Keeping The Peace In A Mixed-Species Flock

Raising a backyard flock of different types of birds is no problem, as long as you practice awareness and caution.

by Kirsten Lie-Nielsen
PHOTO: Kirsten Lie-Nielsen

Chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys and many other birds all can be part of your poultry collection. They have useful farmyard purposes and provide great entertainment, but when dealing with a mixed flock, it’s important to make sure all your birds get along.

Within a flock of one species, a set pecking order will likely change when there’s disruption to the environment: a new bird is introduced, the group is moved to a different living space, or a cockerel grows into a rooster. When you’re trying to juggle multiple species, it gets even more complicated. To ensure that these changes don’t disrupt the overall harmony of the barnyard, you need to know how to keep the peace.

1. Keep Gender Ratios In Check

A common cause of unhappiness in a flock is too many men to women. If there are not enough females, males will pick on the other boys to assert their dominance. The male to female ratio is the first thing you can control to make sure that your birds get along well.

Chickens need at least eight hens to a rooster, while ducks prefer two ducks to a drake. Geese and many other poultry varieties need three or more females to a male, while turkeys prefer ten hens to a tom. Keeping these numbers in mind will help keep your flock happy and prevent fighting between the males and over-mating of the females.

2. Provide Your Birds Their Space

Each member of your mixed-species flock needs enough room to forage, rest and generally live without feeling cramped for space.

Daytime Areas

While all fowl prefer having ample foraging opportunities, outdoor space requirements vary depending on the types of birds you have. A happy flock has enough room to wander and have a refuge from a bossy flock member. Small enclosed outdoor quarters can often to lead to henpecking, and as a rule free-range birds are usually more harmonious. If you make sure to have about 10 square feet pasture per bird, they should be able to forage happily in an enclosed space.

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Nighttime Areas

Chickens, turkeys and some other fowl prefer to roost at night whereas waterfowl do not. Roosting is a natural instinct that birds of flight have to escape danger in the night, and a stable roost with plenty of space for all of your hens is important for happy chickens. A night shelter for any bird should be secure from wind and rain with enough space for them to rest without crowding each other, whether that be on a roost or on the ground.

3. Create A Sanctuary For Smaller Birds

Some farmers use geese as guardian birds for a flock of smaller poultry. This is a cost effective way to make sure your smaller fowl, like chickens, are safe from cats, skunks and other small predators, though because of their size and attitude, geese can be overbearing. See that a guardian goose has a separate night shelter, and provide plenty of safe areas for the hens to escape the goose’s domineering attention. A few roosts and blocked off areas will usually keep them happy together. Because geese are larger than chickens, you can create a few blockades for them which are still easily accessed by the hens.

Likewise, although ducks are often amicable birds, certain breeds can be pugnacious. Once again, providing chickens with an escape route is one way to keep both types of birds together. Separating runs and shelters entirely will keep birds from bothering each other, but that is not always practical or affordable on a small farm.

4. Introduce New Flock Members Carefully

Like a new kid in town, new introductions to an established flock are often a source of drama among birds. To prevent problems, practice sensible procedures:

Mind the Age Gaps

Chicks should be at least six to eight weeks old before they are mixed with an adult flock, and should be monitored closely at first. Ducks and geese can be introduced a little bit younger, but still need a watchful eye when learning the pecking order.

Allow Gradual Mingling

The best way to introduce new birds, whether as chicks or adults, is to provide a barricaded area in your coop that you can put the new birds into. This way everyone can gradually get used to one another, removing the risk of attack from the older flock. The an area can gradually be opened up to allow the flock to mingle, at first for only an hour or two a day, slowly increasing each day.

Encourage Healthy Pecking Orders

Just as a group of a single variety feathered friends can live together throughout their lives harmoniously, raising a mixed flock is easier if you start with birds of the same age. Once a pecking order is established, poultry will often maintain it throughout their lives. When birds know the hierarchy in the flock they avoid the bullies and stick with their friends, establishing a peaceable social structure.

With a few precautions your backyard flock can maintain cordial relationships and you can enjoy as many different types of backyard fowl as you would like.

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