Are you considering raising mixed species of poultry together? We reached out to three different, experienced poultry parents who successfully raise different species of poultry in their backyard or on their small farms. This article is a summary of their advice for others who wish to do the same…
*Featured image credit: MJ Smith @ Hoof & Feather Farm
This article is a bit different than most of our other duck/poultry articles because we’re not relying on what we’ve personally learned. We raise ducks, and we’ve come to know a heck of a lot about raising ducks — including how to raise REALLY tame ducks.
Geese, turkeys, chickens, guinea fowl…? While our many years as duck parents would likely give us a good head start of knowledge on raising these other species, we certainly aren’t experts. And when it comes to raising these different species of poultry together, we don’t have a clue.
Thankfully, we know people who do just that — and do it well. Each person has different species of poultry, different setups, and a ton of knowledge to share with you…
Poultry parent introduction:
Here’s a brief introduction to the three people who generously donated their knowledge and experience to help make this article possible:
Kimberly Kelly | Insta: @Vintagefallsfarmandforage
Location: Northern Pickens County, South Carolina – Ag Zone 7a | Setup: 40 acre small farm
Species: 100+ chickens (various heritage breeds), turkeys (Blue Slate), guinea fowl, ducks (Indian Runners)
MJ Smith | Insta: @Hoofandfeather.farm
Location: High Desert of southwest Colorado – Ag Zone 6b | Setup: 5 acre small farm/heirloom apple orchard (3 acres open for poultry foraging)
Species: 13 geese (American Buff, Sebastopol-Toulouse, African-Toulouse) and 9 ducks (wild Mallards and domesticated Cayugas and Khakis)
MJ Update: MJ now writes for Tyrant Farms about all things geese. Considering getting geese? Read her latest geese articles or dive into her intro article: Top 10 reasons to raise geese.
Eliza Holcombe | Insta: @Appalachianfeet
Location: Laurens, SC – Ag Zone 7a | Setup: urban homestead
Species: 8 heritage breed chickens, three heritage breed ducks, and two American Buff geese
Advice for raising mixed-species poultry together
We asked Kimberly, MJ, and Eliza the same questions. Our inquiry was based on information we’d want to know if we were planning to get additional poultry species along with our existing duck flock.
It’s important to note that there is no single way to raise a specific species of poultry. Your location, setup, infrastructure, and resources will all impact the choices you make as poultry parents. As you’ll come to find out, those same factors may also influence the species of poultry you decide to raise in the first place.
Now, let’s dive in!
1. What was the order/chronology in which you got different poultry species? (Ex: ducks > geese > chickens > turkeys) Any particular reason for this chronology?
I grew up around backyard poultry, so I had a good educated guess as to which species to add first (despite my wants). We started with chickens because at that time, we were still in a residential neighborhood, and while not a small lot (everyone had 2-3 acres), you still actively saw your neighbors and they could see and hear you.
I knew chickens wouldn’t be as noisy or wide-roaming as guinea fowl. I didn’t have a large water source that made sense with my availability to change and clean one… so ducks had to wait, too.
Next came turkeys, and in all truth, I probably should have waited on turkeys, but luckily my neighbors were fascinated by them and didn’t mind a visit now and again when they wanted to roam (most often seasonally due to mating or nesting). It worked out but I am now fully certified in turkey wrangling!
Turkeys are so social; I love them. They remind me most of dogs with how they follow you everywhere — and they can be quite affectionate if you put the time in with them (especially the hens).
Guinea fowl were next, but not until we moved over to the “big farm.” We bought right at 40 acres and took on a huge land-and-build project, restoring and regenerating (still today), an old 1906 farm.
Ducks were last… literally just last year. I was least familiar with their care and wanted their home and water source ready so I wasn’t completely overwhelmed.
We got geese (American Buff) first in order to graze the orchard in 2018. Then we found a duck egg by our pond and hatched a little Mallard duck that we named Tiger. As you know from hatching ducks, you get so emotionally attached to them really quickly.
At the time, we had no idea that Mallards were so much different than domesticated duck breeds. We got Tiger three female Mallards to keep him company. Then six months after Tiger hatched, we found a flock of domestic ducks and two geese on Craigslist from people who were moving to Alaska. (I shouldn’t look at Craigslist!)
They’d raised their two geese [gander: Sebastopol-Toulouse cross / female: African-Toulouse cross] with their ducks, so those geese were really accustomed to being around ducks. We slowly integrated that flock with our Buff goose flock.
The new geese also had goslings last spring.
We got chickens first, then ducks and geese around the same time. I started with chickens because they’re supposed to be easier/lower maintenance (true). I moved on to waterfowl because poultry are addictive plus I know these really enthusiastic duck owners…
(*Disclaimer: The Tyrant says she bears no responsibility for other people’s waterfowl addiction. Ok, maybe just a little bit.)
2. How do your various poultry species get along? Any safety precautions needed to keep one from attacking or bullying the other?
They all get along (other than the occasional pecking order scuffs), but I also don’t cram them all in together or have them foraging in too small a space. Our land is divided by mountain springs into three fields. Our birds freely forage the pasture/field where their coop is located and the woodland edge.
Their water is from the on-site spring. My guineas, turkeys, and chickens are all on one field. My ducks are on another.
As far as safety precautions to keep them from going after each other: I think the main factors are space for the number of poultry you have and paying attention to male/female ratios.
I keep around 100 chickens (we sell eggs), so I can keep a few more roosters. They tend to form their own clicks just like high school kids, so each rooster has his lady friends and when you look out over the field, you see groupings. The groupings intermingle but it does help having the space so that they don’t have to feel competitive all day.
All of our Mallards flew away, although some of them still come back. One of the ones that came back (named Hamburgler) hatched out some baby Mallards on our pond in 2019. But our Mallards are basically wild and don’t interact too much with our other ducks or geese.
Geese are really, really bossy. Especially the Buff geese ganders — and especially during spring when their hormones are running high. When there’s plenty of space, the geese and the ducks do really well together. So they generally do well on our large 1/4 acre pond and in the three acres of our orchard that they forage together.
But if the geese feel like the ducks are encroaching on their bubble — and I can’t tell you exactly how big a goose “bubble” is, which seems to vary from day to day — they definitely will go after the ducks. Some of our ganders have attacked some of our ducks, especially if the ducks aren’t in optimal health.
So we do try to keep an eye on them when they’re all free-ranging together. Most of the time, they have so much space that it’s not an issue.
For context: our geese used to get along perfectly well with our ducks. Before our mixed-breed geese (the ones raised with ducks) had their babies, they were a single flock. They were put up with them every night, they protected them, etc.
Interestingly, after our hybrid geese hatched their own babies, they decided that the ducks were very threatening and would even be aggressive towards them. Even now, one year after they hatched goslings, they still act that way towards the ducks. They basically disowned them.
If you’re determined to raise geese with ducks, raise them together… Either raise geese from goslings with adult ducks or raise ducklings and goslings together.
I’d also say if you want your geese to protect your ducks and live together, don’t let them hatch out goslings. Geese are excellent parents, but part of that is they’re SO protective. Every critter, no matter how small, is a perceived threat to their goslings, including adult ducks. Oddly, our geese would also be highly protective of our duck Hamburgler’s ducklings when she wasn’t being the greatest mom up on our pond.
One thing I want to try is having our geese raise ducklings… when the ducklings become adults, would we no longer have this issue of them being aggressive towards adult ducks?
Oh, funny side story: we have a particularly feisty Khaki duck (Piggy Duck) who will chase any goose who is being particularly bossy. I’ve witnessed this exceptional bravery twice: once at the pond, and once in the yard. When one goose gets surprised and reacts dramatically, the whole gaggle runs away honking. Goes to show that geese are 18 lbs of honk, hiss, and snake-neck… but easily schooled by a five pound duck with immeasurable attitude!
The chickens get along well amongst themselves—chickens of course have their pecking order but ours have always had more space than the number of birds we have needs, so squabbles were minor.
One good piece of advice I got early on was to have enough perches at the same height for all your birds so they won’t fight over the premium ones. Likewise, they should be able to spread their wings getting on and off the perches even if everyone is roosting.
Chickens don’t pick fights with our ducks or vice versa though they weren’t raised together so they don’t roost together and mostly ignore each other. The geese get along well with the ducks they were raised with and treat them as part of the flock.
We have only one mated pair of heritage American Buff geese and three ducks. When our gander (Mr. Dwerryhouse) was under two years old, he was grouchier and more territorial so he would chase the chickens like an angry tyrannosaurus if given the chance.
These days he doesn’t include them in his guarded flock but he also seems to have no issues with them sharing his space… for most of the year, anyway. Late February through about May is mating season and he gets touchy if the other birds get near his and Delilah’s nest. He’s never injured the other birds, but he is not above a sharp pinch to let them know what’s what.
3. How do you coop them? Separately or inside same structure? Special details/advice?
Each evening they all come home to roost, even the guineas which some will tell you doesn’t happen. However, there is a trick to teaching them to come home to roost early on.
Once they’re all accounted for, it’s full lockup! Our coops are wood and hardware cloth (a heavier gage, smaller opening wire) where there is no wood. If I have to use chicken wire, it’s doubled up, not just one layer.
Over the years, we’ve had a few “tree birds,” [chickens that roost in trees] but we try not to encourage and in fact – correct it. It’s just not safe.
Our ducks have their own coop. I know it can be done otherwise, but I believe that while I can successfully mix the other species, my waterfowl really are best in their own space.
Yes, there are horror stories about the breeding differences of a chicken and a duck but even aside from that, I just think they do better in their own coop. They also lay eggs at different times and sleep in a way that’s different. [Chickens roost on perches off the ground; Mallard-derived/domesticated ducks sleep directly on the ground.]
If you house them in a large barn and not just coops, I’m sure you could space them out so it all worked.
We do a deep litter method for all our coops which gets a good start on the composting, raises the temperature in the coops in winter, and makes life easier on us. I keep babies, and even small adolescents in a separate coop to prevent bullying or even just accidental injury from size differences.
Also predator protection is not one-size-fits-all. Some of my coops have solar electric around them (we have bears here) and some have solar alarms that go off when something walks by (scares bobcats away from the ducks).
We have a large barn with individual rooms. We keep our ducks in one room.
I would not keep geese with ducks at night unless they were raised together and the geese aren’t raising goslings. Initially, our ducks and geese did sleep together with no problem until they had goslings.
Now, our geese all sleep on the pond at night.
Geese lay eggs for 1-2 months out of the year. Mallards are similar, only laying during a really short time window. Domestic ducks will lay for the majority of the year.
Depending on where our female geese decide to nest and lay eggs (the barn or the floating pond island) we’ll provide additional protection for them at night.
One other important difference: the male/female ratio isn’t as important with geese as it is with ducks. If you have less than 3 or 4 females per drake with ducks, you can end up with over-mating injuries. Depending on the breed, geese either partner for life or for at least one year, so having more ganders hasn’t been a problem for us.
Our ganders will fight with each other — especially during late winter and spring — but they don’t harass the females.
Our chickens have a separate coop from our waterfowl mostly because chicken coops stay dryer and cleaner than waterfowl (this is an understatement), but also to reduce territorial issues during mating season. Additionally, chickens prefer to perch up high whereas waterfowl like ground level coops when possible.
In spite of having more chickens than waterfowl, the chicken coop is far less messy and requires less purchases of pine shavings and less full cleanings. This is partly because the poop consistency for chickens is dryer than that of ducks and geese, but it’s also because of different bird behaviors.
Chickens forage by scratching & kicking so they are constantly fluffing & turning their shavings when they’re in the coop. This action has a drying effect which reduces smell and discomfort for the birds (no one wants to stand in a poo puddle). If you add another layer of shavings the chickens will quickly mix it in and dilute the soiled parts.
We find that duck foraging involves the birds drilling their beaks through the pine shaving layer without otherwise disturbing it (while also packing it flat and tight with their webbed feet). They bring mud and soil to the surface and if given the opportunity, mix it with water that they deposit on top of the bedding.
Geese do not drill down in the bedding to pull dirt to the surface, but they are large (so scale up their quantity of poop accordingly) with big, flat webby feet to flatten their bedding. The result is that the shavings quickly get packed too tightly to dry easily while also allowing waste and muck to pool on the surface.
When a clean layer of pine shavings is added to the surface, the ducks quickly drill and pull all the muck back to the top again… those adorable little scamps. (Rolls eyes). As a result, the waterfowl coop needs a complete bedding change more frequently than the chicken coop.
I’ll add that from experience it’s better to have a waterfowl coop with no floor (other than hardware cloth to keep digging predators out) and bedding on top. Our original coop was designed with a wood floor with a “waterproof” sealed laminate flooring that went up the sides of the coop slightly. Maybe you could pull something off with brick but the birds managed to fling watery poo up onto the exposed wood and the geese ripped the flooring until it was no longer waterproof so we had water damage within a year of building it.
The new coop just utilizes a hardware cloth barrier against the bare ground to allow drainage, and bedding goes over the top of the hardware cloth (to prevent foot injury).
4. Do they all share the same feed? Water?
Differences in protein requirements between turkeys and chickens is evened out in our flock since they freely forage. But we do use the same feed for that field of fowl.
Our ducks need more niacin, so we have two choices: add brewers yeast to the feed or get a waterfowl-specific one, which is what we chose to do.
As far as water: we have a unique setup in that each field has its own natural spring running through it. So each field has its own water source. We did dig out a small pond for the ducks — the spring literally runs through the pond.
We feed our geese and our ducks the same base feed: Mazuri waterfowl. We do give extra supplements to our ducks, like mealworms and oyster shell.
The geese don’t need any supplementation because they’re such good foragers. They actually don’t even like mealworms or insects as best we can tell.
Geese can live exclusively off good quality grass. Geese don’t need protein in the form of animal protein, but rather the amino acids found in dietary protein (which is found in all plants, seeds, etc).
Our geese keep our weeds down and our grass mowed in the orchard, but they don’t go after bugs. Our ducks are the ones who take care of the insects.
They have separate feeders and waterers both inside and outside their coops, but they like to steal from each other. Everyone gets the same feed but the waterfowl also get a niacin supplement.
5. Have you noticed one species requiring less care than others? One species less hardy or requiring more medical care?
Guinea fowl are by far the easiest species we raise in terms of care required on a daily basis and in terms of lack of illnesses. They’re also the most “wild.”
They love me for food and shelter, but they want to pretend they’re wild. They are not an ideal fowl for people who also want pets. However, they are an awesome property alarm system and pest control (ticks in particular). Yes, you can enjoy seasonal eggs from guineas as well, but they don’t produce nearly as many eggs as ducks or chickens.
Ducks are my next pick for ease. If you have the right setup, they are less trouble than a chicken or a turkey.
Chickens have more potential for disease than turkeys, but turkeys want space and can be escape artists. Both of those problems are manageable. We keep a closed flock to control biohazards and we have lowered the number of turkeys we used to keep.
Our geese are really self-sufficient. Caveat: I’m really aware from being connected to other goose parents that we keep our geese very, very differently than most other people. Our geese are kind of feral and basically just take care of themselves.
For instance, they’re in the pond so much that they never get bumblefoot. A lot of people don’t agree with letting your geese sleep on a pond at night, but ours won’t have it any other way and we’ve never lost a goose to predators. They’re such large animals that a predator would have to swim out to get them at night, and the predator likely wouldn’t stand a chance against a goose out on open water.
The geese also love to forage for aquatic plants in the pond, from cattails to other submerged plants they dive for.
Our ducks require a lot more care, and obviously have to be put up in our barn every night. We have lost some ducks to predators, likely to a fox. That happened when a duck wandered off too far on the periphery of our property into the more wild areas.
An important caveat: geese are potentially more destructive than ducks. They will chew on EVERYTHING: ropes, electrical cords, buckets, food bags… if it can be nibbled, it will be. Providing plenty of space and enrichment (our geese like to bob for apples in buckets of water) will help mitigate this propensity to destroy everything in their wake like a teething child.
They all seem hardy—we don’t have any finicky breeds—but the waterfowl require more attention for fresh water and bedding.
6. Which species is generally most tame/calm around humans?
- Guinea fowl are not a “pet,” yet I find them entertaining to watch and very useful if you have the space.
- With chickens it depends on the breed, so check to see if you are getting an independent workhorse or one that’s more affectionate.
- Turkeys can be very social and affectionate. I’ve even seen jealousy directed at my attention for others!
- Ducks can be SO SWEET but I keep a breed that doesn’t stay still long enough to show it that often. Still I dearly love our Indian Runners. They are companions, entertainment, garden pest control, and egg layers.
Even the most affectionate breed will not be so without time spent with them, period.
Ha! None of them because our animals are basically feral.
In all seriousness, our ducks are probably friendlier. None of them dislike us, they just expect to have their space — unless you have a treat that they like.
The geese are just bossy, especially this time of year (late winter and spring). The ganders’ hormones are peaking, they’re getting ready to breed, and so they’re angry and protective. They hiss at you. But for the rest of the year, they’re actually pretty friendly.
The geese can also be intimidating to people who aren’t familiar with them because they’re so loud and they approach with that “snake neck.” But before our geese had goslings, they were actually so much more friendly than our ducks.
I definitely wouldn’t want my one year old son, Mason, to get hit by a goose wing. I’ve gotten whacked by a goose wing when breaking up a gander fight. Those wings are so powerful, and they hurt.
Ganders are at their most temperamental when they’re just shy of a year old. Right before spring of their first year, they go through this period where they want to fight with everything. Then they kind of mellow out from there on.
I read a funny post about showing your dominance to geese, and it’s really helped us… When you see geese fight, they go for each others’ chests; they kind of peck each other in the chest. Whoever wins will run away from the fight honking really loudly.
So what we do, is if a goose is getting too aggressive with us, we will firmly (not aggressively) kick the goose in the chest just strongly enough to back it off. Then immediately pick the goose up and hold it — as soon as you pick a goose up it chills out.
Then I walk around with the goose in my arms for a few minutes and make sure every other goose in the flock can see me with the goose in my arms. Then I tell the goose “I’m bigger than you.” When I put the goose down, I flap my arms, and run around screaming “I win!”
I know it sounds and looks crazy, and I’m sure if my neighbors saw me they’d think I was crazy! However, that method has really gone a long way in helping us establish dominance with our geese. They know I’m the head goose and the master of the goose flock. Since we used this technique, we’ve only had to do it again about once per year with some of the younger ganders. After that, they just seem to “get it.”
Our chickens are the tamest but I think this has more to do with how much poultry is handled at a young age than species.
7. Which poultry species do you like best overall? Why?
Which of my children do I love the most? Ha!
I love them all for different reasons — many listed above, and much the same as not growing a monocrop. If you have the space, don’t keep a mono species. They should all work together; we should all.
If I didn’t have the space and was looking for one back yard species, I would look at what my personal setup is and go with either chickens or ducks.
I love the geese. I love their personalities. I love that they’re low maintenance. I love how big and beautiful they are; I like big birds. And I just think the geese are a lot of fun.
Chickens. I think duck eggs taste slightly better (very slightly less sulphuric and more “buttery”) but the extra labor and higher water bill (if you don’t have a bio filtered pond you will be dumping a lot of water per day) are steep costs for a busy family.
I had a lot more time for my birds prior to the birth of our baby son and if I was starting from scratch right now, I’d only get chickens. I’ll add that duck feet seem to get injured/higher risk for bumblefoot than chickens or even geese for some reason.
The only issue I’ve had with geese is they occasionally get weak from a niacin deficiency, and if it isn’t caught quickly they have to be tube fed the niacin-enriched food (but then they spring right back, thankfully). We try to stay on top of regular supplements so it doesn’t happen.
8. Any advice for other poultry parents planning on a mixed-species flock for their home, homestead, or small farm?
Get to know the strengths and characteristics of each species. How do they fit your family: egg layers, pest control, compost makers, companions/pets? Therapy? YES, therapy!
Get to know their needs and build their surroundings accordingly. Example: don’t get ducks unless you have figured out their water supply. Don’t put chickens in a field with no places to run and hide from hawks, etc… Lastly, learn from them — just be open, they’ll teach you.
Think about how you want to raise them together. Raising goslings and ducklings together will be really beneficial in helping them all get along while also having the adult geese protect the adult ducks.
And if you want to keep that relationship going, don’t let your geese hatch goslings. Based on our experience, they’ll become protective parents of the goslings. Then they won’t protect the ducks anymore if they have their own goslings to take care of so that prior relationship with the ducks will end.
Then you’ll have to keep them separate, keep an eye on them a bit more, and you won’t be able to depend on the geese to guard your ducks.
PREDATOR PROOFING—do MORE than you think you need. Use galvanized hardware cloth instead of chicken wire at a size too small for a raccoon to stick a paw through. Protect against animals that dig by burying a skirt of hardware cloth around the perimeter of your coop.
The main way I hear of people failing at poultry is not having good predator proofing and losing birds to animals that are far more common in neighborhoods than people think—even in cities. Plus, dogs are a major culprit. If you have a lot of hawks, stationing your coop and run under trees with broad canopies can help. Hawks prefer open areas to keep from clipping their wings and to see ground predators from a distance.
We’re so grateful to Kimberly, MJ, and Eliza for answering our (and hopefully, your) basic questions about raising mixed breed poultry together. As you can see from their experience, each poultry species has unique features and care requirements.
It’s important that intending poultry parents understand the basic needs of a respective species in order to optimize the environment of their backyard, homestead, or farm to meet those needs. As Kimberly said, “They should all work together; we should all.”
Our job as human caretakers — or “top goose” — is to steward these wonderful animals wisely and lovingly.
Other fowl articles you’ll love:
- 3 tips: how to get your ducks to like you
- How to build a long-lasting predator-proof duck coop and duck run
- 17 tips to keep your ducks safe from predators
- How to build a self-cleaning duck pond
- How to choose the best duck breeds for you (with breed rankings)
- How to hatch duck eggs: complete guide
- What to feed pet or backyard ducks to maximize their health and longevity
…and more duck articles from Tyrant Farms.
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