Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mixing chickens and turkeys in the barnyard

I got this question in email from Mary:

"...I am suddenly in possession of 26 Cornish x AND 5 Naraganset chicks. I think I remember reading that you have raised chicken and turkey chicks together. Have you or did I dream this? Can I feed everyone turkey starter? It will be well nigh impossible for me to raise them separately for several weeks. Thanks for any advice you can offer - Mary "

There are quite a few warnings on the internet about mixing chickens and turkeys; most state that there's a contagion problem -- that diseases that chickens can carry without being harmed are fatal to turkeys, the most common example being "blackhead disease".

This is a concern, but for me it hasn't ever been a problem. I've mixed turkeys and chickens on a free-range system for years. It might be that I'm lucky, or that I run a closed flock, but either way, for me, I'm going to say that I don't worry about it.

There are two places that I've had trouble mixing chickens and turkeys; one is in the brooding phase, when I've got the birds under heat lamps. Chickens are much more oriented sooner than turkeys, and will pick on the turkeys when they're a few days old, and sometimes wound or kill them. Watch for feather picking and wounds, particularly on the turkey wings. Once the chickens start pecking the turkeys you must separate them.

Later, when they're older, the turkeys are a lot bigger and more aggressive than the chickens. This means that they'll attack the chickens to drive them away from feeders or waterers and will pick fights with the roosters (and mostly win those, too. A turkey hen is more than a match for a rooster, and a turkey tom is even bigger)

So what I have to watch for is that the chickens and turkeys both have an area where they can hang out and that they have enough space that they can spread out and not be in each others vision all the time.

In a small coop a pallet set up vertically provides a visual barrier so that the offending birds can get out of sight of the aggressor birds. Chickens and turkeys operate literally on "out of sight, out of mind".

Nutritionally the turkeys REQUIRE a higher protein feed (20-30% protein) than the chickens do. Most chick starter feeds meet this requirement. But what a lot of people do is to put the turkeys on a layer ration at 6 weeks, as they would their chickens. At 6 weeks a chicken is about half grown. A heritage turkey, is about 10% into its growth. I've found to get a good weight bird by end of season that I have to feed a higher protein feed for 2 to 3 months. After that I can switch to a lower protein mix -- game bird grower, for instance. Feeding higher protein rations to chickens for longer doesn't harm the chickens.

What I just said in the paragraph above is for heritage turkeys. Broad breasted turkeys grow faster than heritage birds, and the main problem that people have with giving them all the feed that they want is huge turkeys. a 50lb turkey won't fit in your oven. I solve this by buying my broad-breasted turkeys late in the season -- may or june, and aiming for a 16-20lb bird by thanksgiving. A heritage bird tops out at 16, with an average being 10-11lbs.

Hope that answers your questions.


Anonymous said...

Huge help - thanks Bruce.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bruce,

You know, I've had my chickens and turkeys run on the same free range ground on the farm as well and without incident. I even raise them in the same brooder house though not at the same time.


Screavic said...

I think raising turkeys & chickens together would be good if you had the land where they didn't see each other everyday. It's kind of like raising roosters together, if you have the land where they can each have their own area it would be alright but if you put them in a small pen they will fight all the time. Each person will have their own experience too. I have had roosters that I had to get rid of because they were just too mean, I gave them to another farm and they are great protectors from predators. Like the saying goes "To each his own"

Unknown said...

Ive raised turkeys in the past, and always in a mixed flock. This year I decided to try Bourbon Reds. I love the birds but they seem more aggressive than any turkeys I've ever had. The males band together like wolves and over the last several days they have almost killed a duck they got cornered in the electronet, and this morning they had a Barred Rock hen that they attacked for no reason and would have taken apart if I had not been standing there. So at this point they are totally "free range" and have been removed from the pasture pens. I'm thinking its probably because these young jakes are maturing. My question is, do you think they will get past this? I had planned on keeping a pair or trio to breed with next year. But not at the expense of my other birds.

Alishia Buhr said...

I have chickens and turkeys, well only 3 black hens are pecking all the feathers off my turkeys, 1 male, 1 female. Mainly male, he does nothing back. Bit the hen eats the turkeys feathers, I don't know what the deal is, but I was going to take the 2 turkeys and place with my 2 male ducks, all from spring 2015, and my rooster is a bantam, little guy. What do I do?