Backyard Poultry Magazine Feature
5R Farm is named after our first five backyard chickens - Rhoda, Raquel, Rosie, Ruby, and Ramona - that led us to the small farm life that we live today. My husband and I moved from a house in the city to 4.5 acres of rural property in St. Helens, Oregon several ago. One of the first things on the to do list was to build a large chicken coop. I was bitten by the crazy chicken lady bug, and there were so many chicken breeds that I wanted to add to the flock. It wasn’t long before we had a beautiful flock of mostly heritage breed chickens, and a few other breeds added just for fun. Over the years our flock has included Rhode Island Red, Barred Plymouth Rock, and Black Australorp for their reliable egg production; Welsummer, French Black Copper Marans, and Easter Eggers to add to our egg rainbow; Speckled Sussex to add eye candy to the flock; Delaware and Silver Gray Dorking for their dual purpose egg and meat bird qualities; and Silkies and other bantams for their sweet personalities and entertainment value. Most of our chickens were soon given names, and my idea of raising a few heritage meat birds quickly flew out the window! We currently have about 30 chickens in our flock, and they are all pets that supply us with plenty of eggs for ourselves, friends and family. We typically have four or five roosters on the farm. One of the things I love about living in the country is the serenade of roosters in the morning, and I know the sound of everyone’s crow by heart. Roosters are great flock protectors, and they also add beauty, fun, and a bit of craziness to the farm.
After several years of chicken keeping, I decided to add more chaos to my life and get turkeys. I had read that if you liked chickens, you would love turkeys, and I have found that to be very true. I decided upon a heritage breed, Narragansett, because I wanted to raise turkeys, and the broad breasted non-heritage turkeys that are the mainstay of Thanksgiving dinner cannot reproduce naturally. In my research, I found Narragansett turkeys described as a relatively calm mid-size heritage breed that makes good mothers, so it seemed like a good choice for our farm. Initially I had planned to keep one tom and two turkey hens and let them hatch and raise poults every year, which would provide a few for the table and a few to sell. Every year we let the turkeys hatch and raise poults, and we process our own Thanksgiving turkey here on the farm, so that has gone according to plan. However, I soon fell in love with their big personalities and their fascinating flock dynamics, and we now have a permanent flock of eight turkeys. Turkeys lay big beautiful speckled eggs that are about a third larger in size than the largest chicken eggs. Our turkeys lay lots of eggs from late March into October, and we eat turkey eggs just like we eat chicken eggs - they have big beautiful orange yolks and are delicious.
People ask me if keeping turkeys is similar to keeping chickens, and the answer is yes and no. Turkeys have a lot of the same basic needs as chickens, but if turkeys had a motto it would be “Go Big or Go Home”. Turkeys do everything in a big way, and they will definitely add plenty of excitement to your life to put it mildly! We keep our turkeys in a mixed flock with chickens, but I would recommend only doing this with chicken breeds that have strong personalities. Our Marans and Gold Comets do well with the turkeys. Heritage turkeys tend to be very healthy birds, but be sure to research whether blackhead disease is a problem in your area before deciding to keep turkeys in an area where chickens are kept. Our turkeys do not sleep in the coop with the chickens, instead they prefer to sleep outside on a six-foot tall roost. They sleep outside all winter long, even if it’s raining or snowing. Turkeys are remarkably hardy birds, and their feathers will keep them warm and dry even when the weather is miserable. Our turkeys will take shelter from the bad weather during the day, but at night they go back onto their roost. Our turkey yard is surrounded by a four-foot tall electric poultry netting fence, which keeps out the larger four legged predators. We have bald eagles, hawks, and owls here, but we have not lost any turkeys to these predators. Turkeys are extremely alert and by having a larger flock there is always someone on watch to give the alarm call should a threat be spotted. Turkeys are much noisier than chickens, and they are constantly announcing the arrival of anyone and anything, whether it be the mail carrier, an overhead plane, the neighborhood deer, or something harmless left out of place in the turkey yard such as a rake or a pair of gloves! Turkeys love to forage and explore, so give them as large an area as you can, and be prepared to fall in love with these charismatic birds.
To learn more about Ringo, Dear Prudence, Pumpkin Pie and the rest of our turkey flock, follow me on Instagram @5rfarmoregon.