Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Chickens and turkeys together?

Question: I noticed that you are raising chickens and turkeys. Do you do anything to protect from blackhead or have you never had any problems with it? Do you keep your flocks seperated...? I was thinking about adding turkeys to the mix but everything I have read says you can't keep them with chickens... but it seems like you should be able to.

Chickens, turkeys, and llamas check out
the overgrown and over-ripe squash that we gave them.
Answer: Although people ask all sorts of questions about our life out here, there are five or six questions that keep coming up again and again. The above question was just asked on Facebook, but I get emails through the website, people ask when they visit the farm, and others have also asked the question on the Antiquity Oaks Facebook page and right here on the blog.

The short answer is that yes, our turkeys and chickens live together, and no, we don't have any trouble with blackhead. Yes, I know that all the books tell you that your turkeys will contract blackhead from your chickens and die. I knew that before we decided to let them cohabitate, and yeah, I did it anyway -- just like I decided to raise the turkeys without drugs in their food and water, even though all the books also said they'd die without it.

All the books and antibiotics were not around a couple hundred years ago, and turkeys did not become extinct, so my theory is that we've lost some important knowledge about raising chickens and turkeys. When I was a little girl, I visited my grandparent's farm, and their chickens and turkeys ran around together.

Even though chickens can have blackhead, that does not mean that they do have blackhead. I only buy day-old poults from hatcheries that are certified free of all the common poultry diseases. I do not take in rescue chickens, unwanted roosters from backyard flocks, or any other adult chickens for any reason. I have no idea how common blackhead is among chickens, but I don't want to take any chances, because it's one of those diseases that chickens can carry without being sick themselves.

Another reason I feel comfortable with our chickens and turkeys living together is because they are not kept inside. They are free to roam across several acres, so instead of saying that each bird has one square foot of space, which is what those books tell you they need, our chickens and turkeys have hundreds of square feet of space per bird. So, if you want to keep your chickens and turkeys locked up in modern poultry housing, then it's probably not a good idea to have chickens and turkeys together, and you should probably be putting drugs in their water or giving them medicated feed. But, if you want to let them free range, then that changes things.

Another little fact you should know about heritage turkeys being given access to the outdoors is that they will often take full advantage of it and give in to their natural impulses -- which means roosting in trees. For years, we would rush out there near dusk to shoo the turkeys inside, so that they would not roost in trees. But after a few dozens times when we didn't get all of them inside, we realized that we were just giving ourselves an unnecessary job. It's never been a problem, even in the dead of winter when we have snow and ice, so I don't sweat it any longer.

There is no fool-proof method of raising chickens, turkeys, or any livestock. There will be drawbacks to every method chosen. Modern ag doesn't free-range poultry because it's too labor intensive, takes up too much real estate, and would include losses to predators, which would all reduce their bottom line. But my bottom line isn't about dollars and cents; it's about good food and getting a good night's sleep, knowing that my animals are healthy and happy, running, flying, eating bugs, and doing all the things that birds have done since the beginning of time.


LindaG said...

Thanks so much for this post!
My husband and I are planning on free ranging our chickens, turkeys, pigs and cows when we get them after we retire, and I really enjoyed reading your thoughts and experiences here.

Hope you're having a wonderful week.

Twwly said...

Ours were brooded together, out in separate tractors on pasture. Contrary to all the books also threatening death, everyone lived.

Corben said...

Thanks so much for this article. I kept reading over and over about the turkey apocalypse but it just didn't make sense. Surely people had kept turkeys and chickens at the same time in the past. Its so hard to find good information for people who don't want to treat their animals like a living factory.

The Talker said...

I've also heard that many think chickens and turkeys mixing in a pasture together is bad. However, I see Youtube videos of people doing this all the time, and it seems like the turkeys don't really care if there's chickens among them or not. Plus, those turkeys seem to be just fine in terms of health.

Also, someone said that it's possible that sticking a few turkeys out with your chickens supposedly helps deter predators (like foxes and hawks), as the predators might not want to fight a turkey head on, and that supposedly, the chickens will actually flee to the turkeys for protection if they're chased.

Joel said...

We are looking at growing out 20 turkeys to expand our small pastured poultry operation.

I know that Polyface starts their turkeys and chickens together and then separates them at some point.

Looking at details I'm curious how that works as far as feed goes. If we need to make 28-30% protein feed available to turkey chicks but only 20%ish feed available to chicken chicks, how do you reconcile that?

If I can figure out this hurdle I am excited to add turkeys this year.

Deborah Niemann said...

I have also heard that Salatin starts his chickens and turkeys together, but I don't know what he does as far as feed goes. I can tell you what we do ... we give them all 24% protein feed. However I would not recommend you do that if you have the Cornish Cross meat birds because of the problems they have with gaining weight too fast. If you have some pullets for future eggs, you could put them together. As far as brooding goes, however, you don't have to put them together. I know Salatin says he does this because the chicks teach the poults how to eat and drink. Keep in mind, however, that he is raising hundreds of poults. If you only have 20, you can take the time to dip each one's beak in the water as you put it into the brooder. We've never had any trouble with turkey poults learning to eat or drink.


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