Do turkeys make good flock protectors?

Discussion in 'Predators and Pests' started by liljunie, May 28, 2014.

  1. liljunie

    liljunie Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have read that a tom raised with chickens will protect the flock. If so is there a better breed of turkey for this? I have silkies and keep them penned up unless I can watch them (lost a couple to hawks). I also have 4 orpington hens that free range. I recently lost their rooster guardian (not to a hawk, but an accident) so I am not sure if the hawk will pick on them now that he is gone.
     
  2. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    Anything you've read any species, breed, or gender will do is often more based on how their most recent progenitors were kept than on what type they are.

    Our ancestors used to keep them free range for the most part, in mixed flocks, and they would protect chooks, they were known and used for it and I dare say at least partially selected for it when it came time to choose which ones were breeders or 'eaters', lol. After all many old farming texts show turkeys kept as flock protectors.

    Then many turkey breeders adopted intensive modern keeping practices, and the most recent ancestors of many turkeys you can get today come from overcrowded commercial farming backgrounds, with no chickens and no predators, so nothing to stimulate and then reinforce this old protective behavior trait. That many generations of not fulfilling any behavioral trait or instinct pattern can dull it down or actually nullify it, and it's a safe bet it's the latter.

    If yours are heritage turkeys, or any breed or strain kept with chickens, it still depends on what background they and the last seven or so generations of their family lived in. Just putting them into a different environment won't change their inherited behavioral adaptions to what was the norm for their most recent ancestors, at least not for a good half dozen generations to come, and even then it generally takes some careful culling and selection to get the behaviors you want. There is not necessarily any inherent instinct in turkeys to protect chickens or even their own kind from predators, and even inherent instincts like broodiness we have bred out of some breeds.

    Some turkeys I've bought were bred for generations in separate environments from chickens, and they were ok with them if raised with them, but wouldn't protect them. There was some aggression towards the chickens, but that was it, and I soon stamped that issue out.

    I did have one turkey hen from this background who charged the only hawk that ever took one of my chickens, but the hawk merely sat there on the newly dead chook and raised its wings in challenge, and she turned tail. (The males were long gone, hiding in the coops as soon as the hawk took the chook in the middle of a paddock where the main flock of turkeys and chickens were foraging.) My chicken hens will attack predators too, not so much the males, but I so rarely have predator problems I haven't selected for the traits of protectors because I never get to 'test' most of them out against predators.

    I reared turkeys from backgrounds where they lived with chickens, as well as had them reared by chicken hens, and most were fine with chooks but again would not protect them. One male, however, became sexually attracted to chicken hens, and kept trying to mount them. He almost killed one of my hens. I had to cull him to protect them.

    Despite viewing the hens as mates, he didn't attempt to protect them either.

    If you want a turkey to protect chickens, your best bet is to buy from someone whose turkeys are known to do that. Just raising them with chickens, which I've done for many generations, won't guarantee anything.

    Best wishes.
     
  3. liljunie

    liljunie Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you! I appreciate the info. I think I will forget the turkey idea!
     
  4. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    You're welcome. It does seem it's a bit of a long shot these days. I think your best bet is an animal that is already highly territorial, which can make issues with other domestic animals, but it can work; some people use Maremma dogs or llamas to protect their poultry as well.

    Best wishes.
     
  5. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

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    Any protection that a turkey provides to a flock of chickens is merely coincidental to the turkey protecting itself.
     
  6. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    Not necessarily, because plenty of animals that have social structures involving prolonged familial associations will attack another animal which is attacking a family member of theirs. If a turkey views chickens as its family it will attack predators attacking them. Theoretically, anyway, the reality is that plenty of them will turn tail even if their own chicks are being killed. I found chicken hens on average to be better at defending the flock, lol.

    Best wishes.
     
  7. ivan3

    ivan3 spurredon Premium Member

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    If the chook run is adjacent to turkey run, the size differential (as seen from above) will sometimes make a raptor reconsider stooping on the chooks.

    Our turkey hens are always the first in the flock to ID and alert on aerial preds (followed shortly by the roo).

    Toms will sometimes intimidate visitors into remaining in their cars (they won't discriminate between your friends & the sales folks, however).

    Turkey hens are death to snakes (regardless of size): https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/671185/turkey-hens-and-snakes-pic-heavy

    Turkey hens will stalk (challenge) raptors of medium size (brief vid of mottled hen in last stage of circling Red Shouldered Hawk on stump in L of shot - use full sized player for more detail - Hawk became disgusted (squirting poop) before flying away. This encounter had been going on for at least 5 minutes before I grabbed the camera (had heard other turks alerting but not panicky, over monitor):

    Other than the above exceptions & intimidation of `some' not-so-hungry preds offered by the size differential in a mixed free ranging flock foraging close together? Don't count on it.
     
    Last edited: Jun 1, 2014
  8. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    While I don't disagree with you ivan3, I would just like to add that in my experience my turkey hens didn't care about snakes other than mild curiosity. My chooks were death on snakes, they ate them. Rodents too. I only mention this so nobody assumes all turkey hens are death on snakes, just like all turkey toms aren't death on flock-attackers.

    I found my chickens (of both genders) and turkeys about on-par about aerial predator warnings, though perhaps the turkeys were a bit more 'on the ball'. I didn't allow aggressive turkeys to breed so didn't have any issues with toms and family or visitors.

    Best wishes.
     
  9. ivan3

    ivan3 spurredon Premium Member

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    Yes, that's interesting. Our chooks will usually just `alert' rather than attack, snakes too large to eat (max consumption size, below): [​IMG] [​IMG] When foraging, together, down around the pond, the chooks will `alert' to Northern Water Snakes, but will give them wide berth (even small ones can eat a `big' meal - pic) . The chook alert will cause the turkeys to saunter in, or fly down from the Bald Cypress branches (like to hang out and observe/preen during afternoon heat), the first few nips from the turks and the NWS's head for deeper water: [​IMG] Below is a shot of the Black ratter that the Slate hen (was out for her afternoon `broody break'), by herself, chased out of the firepit, where she had been dirt bathing, and was noticed giving out alarm and leaping up and coming down on the head of snake. I got the camera in time to shoot its successful retreat: [​IMG] As I mentioned in thread I linked to in previous post. the one time I observed an absolute indifference to a snake, by a turkey hen, was when the hen was presenting to be bred (Black Rat coiled next to her in Day lilllies), but vertebrates, of every species, under the influence of `those' hormones often ignore all else... Wonder if your hens know something about those Aussie serpents that promotes `looking & not touching'? In this part of the Northern Hemisphere, the turks I've observed seem to possess an enmity to snakes; the expression of which does not always seem to be driven by hunger/survival. Thanks again for your observations (can't have too many) Take care!
     
  10. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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