Farming Other Animals with Free-Range Chickens
If you love your chickens and have enjoyed free-ranging them on your property, it’s only natural to think of having other farm animals. What joy to have fresh milk, fresh goat cheese, or farm-raised lamb!
Chickens are low maintenance, leave a small livestock footprint, and are adaptable to many different environments. Other farm animals may not be as easy to take care of as chickens and may require more time to manage.
Before you add other animals to your land, you must confirm that your zoning requirements specifically allow farm animals like horses, cows, goats, sheep, pigs, geese, ducks, or guinea fowl. Here’s where a country homesteader may be at a greater advantage than those living in the suburbs or cities. Those who live in the country most likely are zoned for other farm animals and have the space and the capabilities for housing them. Always check with your city and county zoning and ordinances first, just like you did when planning for chickens.
Adding large animals to your chicken farm
Oddly enough, chickens get along with most farm animals even though they have such a dominant pecking order within their flock. Free-ranging chickens go about their business, happily foraging to their hearts’ content no matter what other farm animals are around.
As social creatures, chickens can comingle among larger farm animals like horses, donkeys, llamas, cows, sheep, and goats. Although these animals are compatible with chickens, there can be risk of underfoot injury and unintentional trampling.
In a barnyard situation, chickens can add a little companionship and stability for larger farm animals. In return, there is safety in numbers and having big animals near chickens may discourage a predator from stalking.
Horses and cows
A large flock of free-pasturing chickens can cross graze after cows and horses, eagerly picking through dung and cow patties for larvae, maggots, and parasites. Most parasites are species specific and chickens safely interrupt the parasite lifecycle by eating them. Chickens also keep fly populations down by eating maggots, and they helpful spread manure and mix it back into the soil. Chickens also eat undigested feed and seeds that are passed through manure, thus saving you money by reducing feed waste.
Do not let chickens graze with livestock that have been given chemical de-wormers or any medication.
Goats and sheep
Goats and sheep are becoming almost as popular as chickens on small-farm homesteads. You can keep goats, sheep, and chickens together in one enclosed pen. Chickens can pick up grain the goats and sheep drop. The presence of larger animals reduces predator loss of chickens. Llamas and donkeys are particularly good at protecting sheep and goats against coyotes and dogs, if they are kept in the same pen.
Keeping goats, sheep, and chickens together in a pen may also limit diseases and parasites.
Goats are great jumpers. They prefer taking chunks out of trees and shrubs and they can be mischievous in their quest to reach delectable landscape. Don’t get goats to replace your lawnmower; goats won’t eat grass.
Pigs won’t work in a companion livestock concept because they’re omnivorous and may injure or eat your chickens. Pigs need their own environment.
Adding other fowl to your chicken farm
Other farmland birds aren’t as easy to train as chickens, but they require less space than animals like sheep and horses so they may work for suburban and urban settings. If your city zoning permits other fowl, you can consider ducks, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, and peacocks.
Some people prefer duck eggs to chicken eggs because of their size and richness. You can raise ducks for meat too. But ducks are messier birds than chickens. Because of their webbed feet, ducks don’t aerate soil but instead compact it over time, especially in muddy areas. Ducks need access to a clean source of water to swim in, drink from, cleanse themselves, and mate. Snails and slugs aren’t favorite foods of chickens, but ducks will eat snails in your garden. Ducks really like grass, more than chickens do. Don’t house ducks with chickens because of the disease potential.
Ducks can bond with you if you raise them from ducklings, but they tend to be flighty by nature. The duck breed, Indian Runners, is fun to watch in the garden because they run upright like wobbly wine bottles. Ducks can successfully free-range with chickens.
There’s something romantic about a pair of geese roaming your garden; for one thing, they stick together as a pair because they mate for life. Your geese would prefer to have water to play in, but it’s not an absolutely necessary for them like it is for ducks.
Like ducks, geese will compact your soil. Geese are big and can be intimidating as they run at you, honking with open wings. For this, they’re great watchdogs. Geese bite sometimes, so you’ll want to keep small children away from them.
Geese are territorial and they may bully your chickens from time to time, but geese are generally compatible with chickens in a free-range environment. As far as housing, it’s best to keep geese in a separate protected pen of their own. Although big, geese can still fall prey to predators because they’re clumsy and slow on their webbed feet.
Geese thrive on grass and are considered weeders. However, they tend to eat everything, not just weeds. Geese like grain too.
Turkeys are best for country dwellers rather than an urban garden. They’re big, bossy birds that dominate over the barnyard and chickens. Turkeys will trample your plants; they can be curious and sometimes appear to be stalkers. Watch young children around turkeys.
Turkeys and chickens can co-mingle in a free-range environment, but are best housed separately. Chickens can transmit a disease called blackhead to turkeys, so keep both pens clean.
Turkeys can eat either a custom non-medicated feed or chicken feed. If you intend to raise turkeys to eat, you will want to feed them the custom turkey feed because it’s higher in protein. Turkeys also enjoy eating corn and oats, sunflower seeds, and many greens such as lettuce, Swiss chard, and cabbage.
Guinea fowl are interesting creatures. They can be wild and loud — you’d be surprised how loud! Like geese, guinea fowl are good watchdogs and will let you know if something is amiss, only they won’t bite the interlopers.
Guinea fowl are prized for their tender “slightly gamey” meat, their delicious eggs, and their decorative plumage. Guinea fowl can live with chickens and even mate with them, producing offspring that are sterile.
Guinea fowl prefer to roost in trees and they have to be trained to come into the coop at night (this takes patience on your part). A guinea hen will make a nest and lay her eggs in random, hard-to-find places. They’re great foragers for bugs but they don’t scratch, which is less destructive to your garden than chickens.
Watch many movies and you’ll see peacocks on an undulating green lawn in front of a stone fountain with a grand estate in the background — who wouldn’t want one or two on their lawn or perched in the trees?
Raising peacocks is rising in popularity and they can co-exist with chickens in a free-range environment. They forage on grass, bugs, seeds, and insects; and they can eat a commercial poultry feed. As with chickens, peacocks need to have grit in their diet to digest their food.
The downsides: Peacocks require 80 square feet per bird in their housing. When breeding, they prefer to be by themselves. Peacocks can become wild in a free-range environment, and be prepared for their deafeningly loud noise.
Their beauty and feathers are undeniable, but it’s best to do extensive research to decide whether raising peacocks is right for you before taking the plunge.