“Variety is the spice of life.” This old saying also applies to the farmyard scene. I love the mix of animal species that graze, peck and pluck around our property. We have Angora goats that give us beautiful fiber, and Nubian and Alpine goats that give us milk for soap, cheese, and ice cream. We have bees that give us delicious honey and pollinate our garden, pumpkin patch and fruit trees, and we have chickens, turkeys and ducks that give us eggs and meat.
When we first moved to the farm and expanded our variety of animals we made our best attempt to separate out the different species. We had a turkey pen, a duck pen, a chicken pen, an angora pen, and a dairy pen, with each area and run tailored to that specific animal. That lasted about 3 weeks. The animals laughed at our fences and enclosures and frankly…did what they wanted. The turkeys jumped the fences and joined the chickens, half the chickens discovered molasses covered goat feed and vacated the coop, and the goats get moved around a lot to rotate pasture or for breeding, kidding and to separate the males from the milking does. Word to the wise…if you’re thinking about setting up a farm. Decide how much space you think you’ll need and triple it. Animals have a way of surprising us. And every time I think we have a good system worked out, we’re wrong.
For the most part, I don’t mind if the animals mix themselves up. I do get a little annoyed with the chickens in the goat stalls because they roost high in the barn rafters and poop on the goat fences. Or they lay their eggs in the freshly filled hay feeders and when the goats pull the hay down the eggs fall and crack open, making a mess. But it’s really not that big of a deal. If they’re happier in the barn then we let them be.
Some of our animal combinations even compliment each other. Like how our ducks eat the wild snails which carry a parasite that can make our goats sick, but they don’t scratch up the pasture like the chickens. (For more example of companion animals read my post Companion Poultry.)
One combination however, I wasn’t so sure about, that being chickens and turkeys.
Before we found our turkey poults I did a lot of reading and for the most part found that turkeys have similar needs like chickens; fresh water, feed, protection from predation…etc. Not too bad, nothing I wasn’t already used to.
The issue of shelter was one thing that we were having problems with. Our chicken coop has a large area where the adult chickens stay. It has a wing built off the one side. We’ve separated the wing into two areas, these serve as separation pens for when we want to hatch out specific breeds and keep the lines clean. For example, we will put our French Black Copper Rooster and a few of our best hens in a separation pen, collect the eggs and hatch them to replenish our flock. Or we use it as a transition room for teenage chickens that are too big to be in the house brooding, but a little too small to live with the big chickens.
When we decided to get turkeys, we agreed to designate this second wing for the turkey house and the turkeys and the chickens could run together. Our triangle coop would replace the separation pen.
It was going to be great! Except for one thing.
I had been on many forums of people who raised both chickens and turkeys and this disease kept coming up. Black Head…Black Head…Black Head. Many people warned DO NOT raise turkeys with chickens or your chickens will give them Black Head. Others argued that they’ve raised turkeys and chickens together and everyone was fine. So what’s a person to do?
I had been to many a farm where chickens and turkeys shared the same area. Even rescue type farms where the main goal was to rehabilitate animals etc. None of the turkeys looked sick, none of them had black heads either. So what was all the fuss about?
If the chickens were going to make our turkeys sick, we would have to come up with a plan B as to where to house the turkeys. So I decided to do a little research about this disease here’s a summary of what I found.
For starters, Black Head does not make the bird’s head turn black. So don’t look for that as a symptom. The skin may darken but does not turn black.
Black Head or Histomoniasis is a disease caused by the cecal worm parasite. There is a protozoa that lives in the cecal worm that can infect both chickens and turkeys. However, chickens are more resistant to the infection and can sometimes be carriers without showing symptoms. Earth worms can also carry the parasite and infect birds if they are consumed. (Alberta Agriculture, www.millerhatcheries.com)
Most blackhead losses occur in young birds (six to sixteen weeks). Among the symptoms are loss of appetite, increased thirst, droopiness, drowsiness, darkening of the facial regions and diarrhea. (Mississippi State University Extension Service)
In my heart of hearts I felt like our chickens were fine, but there was a lingering worry that perhaps our chickens might have picked up this protozoa from earth worms and might be of the “healthy carrier” types. So we built a pen in the barn for our turkeys, away from the chickens…just to be safe.
We also brooded the turkey poults in a separate brooder from our baby chicks that spring.
When it came time to let the turkeys into their outdoor area, we let them into the barn and they seemed happy and content. The next morning they had easily scaled the 6 foot fence and were running around the barn with the chickens. Shoot! Chicken exposure!!! Ahh Black Head!!!
We corralled them back into their pen and strung bailing twine across the top of the fence…that should hold them.
The next day they scaled their fence, got through the twine, then jumped the chicken fence and were happily eating and drinking WITH the chickens.
At this point I figured they were exposed. If our chickens were carrying “silent” Black Head the turkeys were going to get it. So we moved the turkeys to the pen we originally set up and hoped that they would stay healthy…which they did.
After reading more and talking to people who raise turkeys and chickens I feel less worried about Black Head. But it’s something to be aware of. I’ve learned that older turkeys have a much better resistance to Black Head, so it’s especially important to seperate young turkeys from chickens.
Do not brood poults and chicks in the same brooder and keeping all living areas cleanly which can cut down on infections and protozoa numbers.
If you suspect that your turkeys or chickens might have Black Head check with your veterinarian, there are drugs that can be administered to control the disease and save your birds if caught in time. There are also preventative wormers available.
I can’t recommend one way or another whether turkeys can be 100% safely raised with chickens. But I feel like our risk is low. If we keep our pens clean and let the turkeys get a little older before exposing them to the chickens I think we’re safe. There is a always a risk of disease or infection from all sorts of sources. But that’s something that each of us has to weigh and decide.
Do you raise chickens and turkeys together? I’d love to hear your thoughts on Black Head. Do you worry about it? Do you have any tips for preventing it? Feel free to share with the community by leaving a comment below, or visiting the Community Chickens Facebook Page.