Poultry has become a huge part of our experimental process. I don't think we realized how big a part it would be when we started, but we have found the adage, "Poultry is addicting" to be true. We started with a small group of chickens fall of '09 to see if we liked the idea or not. Once spring started in, I got some sort of poultry fever, and decided that the chickens were so easy, we should have a few turkeys. Not just any turkeys, but those neat Heritage Turkeys, the pretty ones that forage and grow slowly, and fly. (The flying part becomes significant)
Just by luck, I found someone on Craig's List who was advertising heritage turkey poults for sale. We made arrangements for me to pick up 2 Narrangansetts, 2 Royal Palms, and 2 Bourbon Red poults. As it goes with Craig's List, I met my turkey provider in the parking lot of a Menards. He and his family were delivering a lot of poults that day on their way to a family function. I transferred the little guys from their box to mine, with a couple of them escaping during the process and almost disappearing into the inner workings of the car. This should have been a warning of things to come. It turns out that these poults were actually 10 days old, and were eating and drinking well already. In my favor -- as I understand it is somewhat difficult to get them to this stage. At least we didn't have to find whether or not that was true.
A couple of days after getting the curious creatures home and into their horse tank brooder, I got an email from an acquaintance, wondering if I know anyone who needed some goslings. What kind, I asked??? Toulouse, I was told. A little research told me this would be a perfect bird for the dinner table, and soon 2 grey/green goslings were installed into the horse tank. At first, the goslings stayed on one end, the poults on the other, but soon, the poults found that the goslings were incredibly warm and soothing, with the end result being that the goslings were often buried under turkeys. When aroused, they shed turkeys like water with the droplets following them around until they settled down again. The geese grew at an incredible rate, it seemed doubling their size almost daily. I later found out that the initial growth of geese far outstrips any other kind of poultry.
(I would insert a picture here if I had one, but for some really odd reason, I didn't start taking any until they were older.)
These birds in general grew at such a rapid rate, that were were taking them outside much earlier than we were with our chickens. Of course, we got them later as well. While the chickens arrived on the scene the first part of April, these guys didn't come into our lives until the end of that month. So, they got to benefit from the greening of spring at an early age. They also rapidly outgrew the horse tank. The geese, especially, were really messy, with large volumes of runny poop that quickly fouled their ever smaller enclosure. I found myself cleaning them up daily, and fast tired of the routine. The chickens transferred out to the barn, and this group took over the wood and wire chicken tractor that we had so proudly designed and built earlier. This design was pretty basic, and seemed like a good idea at the time. This enclosure has served us well several times, but has a few drawbacks. See the Fauna Page for info on chicken tractors.
The next move up in enclosures was a 6' x 12' dog kennel that we found through, of course, Craig's List. It is amazing how many people get kennels for their dogs, only to find out that the dogs hate them. Then, they are for sale, usually pretty cheap. We got 2 of them during garage sale week for about $150 bucks. A steal. Every time we came up with a tractor idea, I was convinced this would be the final design. I have not been right yet, with this being an ever evolving process. I had been inspired by the move Mad City Chickens. In the "extra" section, the editor-in-chief of Mother Earth News showed ideas for easy to use-build chicken tractors. One that caught my eye was a dog kennel with wheels that was moved easily by just one person. OK!! Works for me. We got the kennels, found a junk lawnmower for the wheels, and I thought we were off. Only, we never did figure out how to attach the wheels to the kennel, and the junk lawnmower still sits out in the shed with all the other stuff we need to utilize or throw.
We put the kennel up in a nice green grassy protected area of the property, and proceeded to carry the group out in dog carriers several times a week. They loved their time out, and we provided the geese with their first swimming experience. And old Rubbermaid container that was just the right depth. Yay! A picture!!
As it had with their horse tank, the dog kennel became messy very quickly. Since we didn't have the wheels on, I had to get inventive, and realized that I could roll the kennel on some 2" pvc pipes that I had gotten long ago for some odd horse training activity. It worked! I could move the whole kennel by myself and get these guys out of their own mess relatively easily. We continued the carry all 8 birds back and forth for quite a while until the cages started getting too heavy. At that point, we decided that they were old enough to try staying outside. We covered the top of the kennel with a big tarp and hoped for the best. Even though we had wind and rain several times, they fared well, and our work load decreased some what. But still, we had to move the kennel. Until.... While shopping at the local Menard's I found some interesting looking mesh fence. It is called pocket fencing, and it has proved to be a wonderful way to fence in our flocks. It comes in 50' lengths, at least in the green color. (If you are ok with bright orange, it can be purchased in 100" rolls) We fenced in an area for them to roam, and this helped greatly with the mess. Now, we didn't have to move the kennel quite so often.
Eventually, there just wasn't enough room to move the kennel forward any more. Since the it was serving well as nighttime protection, we decided to try and utilize it as best we could. We moved it, intact, with the pipes and the help of our Kubota tractor and front end loader, near one of our outbuildings, where we had some nice grass and other vegetation. We set up the mesh fence, and things were ok for a few days. I found an old plastic sandbox on Craig's List for the geese, and the turkeys discovered they could fly out of the fencing. When they had been in a more vegetated area, they never got the idea there was anyplace else to go. Now, they were in the wide open, and the greener pastures became more visible.
After the daily escapes - with the end result being someone had to chase the offending turkey until it could be caught and thrown back over the fence - we gave up and just decided to see how things went with actual free ranging. It worked with the chickens - maybe with these guys??
Not the least of which was the proclivity of the turkeys to gravitate to certain high spots and just stay there.