Stock and Poultry Farming

(See also the Animal Husbandry page)

Poultry Farming

Poultry are domestically raised birds, and include common fowl (chickens and turkeys) and water-fowl (geese and ducks). I'll be writing mainly about chickens, although much of the material applies to other types of poultry as well.

picture of chickens
Picture of ducks

picture of geese
Picture of turkeys

Poultry farming is a very long-established industry, and has two separate fields, meat production and egg production. Several changes have occurred in the methods used for both of these.
Until about 1950, many birds raised for meat were given growth hormones to stimulate quicker and increased growth. But around that time it was found that similar growth rates could be achieved without this. It is now illegal to use growth hormones in most countries. Some medicinal treatments used in fowl raising have also been banned, some because they contained elements such as arsenic which could be present in both eggs and meat.

Picture of chickens in chicken coop
Chicken coop
Picture of battery hens in cage
Battery hens

In the olden days, chickens were raised in smaller groups, often as a family-affair Their main use was for the production of eggs, with the occasional one killed for eating. They also served as a handy disposal unit for food scraps and vegetable peelings. They were kept in "coops"which were large cages with wooden rails for the chickens to perch on at night, and water and food containers. There were also "nesting boxes" with straw in which laying chickens could lay their eggs. There was often an area of grass or orchard into which they were released during the day to forage for insects and other food. The coop helped protect the fowl from predators like foxes and hawks at night.
In recent years, several alternatives have been used, including "batteries" which consist of many small cages, each containing anything from three to twenty chickens with barely enough room to move around. Light is automatically controlled to maximise their egg production. Because their laying life only lasts for about two years, they are often killed and sold as meat after this period. An alternative used in some countries is "forced-molting" where food is withheld from the chickens for up to two weeks after they have ceased laying, causing them to enter a molting stage where they lose their feathers and other biological changes occur. When feeding is resumed, their egg-laying recommences, but usually at a lower rate than previously.
There is much controversy about the use of battery housing, and about forced molting, and some countries have banned both of these.
All modern chickens - of which there are over 350 recognized breeds - were bred from the Red Jungle Fowl, Gallus gallus of Asia; ducks were bred from the Mallard duck, Anas platyrhychus; geese came from the Greylag, Anser anser; and turkeys came from Meleagris, birds not from Turkey, as was originally thought, but from the Mexico area.

Hover your mouse over the pictures for more information about the chickens shown.

Picture of Rhode Island chickens
Rhode Island Red
Picture of Leghorn chickens
Picture of Orpington chickens
Picture of Australorp chickens
Picture of Dorking chickens
Picture of Silkie chickens, mostly ornamental these days

Stock Farming

Years ago, cattle and sheep were herded on horseback with the help of dogs. Trained dogs could do incredible things in response to whistles or shouts from the herder - a cowboy, drover or farmer. It was heart-warming to watch their interaction, and the dog often was treated like a member of the family.

Picture of Old English sheepdog

The Old English sheepdog was used for herding and also for guarding flocks, though later they became more popular as family pets or showdogs. They almost always had their tail docked, to prevent matting, but tail-docking is now illegal in many countries.

Cattle were taken out for grazing in a field during the day, then in the evening were brought in for milking and remained in shelter overnight. Milking was done by hand in the milking shed. The cow was placed in a stall to control its movement and the milker sat on a three-legged stool and "squirted" the milk into a bucket. The milk was then filtered and placed in large cans for transport.
In modern times herds are still tended on horses, although all-terrain vehicles, motorbikes, four-wheel drives and helicopters are also used. Farmers may employ breeders, vets, feeders, and milkers to assist with large groups of animals.
Milking is done with machines that extract the milk and then purify, cool and can it, saving the farmer many hours of work.
Farmers selected their animals for breeding by siring from their own stock or that of another farmer.
Artificial insemination and embryo transfer are often used today for breeding, giving higher breeding rates and improved genetics.

Picture of Border Collie dog
A border collie working sheep.
Picture of Border Collie resting
This border collie is having a breather after a heavy herding session.
Picture of German Shepherd (Alsation) dog
The German shepherd, or Alsation, has the size and skills to stop or turn stock in their tracks.
Picture of Blue Heeler dog
The heeler, or Australian cattle dog seems fearless and tireless as he coaxes cattle and sheep by nipping at their heels.
Picture of Kelpie dog
It's been said that Australia rides on the sheep's back, and this kelpie has taken this literally, as
he herds sheep into their pen.
Picture of Rough Collie dog
The rough collie is so-called for its long fur, although this is not particularly rough.

Sheep are herded in similar fashion to cattle, though the dogs act in different ways to control the much larger animals. The favoured dog in Australia, for both sheep and cattle is the Blue Heeler, or Australian cattle dog. The dogs' stamina is amazing to watch, as they run back and forth for hours on end to bring a herd from pasture into the shed.
Sheep shearing was always done with hand operated blade-shears, but today electric shears allow a sheep to be sheared much more quickly and with less risk of injury to the sheep or the shearer. Some shearers still prefer to use the hand shears, claiming that the buzz of the motor is unsettling to the sheep.

Picture of a sheep dip

Sheep usually had their tails "docked" to prevent infection from matting, and were "dipped" (totally immersed in a chemical solution) to prevent infection from flies. Docking is still carried out, but dipping is slowly being replaced with "backlining" - applying a line of chemical along the back, usually after shearing - or jet-spraying.
Tags were attached to the ear for identification. This later became compulsory, and plastic tags stamped with the sheep's number were used. It's now becoming more common for an electronic chip to be inserted, as this is more permanent and can contain much more information.
Another innovation was the introduction of "mulesing", which is the removal of folds of skin around the sheeps' rump, also to prevent infection. This is very controversial as it causes great discomfort for the sheep, and is now banned in most countries. I'm afraid Australia is one exception.

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