Raising Turkeys with Chickens – Is it a Good Idea?

Benefits And Pitfalls Of Raising Turkeys And Chickens Together

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Raising turkeys with chickens has been discouraged for years, but despite that, many homesteaders are going back to a mixed flock approach. There are some excellent benefits to keeping a mixed flock, but there are some serious bird health hazards associated with it as well.

The ultimate question a flock owner needs to answer is, what are the risks and do the benefits outweigh them? Let’s give you the information you’ll need to make that decision, and a few tips in case you decide that raising turkeys with chickens is for you.

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Raising Turkeys with Chickens

Many people who wind up raising turkeys with chickens do so accidentally, or coincidently as it may be. I’ve been raising turkeys with chickens for years now, but I never planned on doing so, it just kind of happened that way.

You may have pardoned a turkey from the Thanksgiving processing line, decided you wanted to try turkey eggs, or only wanted a new living yard decoration. Regardless of the reasoning or situation, anyone who plans on raising turkeys with chickens needs to come to terms with the potential health risks.

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Black Head

Unlike when keeping goats with chickens, chickens and turkeys can share diseases. When raising turkeys with chickens, histomoniasis, also known as blackhead disease, is a concern. Blackhead, named after the dark coloring of the face it causes, is a disease that both chickens and turkeys can contract.

Turkeys are highly susceptible to black head, unlike their chicken counterparts. Any turkey infected with the disease is likely to die from it, and little can be done without the guidance of a veterinarian.

Origins of Black Head

Much like coccidiosis, histomoniasis is a disease caused by a protozoan (microscopic) parasite. This parasite, called Histomonas meleagridis, lives in infected earthworms and cecal worms. When a bird ingests one or the other, they become infected. Chickens will usually become reservoirs of infection, spreading the parasite throughout the flock.

Avoiding Infection

Poultry veterinarians and scientists alike will tell people to segregate their turkeys from their chickens. Additionally, you should not range turkeys in areas that have seen contact with chickens within the last three years. If you’re raising turkeys for meat, then by all means, follow these wise words of caution.

For those of us who want to keep a pet turkey with their chickens, be sure you introduce mature turkeys into your chicken flock. Young turkey poults are fragile, and an infection of histomoniasis is usually fatal. If you do have blackhead in your flock, mature turkeys have a better chance of surviving an infection.

Regional Considerations

Black Head is not necessarily widespread. A good start, if you are considering raising turkeys with chickens, is to call your state veterinarian. Ask your state vet if histomoniasis is prevalent in your area. Blackhead tends to be a regional issue, unlike Coccidiosis and other more common ailments.

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Social Benefits

I’ve found that raising turkeys with chickens is a socially beneficial proposal. Both turkey hens that I’ve pardoned over the years have melded with my outdoor chicken flock swimmingly, accepting the roles of surrogate mother, predator lookout, and peacekeeper.

Even the most ornery of roosters will bow to a bird four times its size, especially when that bird has the muscle mass to toss them around. My turkey hens have broken up rooster fights, quelled aggression between hens, and even played surrogate mom to young additions to the coop.

Coops

Just like if you’re asking, Can chickens and ducks live together?, or Can I keep different chicken breeds together?, the answer is yes, but with some coop caveats. If you’re going to be raising birds of various sizes and physical abilities together, you’ll want to reconsider the design of your coop.

Turkeys, even the petite varieties, are considerably larger than your average chicken. Your chicken coop was likely not designed with an extra large bird, like a turkey, in mind. Turkeys may not fit through your chicken door, they have a hard time climbing chicken ladders like many ducks, and high doorways are sometimes insurmountable for these birds.

If you are building your coop and want to accommodate a turkey-sized bird, be sure the bird door is close to the ground, no more than six inches above grade, and does not include a kick plate to hold in your bedding. Turkeys, especially the larger breeds, can’t jump or fly well. Plan accordingly.

Other Benefits

Turkeys are an unusual bird. Both birds I’ve kept as pets have had distinct individual personalities, been entertaining at best and incredibly obstinate at their worst. They add an interesting dynamic to the experience of keeping poultry at home, and the eggs are fantastic! I’m quite partial to turkey egg omelets, to be honest.

Do you keep turkeys with your chickens? Have you ever had an issue with blackhead? Let us know in the comments below!

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Comments
  • My husband decided this was a good year to try having turkeys. We’ve had chickens for 10 years now and love them! So, Hubby brought home to itty bitty turkeys, we added them to our flock. His idea was to harvest them for Thanksgiving. Heavy sigh. That was in February 2017. We ended up LOVING them, feathered dogs, right? But we have kept to our schedule and harvested Tom, we are keeping Tomacena for eggs…The turkeys taught our new hens that they could walk outside when it’s raining or snowing, nothing to fear…our older gals stay inside. The turkeys saved our other girls from a hawk attack…was incredible to watch! I was stunned. They are BIG eaters so you have to really plan for that. I feel it was a wonderful experience and I am sad Tom is no longer with us but we still have Tomacena. Tom made the most amazing sounds…he cooed when we fed him and gobbled when the trash truck went by, hated loud noises and followed us around like a dog. He was cool. Heart broken. Never again. I highly recommend integrating turkeys with chickens…it pretty entertaining.

    Reply
    • If you enjoyed the tom turkey and it broke your heart to kill him then why did you?

      Reply
  • Grampa M.

    we tried raising turkeys once they are a most stupid bird. every noise would send them into a pile and one or two would die. an animal walk by and they pile up. they see another bird down and they kill it. we didnt know what we were doing and never tried again
    Grampa

    Reply
  • We have raised turkeys along with our chickens for over 10 years and never had an issue. We love our flock!

    Reply
  • I never keep turkeys with chickens or on the ground until after the first frost

    Reply
  • We keep two turkey hens with our chickens (and one rooster, who bosses everyone). One of the turkeys is somewhat aggressive with the chickens but the other is docile, the egg sitter, and wants to be petted and carried around. She’s a hoot 🙂 We also free range all of them in the 1/2 acre garden. No health issues so far!

    Reply
  • Got a couple of turkeys in a homesteaders package. Female did not last long, snake got here I am afraid. Male (Goobles) was very nice to me, however he was too much for my hens. I resettled him with a family with just turkeys and he was very happy. Even rode on a float in a Thanksgiving parade in a nearby community. I loved to see him(as I called it) make a bush and set down beside me.

    Reply
  • I have a pair of Narragansetts, one male Blue Slate, and one female Royal Palm turkeys with my flock of about 25 chickens. The turkeys act as MP and curtail cock fights b4 they get started. It is amazing to watch; they corral one of the roosters until the other walks away. Since I bought straight run chicks, I have about 10 roosters! But all seem to cooperate with the turkeys. We haven’t gotten any turkey eggs yet, but we get about a dozen chicken eggs a day. Starting to get quite cold here; we’ve installed a flat screen heater which keeps the coop at about 40- 50 degrees. They also love having the radio play continuously; as an added benefit I think it keeps predators away. Love chicken & turkey farming.

    Reply
  • Jennifer D.

    I had turkeys penned with my Guinea fowl. No problems with them together. Then one day a friend visiting left the interior chicken door open and they got into the turkey pen in the barn . They were getting along just fine so I thought I’d move them back later. So I went about my farm chores thinking I get to it tomorrow, but tomorrow hasn’t come and they’re still out there happily in the same pen. The Guinea fowl are somewhat aggressive toward the turkeys right now.

    Regarding blackhead someone gave me some chickens that unbeknown to me were infected with blackhead. They all died and was lucky they didn’t infect my whole flock. Now I have the policy of scrutinizing any fowl entering my farm and if I find a bird with blackhead I humanely destroy the ird and dispose of it properly. Someone told me that it would be safe for my dogs to eat but I don’t know and didn’t feed it to them. Why run the risk? When I move to my new farm, they will free range separately, if possible. And by the way my Guinea fowl eggs are my favorite! Next is quail, chicken. Have eaten goose, duck, and turkey eggs. Goose eggs least favorite.

    Reply
  • I have raised Midget White turkeys with my chickens with no problems. Today however my Midget White tom was chasing my big Brahma rooster. The rooster was keeping ahead of the tom and was not too concerned. I decided to nip that behavior in the bud, picked up my old “outside” broom and joined in the chase…I finally caught up with the tom and swept him aside and distracted him long enough for the rooster to get lost in the flock. No turkey was harmed in this adventure as I just used the broom sweeper part. lol

    Reply
  • My husband decided to rescue a year-old turkey from a scruffy farm. They said the two male birds were scrapping and this one had to go. Just did take him. The kid wrested him to the ground and we put him in a dog kennel for the ride home. Well, he turned out to be the sweetest guy. He’s a bronze and very beautiful. The chicken door was enlarged and Chester has his own room. There’s a platform and a thick roost for him. He caught on to that right away. He has no problems with chickens except when they steal his food. We think he’s wonderful and he thinks so himself. A dog with feathers was a good description. He doesn’t like his turkey food, but eats chicken lay pellets, sunflower seeds, and hen scratch. He and the girls have a half acre to range and they are quite happy with life.

    Reply
    • that is so sweet, I love it when every thing goes well, animals are so worth while.

      Reply

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