Keeping a flock harmonious is an ongoing challenge on the farm, especially if you have a lot of birds or a wide variety of species.
To keep any group of poultry happy, the first thing to consider is the male to female ratio. Here’s a handy breakdown of the appropriate male/female balance for various farmyard birds:
Chickens – at least eight hens to a rooster.
Geese – three or more geese to a gander.
Ducks – depending on the variety, two or more ducks to a drake
Since turkeys are usually raised for meat, the ratio is not as important, but when breeding, ten or more turkeys to a tom.
Most other species recommend three or more females to a male.
While a flock of roosters or ganders will get along with only the occasional skirmish most of the year, come spring their animosity boils over. Roosters, ganders, drakes, and toms will all strut their stuff for the ladies, while fighting violently with their fellow males. Depending on the size differences between your birds and their health, these fights can often be fatal. You can read more about roosters fighting in a blog entry from us last spring: When Roosters Fight. To keep everyone happy, watching your ratios is always recommended. If you plan to breed your birds, these numbers are even more important to help increase fertility.
You also need to ensure that your birds have enough room. Once again, every species is different, but they all need nightly shelter that allows for everyone to settle in with room to spare. If your birds are enclosed in a run, you must be extra careful about spacing because those enclosed quarters will lead many fowl to start picking out the weakest flock members. Free range animals are usually more harmonious, though wandering into neighbor’s yards can present its own problems.
Just like roosting and foraging space, also make sure your birds have enough room at the feeder. Simply having enough food is not enough: if there is only one place to get it, this can lead to fights. Make sure that you either have multiple feeding stations, or something that allows everyone easy access like a long trough.
Keeping different species separate, as needed, will allow you to keep all kinds of birds without worry. Most species can free range together, but in an enclosed space bigger birds will pick on the small ones. Our geese must have a separate house and run space in the winter so they do not bother the chickens. Similarly, if you keep both bantams and standard size chickens, it’s recommended to house them separately. An exception to this are ducks, who seem to get along across various types quite well.
The other potential pitfall to a happy flock is the introduction of new birds. You should always introduce new birds slowly, not just to maintain peace but also to monitor for disease. Keep new additions of adult birds quarantined for a week or two, and then start by putting them out in a small enclosure or barricaded area. This will allow the other birds to see their new friends without being able to attack them. After a day or two you should be able to let them mingle during the day, while keeping the newcomers apart at night. Within a week, they can all be together full time.
Do not introduce young birds too early, though. If you are integrating spring chicks with your established flock, you can follow the same process with a barricaded area followed by limited time together, and finally full time. Don’t start this process until the young chicks are at least six weeks old. Before this they aren’t hardy enough to be outside full time, and they are also too small to survive being pecked on by the big chickens.
A few simple steps can ensure a happy poultry-keeping experience. It can be alarming to a new flock owner how birds, especially chickens, maintain such a fierce pecking order, but once you are used to it and know what to look out for, there’s no reason all of your birds cannot be friends.
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