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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!