Many people successfully raise chickens and turkeys together. And it is certainly possible to do so. However, it may come with some challenges.
It is best to mount different sizes of roosting bars in the coop when raising chickens and turkeys together. Turkeys raised for meat require different feed than laying hens. It is recommended to avoid raising them together in areas where blackhead disease might be a problem.
Raising chickens and turkeys on the same homestead can be a great idea. Both can be great additions to your livestock concern. However, while there can be benefits to raising them together at certain stages and in certain ways, there can also be major downsides. Most of the potential problems revolve around behaviors, diseases, and different nutritional needs.
Is it a Good Idea to Raise Chickens and Turkeys Together?
When deciding whether or not it is a good idea to raise chickens and turkeys together, the first thing to think about is what you mean by ‘together.’ Some homesteaders may raise both chickens and turkeys on their property but may decide to keep them separate at all stages in their lives. Others may keep chickens and turkeys together from the outset and throughout their lives. Yet others may integrate their chickens and turkey flock only at specific times and in specific ways.
In my opinion, if you decide to raise both types of birds, the third way is the best way. Chickens and turkeys should be kept separately at times but perhaps allowed access to the same free-range forage areas at certain times.
One caveat, however, involves areas where a disease known as Histomoniasis or Blackhead Disease is prevalent. There are certain diseases that can pass between chickens and turkeys, and this is, in some areas, one of the more common. In areas where this is a concern, I would advise that you should think very carefully before rearing these different types of poultry together. You should be able to find out from a local veterinarian or county extension whether or not Blackhead disease is an issue in your area.
Chickens will often be asymptomatic with this disease, but to turkeys, this disease can often be deadly, especially in young birds. The disease can therefore spread in a chicken flock without your knowledge and pose a threat to your turkeys. So it is important to bear this in mind when deciding whether or not to raise chickens and turkeys together.
As you will see below, aside from disease, there are a number of differences in care and requirements, which means that it is not ways a good idea to raise chickens and turkeys together. Read on to find out more and to decide whether doing so is the right decision for you and how much integration you should opt for with these species on your property.
The Pros of a Shared Coop for Chickens and Turkeys
The first thing to consider is whether you should have a shared coop for your chickens and turkeys. It is possible to house turkeys and chickens together, and this can have certain benefits. But there are a number of things that you must bear in mind in order to design and create accommodation that will suit both species.
One pro of having a shared coop for chickens and turkeys is that when the two types of bird bed down together, you will not have to go to the effort and expense of creating two separate areas for them to retire to at night.
In a warmer climate, where there is a secure run area, turkeys will generally prefer to roost outdoors. But those keeping their birds in tougher climates and who can experience more severe weather conditions, it will usually be necessary to provide turkeys with some undercover roosting area. Not providing an indoor roost for turkeys can also leave them more vulnerable to predation.
Letting the turkeys share with the chickens means that you will not need to worry about creating a separate accommodation space.
Another thing to consider is that introducing turkeys to a chicken flock in a coop can help in solving behavioral issues among the flock. Turkeys are far more ‘zen’ than chickens. They can sometimes serve to settle the hens down and make them less flighty.
When hens must be confined to a coop, turkeys in the mix can help prevent bullying issues and maintain an equilibrium. The turkeys can serve as mediators of sorts in chicken conflicts. They can break up fights with hens struggling to establish a pecking order. And have even been known to get unruly roosters under control.
The Cons of a Shared Coop for Chickens and Turkeys
While keeping hens and turkeys in the same coop can work well, it is important to remember that these are different birds with different needs when it comes to their space requirements and roosting needs.
Many of the issues that can crop up when turkeys and chickens are in a shared coop arise because their different needs have not been taken into account.
Designing a Coop to Raise Chickens and Turkeys Together
The first thing to think about, of course, is that turkeys are much larger birds than chickens. Of course, this means that you will have to think carefully about how much roosting space is required for the birds. And also about the size of access hatches or doors on the coop.
Chickens typically require 2-3ft (0.18 – 0.28 sq m) minimum coop space per hen. Turkeys will typically need a little more space—around 6 sq ft (0.55 sq m) per turkey from 2 months to adulthood.
But the more important thing to bear in mind is that turkeys will need wider roosting bars. A chicken should ideally have a roosting bar that allows them to roost with their feet flat on roosting bar, and their feet should be entirely covered by their feathers during the night. Turkeys, with their larger feet, will need a wider bar of 2×4 or ideally 2×6 so that their feet do not stick out. When their toes stick out, there can be a risk of frostbite in colder climate zones.
Turkeys, which naturally roost in trees, will usually prefer a roost that is at least 6ft up. So care should be taken to provide roosts that they can use safely and which allow them to indulge in their natural behaviors as much as possible.
Another thing to remember is that turkeys must be able to easily get into your coop accommodation through the door and will struggle to climb a typical chicken ladder. Remember that they have a hard time with high access points and will need a door that is close to the ground or at ground level. Ideally, access should be no more than 6 inches or so above grade. Turkeys, especially larger breeds, do not jump or fly well, so it is important to plan accordingly.
Remember, turkey nesting boxes will have to be scaled up too. Allow for one nesting box per around 4 turkey hens, and make sure each one is an absolute minimum of 24 inches (60 – 61cm) high, 24 inches (60-61 cm) deep, and 18 inches (45-46 cm) wide.
In certain cases, you may be able to retrofit an existing chicken coop to accommodate turkeys too – but this will not always be possible. So you may have to start from scratch to create a coop that is really suitable for both species.
It can often be the best option to create two separate areas of roosting chickens and roosting turkeys. Turkeys generally prefer the open air, so depending on the climate and conditions in your area, an open-sided roosting structure for the turkeys may be best.
By having two separate coops/ roosts for chickens and turkeys, it can often be easier to meet their basic needs in terms of their accommodation. And prevent any potential problems from cropping up.
The Pros of Raising Chicks and Young Turkeys in a Brooder Together
One pro to raising chicks and young turkeys in a brooder together is that both species require similar brooder temperatures. This means that less equipment might be required in order to set up your rearing systems.
On the positive side, also, poults brooded with chicks will learn to eat and drink more readily because they will follow the more precocious chicks and will learn from them.
One other thing to note is that a broody hen may be used to hatch turkey eggs. A committed broody hen will have to sit for longer than usual on the eggs since turkey eggs take 28 days to hatch, while chicken eggs take just 21. However, it has definitely been known for a hen to sit turkey eggs successfully. Hens can also be great mothers and will teach turkey chickens well.
The Cons of Raising Chicks and Young Turkeys in a Brooder Together
However, the cons of raising chicks and young turkeys together in a brooder mean that, generally, it is not considered to be a good idea.
The first issue is the difference between the two types of young. Chicks are lively and active right out of the egg. But turkeys, on the other hand, are much more sedate and fragile. The more flighty and, sometimes, aggressive young chickens can trample or peck young turkeys. This can make it less likely that turkeys will thrive. And fragile baby turkeys might not make it if brooded alongside their more robust and obstreperous cousins.
Another issue is that the nutritional requirements for chicks and young turkeys are different. They cannot be fed the same food. So it can be logistically impractical to keep them in the same brooder. A typical chick starter will not contain the proper amount of protein for baby turkeys. Turkeys will typically require a higher level of protein during this early stage of their growth – especially if they are being raised as meat birds.
Chicks are typically fed an 18-24% protein feed, while turkey poults typically have a 24-30% protein feed to give them a good head start.
So, for safety and for logistical reasons, it is usually the best option to brood chicks and turkeys separately, rather than trying to raise them in the same brooder.
Feed Considerations When You Raise Chickens and Turkeys Together
Another thing to think about is that it is not just baby chicks and turkeys that have different feed requirements. Turkeys are usually raised for meat, and when they are, they are generally kept on a high protein diet.
That high protein diet typically will not be suitable for chickens. Laying hens need much less protein and more minerals and nutrients (calcium etc.) to remain productive and healthy year-round. And meat chickens that consume a feed meant for turkeys will grow too fast, which can cause a range of health issues such as skeletal problems and problems with internal organs like the lungs and the heart.
If, however, you are not plumping up turkeys for the table, and they are being kept for other reasons, they may do just fine with a chicken layer feed.
Finally, you also need to think carefully before introducing male turkeys to a chicken flock. Male birds may try to mate with chicken hens, which can cause injuries. As turkeys are much larger, even when we are talking about smaller breeds, they can hurt and have even been known to accidentally kill hens by attempting to mate with them. Female turkeys will typically be far easier to integrate successfully.
However, older Tom turkeys can sometimes safely be housed with female hens – it just depends whether he shows any interest in mating. If he does not appear to be interested, then it may be perfectly safe. But you will still have to monitor flock behavior carefully over time. Hens with health or mobility issues may suddenly become appealing to a tom, as they may be easier to mount when compromised.
Some toms can be boisterous. Some non-confrontational toms can happily be housed with roosters. But others may cause issues with injury to roosters. A particularly aggressive tom can be useful for seeing off predators but can be dangerous when in a mixed flock.
The Pros of a Shared Run/ Forage Area for Chickens and Turkeys
While, as mentioned above, chickens and turkeys kept together in a brooder and/or in a coop can cause a range of issues, there is also the option to provide different brooders and accommodation for them but then allow them access to a shared run or forage area.
In my opinion, this is the best option if you do decide to raise chickens and turkeys on your homestead. Where blackhead and other common diseases are not a major concern, the two species can benefit from sharing outside space together.
Behaviourally, chickens and turkeys that mingle in a shared outside space do not tend to have any major issues. In fact, they will often largely tend to ignore one another, for the most part, each species working around the other. There are not usually any issues with territorial behavior. And they will tend to co-exist fairly happily.
Turkeys (with the exception of aggressive males) are typically slower and much less frantic in their actions, and as in a shared coop situation, they can tend to reduce the incidence of fighting by bringing a more ‘zen’ attitude to space and occasionally even breaking up fights that occur as hens establish pecking orders.
Some turkeys may be beneficial for seeing off predators in a mixed livestock situation. However, it is important to note that different birds, just like different people, can have different personalities. Care should always be taken when introducing new birds of any kind to an existing flock.
One other potential benefit of allowing chickens and turkeys access to the same run or free-range forage area is that they are both excellent foragers and will benefit from the same types of environments, with a biodiverse range of forage.
In a free-range situation, both chickens and turkeys can benefit from an agroforestry approach, which combines pasture with trees, perhaps in an orchard setting, or a semi-woodland setting, for example. Both species will help in pest control and help keep a natural ecosystem in balance.
The Cons of a Shared Run/ Forage Area for Chickens and Turkeys
However, there are certain downsides to keeping chickens and turkeys in the same outdoor area. First of all, and most importantly, you should keep the transmissibility of disease in mind – especially, as mentioned above, in areas where blackhead is a problem.
Even putting aside the issues of diseases, there are other reasons why raising chickens and turkeys in the same area together might not always be the best choice.
One thing to remember is that it may be far more challenging to work out suitable fencing/ containment for a mixed flock than it is for chickens alone. Turkeys are extremely inquisitive and wide-ranging. They tend if allowed to do so, to wander over a large area. Lost birds are, unfortunately, rather common if fencing/ containment is not carefully considered.
Bear in mind that turkeys love to perch much higher up than chickens and will naturally make their way high up into the branches of any trees that are within the area. Turkeys that perch high up will also fly pretty high. If they are ranging over a wider area, retrieving them from high tree perches can be a challenge.
Fencing will need to be at least six feet tall, perhaps, even more, to contain them. This is much more expensive and time-consuming to create than fencing to contain a typical chicken flock. Make sure the fencing is secure to the ground and keeps out predators as well as keeping in your turkeys.
One of the decisions that you have to make when keeping birds on your homestead is whether you will opt for permanent pastures/ outdoors containment areas or create a tractoring system with portable pens or portable fencing that can be moved on a regular basis. Before integrating turkeys into a chicken flock, it is important to consider that tractoring or moveable pen systems will be more of a challenge with a mixed flock that contains turkeys as well.
It is important to consider how you will maintain the sward on pasture areas. It is best to let areas rest and recover and to move your birds around different areas to avoid reducing the whole of the area to bare soil.
It is also, of course, important to consider stocking density carefully. Working out how many birds you can successfully rear on a given area of land can be more challenging when you have a mixed flock with different species rather than just one type of livestock on your land.
How Many Chickens and Turkeys Can You Raise?
If you do decide to raise chickens and turkeys together on outside runs or in a free-range area, it is important to think about the land and how many birds it can support. You need to think about the vegetation on the site and how many birds can forage there without detrimentally affecting the environment. You also need to think about the impact of their manure – and make sure stocking density does not cause an excess of nitrogen to build upon the site.
As a general rule of thumb, on 1 acre of good quality pasturage, with a good rotation in place to maintain the forage, you can raise around 20 turkeys or around 50 hens. (So you might have, say, 10 turkeys and 25 hens in a site of 1 acre.) Though, of course, what is possible will vary considerably depending on the specific breeds, and most importantly, the characteristics of the land in question.
If you are trying to work out how much land you need to raise turkeys and chickens, you will need to think about a number of different factors. Of course, your deliberations should begin with a consideration of the type of land that is available and its suitability for a mixed livestock operation. You need to think about water availability, soil type, characteristics and fertility, topography, and whether you will need separate zones for the two types of birds or will pasture them together.
Another important thing to decide when thinking about how much land you need to raise chickens and turkeys is whether you want to be entirely self-sufficient in terms of feed. If you do, then you will require not only the forage areas but also a lot more land to grow grains, etc., to feed your mixed flock. Forage is important to supplement the diet of your chickens and turkeys but will not be enough on its own.
While both chickens and turkeys can be great additions to a homestead, the above should make it clear that integrating the two is not always straightforward. Yes, you can definitely keep them together in various different ways, at different stages in their life cycles, and with differing degrees of integration.
But as you can tell from the above, it is important to get it right. It can be complex to manage their differing needs and the logistics of keeping the two very different types of birds. And it is not always the best idea. If you do decide to raise chickens and turkeys, I would recommend that you create separate brooders and separate housing/ accommodation for adult birds. And if they do mingle at all, I would recommend keeping them mingled only when they are outdoors and only in a well-managed and carefully monitored integrated pasture system.
Make sure that you ensure good health and welfare conditions for all your birds. Ensure that their health and wellbeing are always your top priority. Do all you can to mitigate the risk of diseases and to ensure that you maintain a healthy and productive mixed flock. If you keep the welfare of your birds front and center, it is possible to raise chickens and turkeys on your homestead. Just think very carefully before you decide to fully combine your flocks.