Poultry Digital - November 2018

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A: For the birds themselves, there is no advantage to having a mixed flock. Each group of birds fills a different ecological niche in its wild form. Although ducks and geese may be seen together in a wild or feral setting, they have little to do with each other. For us, though, with our desire for the eclectic, a mixed flock in the right setting makes an interesting sight and the interactions between the species can often be a source of great amusement and the occasional mystery. I myself have kept and raised such flocks including turkeys in the mix – al- though I had a very large garden where the grass never became poached. The biggest challenge to keeping a mixed flock is disease, and today, with the spectre of avian influenza, this has never been of greater significance. Going back 150 years, chickens and ducks were not of great commercial interest. Yes, thousands of geese were kept for the Christmas table alongside a few turkeys in more recent times, but nothing like the scale they are today. If, like me, you're a bit of a romantic and long to recreate those pastoral scenes from the pictures of Ludlow and the like, then sadly disease and economics have pretty much knocked all of that on the head. Saying that, in the years I had mixed flocks, even when approaching a commercial scale, I did not encounter disease in a way in which you would see masses of dead birds strewn across fields. I knew, though, from post-mor- tems and regular disease monitoring that subclinical forms of Marek's, coc- cidiosis, mycoplasma and salmonellas were ever present. If I had further inten- sified the operation a clinical outbreak would have been an inevitability. The reasons for increased disease risk are less to do with mixed species and more to do with multiple sources of the original birds, plus the influx of wild populations mixing or passing close to your flock. For instance, it is said that you should not mix chickens and turkeys because of the risk of black head (histomoniasis). The thinking around this is that black head in chickens can be subclinical on a commercial scale, but if it infects turkeys it will kill them en masse. Black head in severe cases will kill chickens as well; it works both ways. Less foreseeable issues arise from aggression and competition for food. Cockerels and ganders have a well-de- served reputation for being vicious brutes, a characteristic they are very willing to display towards different species. Ganders will kill cockerels, grabbing them by the neck and forcing them to the ground. Randy cockerels can also present an issue for unsuspect- ing ducks. Although I've never seen it, it would not surprise me at all if a sex- mad drake tried to have its way with the hens. Drakes in breeding condition will literally force themselves on ducks. On water a duck might occasionally be seen scrambling for breath as a hoard of drakes jostle atop her to claim mating rights. The answer to all these issues is to do your homework and prepare for the unexpected. Give your birds plenty of space and a source of clean water - a shower running for 20 minutes each day is better than a small, easily fouled Q: What are the benefits and challenges of having a mix- species flock of chickens, ducks and geese? YOUR QUESTIONS Poultry professional Mike Colley answers the best questions from The Poultry Site community Got a question? Email newsdesk@5mpublishing.com|Twitter @thepoultrysite|Facebook /ThePoultrySite|Forum forum.thepoultrysite.com| Post Unit 10, Southill Business Park, Cornbury Park, Charlbury, Oxford, OX7 3EW 28

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