Raising Multiple Species in Your Backyard FlockMore and more people are adding a small flock of chickens, ducks, and other species of fowl to their own backyards, and for great reasons: fresh eggs, free fertilizer, and fewer bugs, to name a few. A common question, though, is this: Can multiple species, such as chickens and turkeys, coexist in the same space without causing problems?
The short answer is: Yes! At my household we have kept chickens for several years, but in the past year began adding ducks and turkeys to the mix. Today we have about fifteen chickens of various breeds, three ducks, and five turkeys. Although there are species-specific brands of feed out there, our flock all dine on the same pellets our chickens have always enjoyed, as well as the occasional fruit and vegetable scraps. Our birds are also completely free to roam the yard, and the majority of their diet comes from grass and insects consumed throughout the day.
The Bottom Line: Space
We haven’t had many issues with our birds fighting, but a major factor to that has been the fact that our birds are completely free range, fence free, and have about four acres of space. Those with smaller flocks will obviously not have this level of space requirement, but having enough room for your birds to separate to keep the peace will be very beneficial. At night, our chickens roost in the coop (and on top of our hay bales, sigh), the ducks go off to wherever they go at night, and our turkeys line up on a section of fence for the night. By day, our ducks and turkeys actually stick together – I’ll explain why later – and the chickens more or less keep to themselves unless food is presented. Occasionally the entire flock will come together in one area, particularly during rainy weather or if a hawk has been spotted. Any fights I’ve seen have been short-lived and are usually over food, but having a little extra space seems to be ideal.
Beware the Boys
Most chicken owners know that having more than one or two roosters is a big no-no, but my advice would be to use that rule for whatever type of backyard bird you decide to add to your flock. Getting chicks and ducklings can be a gamble, and you’ll inevitably end up with more males than you wanted from time to time. Last year we ended up with four drakes out of a batch of five ducklings, which ended up being a bit of a disaster. Once grown, the drakes banded together and regularly attacked our chickens, hens and roosters alike. I even caught them trying to drown a hen in the kiddie pond from time to time. We’re now down to two drakes, who spend most of their time following the duck hen around and protecting her, and thankfully our tom has never seemed to trouble himself with the smaller fowl. Our ladies will peck and squawk at one another now and then, but the yard is a much more peaceful place with fewer roosters and drakes around.
Despite the occasional squabble, having a multi-species flock has had a few great and unexpected benefits for our yard. If you’re hoping to hatch and raise chicks, a turkey hen is a great addition to your flock, and here’s why: Although turkeys lay far fewer eggs per year than most breeds of chicken or duck, they tend to go broody very easily and will sit on any eggs you put under her. Our lady has hatched two batches of eggs this year, and we had to stop her from sitting on a third.
Because our birds are completely free range, nests tend to pop up all over the place, but one advantage to this has been that all of our ladies will share one or two nests at a time. Not only does this make finding eggs easier, but it’s led to some interesting surrogate motherhoods. Our turkey raised a few of her own chicks, but also raised a handful of chickens and ducks at the same time! Even now, when our springtime chicks are grown, the duckling that was raised by turkeys still follows his adoptive siblings around the yard. Besides being adorable, this has probably led to a more peaceful backyard.
If you can give your flock the extra space and keep your male population to a minimum, adding multiple species to your backyard can lead to some unexpected benefits, not to mention interesting flock drama to watch from your porch. If you’ve been keeping chickens and wonder what it might be like to add some variety, my advice would be to give it a try!