The Dutch Ranger is our response to creating an ethical Chicken breed. Unlike, most breeds meant for commercial production that have issues with growing so fast their legs, feathers, and hearts can’t keep up; the Dutch Ranger was bred from heritage and landrace breeds to grow slower so that they can live healthy Chicken lives!
In 10 weeks you can grow healthy 9-10 pound chicken, that forages great, has beautiful feathers, and delicious meat.
I officially kicked off the spring weather today by moving the chickens into the field netting. Now, they can run and play in the fresh air and sunshine, enjoy the green space, and have plenty of space to lay down.
I do live for the birds and I do see a different type of happiness in their eyes when they are out! =) They know they can run around, be adventurous, and find tasty bugs and grasses. Chickens raised on pasture enjoy higher levels of vitamins D and B as well as additional protein from their natural forages. Happier healthier birds helps us deliver a healthier, tastier bird at the table. It also benefits the fields as the chickens add nutrients to the soil and eat plenty of insects. I included a few photos of what they are doing so far in the pasture. At this point everything looks great. I will just move the fence to fresh grass every day to allow them to continue to live and grow.
Growing up near a turkey farm I had always thought of turkeys as dirty, dumb, smelly birds. Raising them has taught me that these birds are clean, intelligent, and loveable birds with better personalities and more emotional depth than first meets the eye.
1. Turkeys change color based on mood
A turkey’s neck and snood (little horn like bump on head) change colors based on the turkey’s mood and emotion. When excited or happy blue tones will begin to show on. When a turkey is angry the neck and snood will turn a bright red. A calm/content turkey will have a white neck/snood.
Turkeys are able to do this all thanks to a connective tissue called collagen. Blood vessels are surrounded by bands of collagen; when a turkey gets flustered, the blood vessels contract, exposing more of the collagen and in turn changing how light scatters and reflects off of the turkey’s skin, causing it to appear blue or white. It’s the same scattering effect that makes the sky appear blue but sunsets yellow or red. It’s also the reason that blood vessels appear blue beneath pale skin, even though the blood inside them is red.
2. Turkeys Purr
That’s not a cat you are hearing, its a turkey. Turkeys purr when they are calm and relaxed just like cats!
These days, farmers breed turkeys in order to sell them for their meat to the point that if not butchered in time the turkey can die from its own weight (bumblefoot, broken legs, heart attack, etc.) . But, according to Encyclopedia Britannica, up until 1935, the birds were bred for their “beautifully colored plumage,” which features stunning striped patterns.
5. Turkeys have unique voices
Individual turkeys have unique voices. This is how turkeys (and turkey keepers) recognize each other.
Turkeys are emotional birds that deserve more than factory farms are giving them. Local, free-range, organic, vegan-fed, and other labels do little to tell you about the welfare of the animal and the life it lived. Try to find a local farm that pasture raises their turkeys; take a quick look around while you are there and check out if you actually see turkeys or the equipment to raise them or do you see huge houses with thousands of turkeys.
Currently I do not sell or raise turkeys for meat; although, I am looking into raising these birds in a manner that will allow them to live healthy turkey lives. There are difficulties with turkeys though that modern farming systems do not address.
For many who get the chicken bug the day will come where the cute little turkeys at the feed store will infect them with the turkey bug. As a lifelong chicken tender the turkey bug bit me 5 years ago at Rural King in Butler PA. I had thought about it for years until I finally purchased them. Since then I have learned to appreciate the personalities and utility of turkeys and am going to share what I picked up along the way.
This isn’t a care article per say but after 5 weeks old my care for chicken’s and turkeys is identical. They get their own living quarters separate from the chickens these days but until we moved to the current farm they lived with the chickens. There is debate over co-habitation of turkeys and for 4 years I had zero issues (the rooster was mad the turkeys wouldn’t let him be top of the pecking order but luckily I’m writing this and not him). Be warned though that housing chickens and turkeys together can lead to Blackhead. Going from chickens as a hobby to running a chicken farm a lot changes in regards to biosecurity and keeping your ‘pets’ separate from your flocks is a topic that deserves much more detail.
Turkey chicks are finicky!!!
I had read that turkey chicks are finicky but I didn’t treat them any different than chickens as chicks. Within 48 hours I had 2 babies die and was super confused, I was doing everything right (or so I thought); I had a heat lamp, they had the proper chick waterers and feeders. Up to this point I had never truly looked at brooder temperature; I believed the birds would self regulate by getting closer to the lamp if cold and further away if warm but until I put them in my GFQ brooder versus my cute little brooder box I constructed I lost 1 a night (July in my non-airconditioned garage ~70’s F and no real drafts).
After placing the chicks in the GFQ start and grow no more chicks died. I am attributing it to the better temperature control than a standard heat lamp.
Meat Turkeys Aren’t the Best Selection For Pets
After my early Turkey mortalities I ended up with 3 turkeys that grew to adulthood. 2 turkeys that were a dual purpose breed. I was told they were golden turkeys but they turned out black with a gold sheen in the sun. 1 Broad Breasted Bronze turkey (I named her Hamburger); Hamburger was the biggest sweetheart. Her personality was unbelievable, she was practically a part of the family and would give turkey hugs all day. After I decided she was staying at Thanksgiving I began a calorie restricted diet by rationing feed; she could still forage anything she wanted but feed was restricted. This kept her weight down until year 3 when she must’ve gotten very good at foraging. From May to July she went from 22 – 37 pounds and unfortunately she did end up getting a leg injury.
Turkeys have a personality
Every chicken keeper will tell you that their chicken’s have personalities and they certainly do. However, turkeys have chicken personalities x5 and are very fun characters to be around. I have never raised a tom so I can’t comment on them (besides when my one turkey pretends to be a tom, pictured below).
You can tell a lot about how a turkey is feeling by their neck and snood, when happy you will see blues start to show, when upset they become a dark red.
Another thing, my turkey’s are very emotional. If I wake up late and don’t let them out until lunch I believe they get upset. They no longer follow me and Speedy has been hiding out somewhere overnight only on days I am late.
Before moving to the farm the turkey’s didn’t lay much, 2 weeks in July is all I would get. This year moving to the farm each turkey has laid ~5 days a week even now in December.
Our turkey eggs are basically XXL eggs, they are white with light little freckles if you look close. I have noticed no difference from chicken eggs besides size.
Do I Recommend Turkeys
While I recommend chickens to almost anybody with a yard I cannot recommend turkeys to everyone due to complexity of care, size, and the area needed to free roam.
Turkeys are not a beginner bird, they are harder to raise as chicks and thus far the only birds I’ve raised that had me weighing them monthly and having individualized meal plans.
Being a larger bird turkeys are harder to handle. I got my first chicken at ~3 years old and cared for her myself; I wouldn’t recommend turkey’s for children; everything is larger with turkeys feeder, waterer, yard, cage, etc.
If you don’t have a large yard I also would not recommend turkeys; I always raise free range and I believe everybody should. In my opinion 1 open acre is the minimum for turkeys and I wouldn’t go more than 10 turkeys per acre long term. I can say that having my 2 turkeys free range on over 50 acres vs 3 they had before I can see an improvement in their moods, feathers, and eggs. They no longer flock to people for food now they flock to the fields/woods and act much more like they would in the wild (I still spoil them).
The Silkie chicken is prized for it’s unique temperament and black skin/bones. A breed native to China, the Silkie is prized for its fluffy feathers and unique soft, fluffy hair-like plumage. Despite it’s fluffiness, the Silkie has a surprisingly good egg production while also being an excellent mother. Silkie chickens have long broken my heart as they have a very ‘pet’ like temperament yet are not great at avoiding predators with their temperament and crest obscuring their vision to blame.
The Rhode Island Red is a popular dual purpose breed with a very strong ability to avoid/survive predators on small farms, thus making it an excellent choice for a backyard chicken. They are notorious for their large size and good egg production making them a great choice for small farms. The Rhode Island Red’s temperament is typically very skittish at first; but you can gain their trust over time.
The two breeds are almost polar opposites; a skittish, dual purpose chicken and a friendly ornamental chicken. F1 crosses of this breed showed a lot of potential for the market and homestead.
The F1 Cross
I chose a very high egg producing female Rhode Island Red (2018 – 305 eggs, 2019 – 298 eggs) with a nice form and high survivability (she was the only chicken that escaped no matter what, I swear she would escape from Alcatraz) . The rooster was a White Silkie raised in New York until I bought him at Root’s Country Market Auction in Lancaster PA. He had a calm temperament, small-medium comb, and was a standard Silkie by all accounts.
3 F1 offspring hatched. One a cockerel, with typical RIR (Rhode Island Red) plumage, skin, and size and silkie temperament, slight crest, and comb.
Both females had RIR feathers and size along with silkie skin, crest, and temperament. Eggs were medium/large brown on a regular basis like the Rhode Island Red. Unfortunately, no long term egg data was able to be collected as predation problems resulted in the loss of both pullets. The Silkie temperament and crest of the birds may need to be selectively bred out if I want to continue to raise these birds on open pasture instead of a closed solution such as a range coop; the crest appears to hinder the bird’s ability to see aerial predators.
F2 and backcrosses have been made; however, right now this chicken is not ready for production. I believe the Rhode Island Red and the Silkie crossed can create a great chicken for the homesteader as a dark skinned, high producing bird could cater to specialty markets. I am going to continue to look into and refine these genetics focusing on the health of well being of the bird on pasture as well as suitability for the homestead.
Free-ranging chickens’ and allowing them to graze as nature had intended is always recommended over just keeping them in the coop. Chickens and any domestic bird will peak their productivity and health when they have a space to roam around freely. Healthy, happy, and natural birds are in our interest. Spring, summer, and fall months are easy. Let the chickens outside, provide them with some basic food and fresh water, safe overnight space in the coop, and the rest they will find on their own.
Winter months require more care and work to maintain the overall health of the flock. In some areas, the winters can be harsh, with the temperature not reaching above freezing point and a ground covered with snow most of the time. But even with mild winters, occasional frost, and a minimum of snow, chickens will require additional attention.
How much cold weather can chicken tolerate?
Chickens are very hardy birds by nature. With their body temperature around 106°F (41°C), chickens can withstand the external temperature down to 32°F (0°C) or even several degrees below that, but this should not remain their living conditions.
As any warm-blooded animal, chickens prefer the warmer conditions, ideally around 75°F (23°C).
Signs that a chicken is too cold?
If the temperature is uncomfortably cold, a chicken will show it by ruffling its feathers, tucking its head under the wing, and lifting one leg. Head and legs are at the most risk of freezing, so the chickens attempt to worm up those body parts. Roosters and breeds with a large comb, like Leghorn, are susceptible to getting frostbite, and a breeder needs to pay special attention to protecting them.
Coop condition during the winter
Unless there is deep snow, chickens will still run around the free-range area regardless of the temperature. Birds shouldn’t be restricted in their freedom for too long. Extremely bad weather, disease, and risk of predators are the only situations where keeping your chickens in a contained space is recommended.
The chicken coop needs to provide safety during those cold frosty days and nights. Avoid the draft by any means but have an air circulation enabled to prevent a buildup of ammonia from the manure; this is best achieved by having ventilation toward the coop’s roof, where it will not affect the birds. The floor should have some isolation in the form of wood shavings or straw. This will also prevent the risk of wet feet, which can lead to freezing. Enough natural or artificial light will keep bacteria away, and chickens will gladly spend more time inside.
Roosting bar or roosting surface in the coop will make a big difference. When it’s cold, chickens tend to roost close to each other, sharing their body temperature and warming up each other.
Chicken feed during the winter.
With the lack of greens and insects that free-range chickens find during warm months, chicken feed must be supplemented with extra proteins, minerals, and vitamins over the winter. The best solution is pellet food which contains all the necessary ingredients.
Food and water must be placed inside the coop. When the outside temperature doesn’t go above freezing point, water must be checked several times a day and defrost if it turns into ice. A water warmer can be used to heat the water if needed; these generally run on electricity and consume ~300 Watts.
There is no fear of winter as long as chickens have a proper coop, food, and water. Free-ranging will be beneficial to birds’ spirit, vitality, and overall quality of life. With all of these requirements met, don’t be surprised if you find plenty of eggs even during the harsh winter months because that’s what happy chickens do.
Stella Manor is a small, family-owned farm in Avonmore PA. Our goal is to provide the high quality products we would like to see available everywhere — locally grown or produced without cutting corners! Three generations working side by side to deliver the best of our region to your home.
Traditional family values of honesty, integrity and hard work form the foundation of our family doing business in the region for 60 + years.
Our products are for sale at our on-farm shop, via email [email protected] or telephone call at (724) 204-1674. We also do on-farm pick ups in Avonmore Pennsylvania throughout the week.
Currently our turkeys are on pasture and chickens are almost ready to be brought out of the brooder. Winter cover crops and wildlife food plots are starting to grow. Stay tuned for updates!
We will be updating our website and facebook page as well as instagram.