Caring for a Multi-Species Flock

Flock expansion can be an exciting endeavor, especially when you are looking to add a new species or two. It can be a fun and challenging task to meet the needs of varying poultry species. Here are a few tips and recommendations to consider if you plan to take your flock to the next level.

There are three main areas of focus before caring for a multi-species flock:

  • Coop Cleanliness
  • Living Space
  • Management Techniques

Coop cleanliness

Providing your multi-species flock with a clean home is of the utmost importance in preventing sickness. Keep the coop clean and dry, and keep waterers out of the coop area to prevent splashing and playing by waterfowl. Remember, anytime you bring new poultry in, you must quarantine them before mixing with the rest of the flock. Not only will the aid in preventing any pre-existing disease they may bring in, but also is safer for the birds until they are acclimated.

Living Space

Larger poultry need more space, so plan accordingly. Factor in a minimum of 4-square-feet per chicken and even more for larger birds. Failing to provide adequate space can lead to boredom and birds will likely begin to peck at one another. If space is an issue, or the birds are more confined during the winter months, make sure there are plenty of food/toys/distractions to relieve boredom.

Management Techniques

A successful multi-species flock is an environment where there is little stress on the birds. Having a good ratio of male to female poultry will help keep a balance in the coop. A good rule of thumb for chickens is approximately 7 hens to 1 rooster. For ducks or other waterfowl, a good balance would include 5-6 females to 1 drake.

Remember that waterfowl are different from chickens and other birds in that they like wet conditions. So their bedding should have more absorbency like straw, pine shavings or grass from lawn mowing. Additionally, ducks don’t like to roost like chickens, so don’t expect to see them on the perches of your coop! They also prefer cooler weather, are more active at night and thoroughly enjoy the opportunity to take a dip in a pool or other body of water.

Another multi-species management recommendation would be to keep chickens and turkeys separate. This is to preventing Blackhead disease carried from chickens to turkeys. Although not extremely common in a small flock setting, it can be fatal to turkeys if contracted.

These considerations and many more should be made before you dive head first into managing a multi-species flock. If you are up for the challenge, undoubtedly much enjoyment of watching them grow and flourish is in your future!

New Chick Checklist

 

Chicks thrive in ideal conditions, so consider these tips for getting started:

  • Heat: Suspend a warm bulb about a foot above the brooder floor for warmth – and have a second bulb on hand in case one burns out. Keep temps in the brooder about 90-95 degrees F for the first week, decreasing about 5 degrees per week. Raise the light as chicks grow.
  • Environment: Be sure your brooder is big enough so your chicks can move about comfortably. Keep it out of drafts. Stock tanks, plastic tubs and homemade brooders are a few good options. Do not allow the brooder to become wet or damp.
  • Bedding: Pine wood shavings are ideal. Avoid straw and newspaper as these become slippery for chicks. Clean bedding daily.
  • Water: Be sure clean, fresh water is always available. Dip chick beaks into water and let them drink 4-5 hours before introducing feed. Elevating the waterer a couple inches off the floor will help it stay clean and prevent bedding from contaminating it.
  • Feed: Scatter feed on the brooder floor so chicks can find it at first. Then place in a feeder. Have chick starter feed available 24/7. Your chicks will eat just what they need. One chick will eat about 10 pounds of chick starter in its first weeks of life. There are some great options available when considering chick starter feeds.

Can Chickens Smell and Taste?

Anyone tending a backyard flock quickly learns that chickens can be as picky about food as a crabby child. Put a pan of kitchen scraps into the run and hens enthusiastically devour bread, meat scraps, and some greens yet shun citrus, turnip chunks and many other goodies. They seem to instantly know what foods are a delicious break from dry feed.

Midsummer is a time of food plenty for chickens and wild birds, and it’s fascinating to watch what they will and won’t eat. Any grasshopper misfortunate enough to hop into a chicken run becomes an instant protein-rich snack. Hens entirely ignore box elder bugs buzzing around them. They’ll eat grasses that grow in their run and shun other plants, like motherwort. How do they know what’s good to eat and what’s not?

Scientists have been debating how well birds can taste and smell for years. Because they have tough bony beaks and small hard tongues it’s more difficult to study their tasting ability than it is with mammals.  According to an ornithologist, Dr. Neil Bernstein, the bird brain is heavily developed for sight, sound, and balance with smell and taste much less acute. Their sense of touch varies by species.

Humans mouths contain about 9,000 taste buds compared with 50 to 500 for birds.  One researcher discovered about 400 taste buds in ducks. Chickens have some taste buds, but they are located in the back of their mouth. So, before they can taste something they’ve already committed to swallowing it.

Studies on the chicken sense of smell and taste are scarce, but more research has been done on wild birds visiting feeders stocked with diverse seeds.  Wild birds, such as chickadees and cardinals, use their keen sense of vision to locate seeds and seem to know which ones are tastiest or most nutritious. For example, they’ll pick every sunflower seed out of a blend of seeds before eating a single milo seed.

Chickens aren’t bird brains. They have intelligence and memory, and this may be a clue on how they react to food.  “I once ate popcorn not knowing I was about to develop the flu.  To put it politely, I tasted popcorn that night on the way out.  It was years before I could eat popcorn again because I unconsciously associated it with illness,” said ornithologist Bernstein.  The same might happen with chickens. A bird who gobbled down a box elder bug and had her throat badly scratched may remember it and take this common insect off her food list.

In many ways, chickens are like humans. People have food preferences. So, do hens.  Although generally, every bird in a flock is likely to like or dislike a certain food, this can vary.  One hen may like tomato scraps, but a flock sister won’t touch them.

Some birds can detect odor. Turkey vultures can locate food hidden under a dense tree cover by chemicals emitted from decaying dead animals. In contrast, great horned owls have been known to kill and eat skunks. “Because skunk spray can hurt owl eyes I don’t think they seek skunks often.  Owls don’t seem to have a sense of smell, but they certainly have food preferences,” said Karla Bloem, Executive Director of the International Owl Center. “For example, they don’t seem to like ground squirrels but love voles,” she added. For a great horned owl having no sense of smell is a benefit. But, how about chickens?

Chickens don’t seem to have much ability to smell or taste. That may be an advantage. They seem to prefer foods of certain colors. Toss scraps of red tomatoes into the run, and they’ll be instantly devoured, while green pepper scraps are ignored. Why hens will eat green grass yet avoid nearby green motherwort or buckwheat plants is a mystery perhaps known only to chickens.

One thing is certain. When given a diversity of foods chickens, and other bird species, have an amazing ability to choose those that are nutritious. One of the benefits of keeping a flock is observing them. It doesn’t take long to learn that they are amazingly perceptive.

 

Trimming Chickens Wings

Wondering if it may be necessary to trim your chickens’ wings? Check out this video featuring Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart as he explains how to properly trim chickens wings.

Questions or comments? Leave them below!

 

Quarantine New Birds

Do you have a new bird that you need to enter into your flock? Join Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart for some tips on how to quarantine your new birds.

Thank you for watching, and leave a comment or question below if you have one!

 

Setting Up the Brooder

Do you have questions about setting up your brooder for baby chicks? Listen in as Nutrena Poultry Specialist Twain Lockhart gives helpful tips for setting up your brooder.

Please leave questions and comments below.