poultry from the Humane Slaughter Association.
There are many who prefer to keep traditional pure breeds, rather than to use commercial strains. This helps with the conservation of the old breeds, and on a small scale, the longer rearing times or the reduced egg numbers may be acceptable. Useful organisations include the Poultry Club of Great Britain the British Waterfowl Association and the Turkey Club
This is, at best, a brief overview of the possibilities of developing a smallholding. Everyone will have their own ideas and interests, but there is no substitute for planning and research. After all, ‘Politics is the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary!’ (Torajiro. 1882).
Starting with a smallholding covers many more possible endeavours for the smallholder with details of time, resources and returns
Copyright © Katie Thear 2006