Chickens, turkey hens, and ducks all waiting for a snack.
You might be interested in reading my post “How to Raise Turkeys.”
Can You Keep A Mixed Flock With Chickens & Turkeys?
When I first started keeping chickens I knew I eventually wanted to raise heritage turkeys and ducks too (and maybe some Guinea fowl…and geese). Keeping breeding stock of heritage turkeys was high on my to do list, because buying poults each year isn’t very self sufficient. Since I have limited space in my barn/garage, all birds would need to be housed together for at least part of their lives. However, I had read cautionary articles on the transmission of diseases between species and I was concerned.
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The normal color of a turkey’s head will change with ‘mood,’ but won’t turn very dark, as with Blackhead disease.
One serious problem is Blackhead disease in turkeys and everything I read suggested that you shouldn’t keep turkeys and chickens together. Histomoniasis, or Blackhead disease , is caused by a parasite (a protazoan carried by cecal worms) that may infect poultry. Turkeys are especially suceptible to the disease and may display symptoms such as:
- decreased appetite
- increased thirst
- dark discoloration of the head (may not affect all sick turkeys)
- wet, yellowish stools
- ruffled feathers
Storey’s Guide to Raising Poultry instructs their readers that turkeys may be kept on the same property as other fowl, but to always keep them in separate pens and coops and to separate birds by age to reduce, but not eliminate, risks.
Something I found interesting, as I researched the subject, is that turkeys can be infected by consuming earthworms, even if there are no chickens in their pen. So, unless you are keeping your turkeys in an earthworm-free environment, they can still contract the disease. It does sound like the odds are increased when they are kept with other poultry, however.
My Experience With Turkeys and Chickens Kept Together
Although I was cautious about keeping different species of birds together, I read a comment on a homesteading forum from a woman who does just this. She claimed that putting acidified cooper sulfate in their drinking water will worm the whole flock, preventing the parasites that cause Blackhead disease. Even better, she said that you can eat the eggs from your flock during this treatment. I was intrigued.
Although I didn’t find any more information about this treatment and it’s effectiveness at that time, I decided to keep turkeys and chickens together. Call me adventurous. I’ve been using acidified copper sulfate to worm my flock on a regular basis (several times a year and if any signs of worm infestations occur). I’ve had no issues with Blackhead disease in my turkeys. However, I don’t think that my two (non-consecutive) years of experience is conclusive evidence that this works.
Update: I kept turkeys in the same pen as my chickens on and off over 4 years with no sign of blackhead disease. As I write this in April of 2018, I do not have any poultry. I have am planning to order chickens and turkeys to arrive this month and will try this again.
I recently found more information when I read the following description for Acidified Cooper Sulfate in a large Hatchery’s catalog… (this description can no longer be found on their website. I don’t know if it was removed for liability reasons, or if there is new evidence suggesting that this treatment is not effective enough for them to keep the information on their site.)
Blackhead disease can be a problem in turkeys, chukar, grouse, quail, partridge, pheasants, and peafowl but rarely in chickens. Chickens are often the carriers, thus the benefits of segregating birds by species as well as age. Caused by a protozoan, the symptoms include: increase thirst, decrease appetite, drowsiness, weakness, yellowish-brown, watery, or foamy droppings and the birds may become very thin. Pale yellow droppings in turkeys is almost always a sign of blackhead. Birds contact the disease by eating earthworms which contain the cecal worm or by ingesting droppings from infected birds. Dosage 1/4 tsp per gallon of water. Poultry should be over 3 weeks of age. This medication must be administered in glass or plastic waterer.
(OK to eat eggs during treatment with these antibiotics.)
They do still have the medication available for purchase.
(I purchased my acidified copper sulfate from Efowl.com. Not an affiliate link.)
One of the baby turkeys and some young chickens in my brooder room.
Separating By Age and Species
I have a main chicken coop with a room off one side that allows me to keep young birds separate from my adult flock. This is great! But I often have several hatches during the spring, making it necessary to keep various ages and species of young birds together in the brooder room or move some out into the main coop when they are 2 or 3 months old. I’d like to have the facilities to keep birds separate until they are adults. This summer we are hoping to build some ‘tractors’ to raise the youngsters outside. It’s all a work in progress.
So far I’ve had pretty good results raising my mixed breed/mixed age flock together. The tom turkey will peck the other birds and cause a commotion at times, but for the most part they all get along quite well.
Note: Before you put chickens and turkeys together in the same pen, check to see if Blackhead disease is prevalent in your area. If it is, I would not recommend keeping chickens and turkeys in the same pen. Also, if you decide to keep a mixed species flock, you do so at your own risk. I am sharing my experience keeping chickens, turkeys, and ducks in the same flock. You may have a very different experience.
Do you keep a flock of mixed species and ages? Have you ever had issues with disease? I really enjoy learning from my readers, so please leave a comment!
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