Thursday, October 7, 2010

Talking turkey - question from email


Quick question. We have two royal palm toms. How many hens do you think we would need to keep them from fighting each other over them (currently they are running in a mixed flock with chickens, ducks and geese)? We had turkey hens before, but suspect that they were killing our hens. So we ate them (the turkeys). We have the ability to run the turkeys in a "pasture rotation" with some goats, and keep them away from the other poultry.
Background:  I raise a couple of hundred heritage breed turkeys each year for sale.  I do so in a single, large flock that is roughly 50/50, so I get a lot of time to see how turkeys in large flocks behave. 
Turkey hens and toms both have a pecking order that they maintain.  the toms and hens will carefully determine what the social order is, and they will enforce that order -- preventing lower ranking birds from eating or drinking, or occupying the best roosting places. 
If you introduce a strange tom or hen, that new bird will be challenged by just about every bird of the same sex, and if it goes on long enough, the flock can kill the new bird.  What the turkeys want to know is where the new bird fits, and every bird feels threatened by the new bird so feels the need to challenge it to resolve the question. 
So the basic premise of your question doesn't match my experience.    It's not that the two toms will stop fighting with one another if there are enough hens; they'll stop when they figure out who's #1 and who's #2.  The longest fights are when two turkeys are closely matched.   Adding hens won't change this. 
Running turkeys with chickens usually isn't good for the chickens.  The turkeys outweigh them, and turkeys form and hold grudges.  There's a rooster that my turkeys will attack on sight and they remember that particular bird and will pursue it.  The only solution that works for me is to either provide enough space that the birds can escape from the agressor turkey, or keep them seperate.   Turkeys will kill chickens, intentionally or accidentally. 
Turkey communication and chicken communication aren't the same.  So when a chicken has had enough and wants to surrender the turkey won't get the message and will continue to attack.  

1 comment:

Adam said...

Thanks Bruce!
I can see where the question was a bit poorly put together. The two toms are not fighting. It's pretty clear who is #1 and #2. Oddly they don't bother the chickens at all (they spend all their time strutting). My worry was that if we introduce some hen's, the toms might start fighting over them (it sounds like I am giving them too much credit for brains in that statement though)
Either way, we plan on running the turkey's separate from the other poultry, just to be safe. And from what you are saying, it sounds like we can probably keep them all together.
I appreciate your experience on this!