How Chickens Interact with Other Poultry and Animals

By Kimberly Willis, Robert T. Ludlow

Many new chicken owners want to know how chickens interact with other poultry or animals. Many people envision a happy barnyard mixture of chickens and other poultry, or perhaps goats and horses. You can have that peaceful environment, in most cases, if you have some knowledge of how chickens interact with other animals.

Dogs and cats and chickens

Dogs and chickens often don’t mix well. In fact dogs can be a chicken-keeper’s worst enemies — even your own dog.

People can own both dogs and chickens if some basic precautions are taken. Be very careful introducing dogs to chickens, even small dogs. Terriers and hunting breeds may be more likely to kill chickens but any breed or mix of breeds is capable of doing harm. Never leave dogs alone with chickens until you have observed the dog interacting with the chickens safely many times under various circumstances.

Some dogs simply ignore chickens, but to many dogs, chickens are just fun. They run and squawk, and it’s all very exciting. Even if they don’t catch them, dogs should never be allowed to chase chickens. Being chased is very stressful to a chicken: In their minds, a dog is the same as a fox or a wolf.

Stressed chickens don’t lay well, aren’t friendly, and get sick more often. You may think it’s cute to see dogs “herding” the chickens, but the chickens don’t.

Training a dog that shows interest in chasing or harming chickens rarely works unless the dog is a pup and you are a good and consistent trainer. If your dog wants to chase or, worse, kill chickens, the chickens and dogs must be confined separately or you must consider which animals you really want to own. Confining both the chickens and the dog gives you double protection.

Cats don’t usually pose a risk to adult chickens. They will kill and eat chicks, however, so you need to protect the chicks from them. Wait to introduce cats to chickens until the chickens are full grown. Barn cats usually learn at a young age to avoid chickens because adult chickens can be very mean to kittens. Most barn or outside cats will simply ignore chickens. Cats often go hunting for mice and rats in chicken areas, but only rarely will a feral cat kill a chicken.

Ducks and geese with chickens

In general, ducks and geese get along well with chickens. However, you may need more room than a small backyard to keep them with chickens. Ducks and geese need to be kept where they have a lot of space to roam and a place to bathe. Ducks and geese can also furnish you with edible eggs, but you need to know some info about these combinations.

You can mix ducklings or goslings (baby geese) with chicks in a brooder (a warm, protected spot for baby poultry) without them harming each other. However, you’ll need a plan for meals. Chicks start out with medicated feed, but ducklings and goslings shouldn’t have medicated starter feed because they’re sensitive to the antibiotic used. Since you can’t keep them from eating each other’s feed, all the babies will need unmedicated feed. This compromise may then lead to more disease problems in the chicks.

Use a higher-protein feed, such as broiler feed, for ducklings — the chicks will be okay with that choice, too. As adults, ducks, geese, and chickens can eat the same feed, although special feed mixes for ducks are available.

Keep in mind that ducks are messy, even when they’re ducklings. They’ll play in the water, and their droppings are more liquid than chicks, so brooders with ducklings need more frequent cleaning to keep them dry. Ducklings don’t need to swim while in the brooder (although they will if they can fit inside the water container), and it’s not recommended to let them bathe if you’re keeping them with chicks. Goslings aren’t quite as messy with water.

Be aware that, with the exception of Muscovy ducks, ducks and geese can be noisy, and neighbors may not welcome them.

You’ll need to address one other consideration when keeping ducks with chickens. Don’t keep male ducks with chickens without female ducks also being present. Ducks are often aggressive sexually. If they’re deprived of their own females, they may mate with hens.

Unlike roosters, male ducks (called drakes) have a penis and may hurt hens. Male geese (ganders) also might mount chicken hens, but it’s much less frequent. Roosters can mount female ducks, too, but it’s not as common. These matings don’t result in fertile eggs.

Mother hens and ducks sometimes raise each other’s babies when allowed to mingle freely. They may lay in each other’s nests and sit on each other’s eggs. Chicks don’t usually follow a stepmama duck into water, but it has happened. Baby ducklings can confuse a hen when they pop into water to swim, but it rarely causes a problem.

Turkeys and chickens

When breeding turkeys, having broody chickens around can be a problem. The birds will squabble over nests and disrupt egg incubation. Occasionally, individual turkeys and chickens develop a dislike for each other, and this fighting can cause distress to the other birds. If this happens, you need to separate those individuals.

You can raise baby turkeys (poults) with baby chicks if you remember that the poults need more protein than chicks. You must feed a turkey starter to them (24 to 26 percent protein), or they will develop crooked legs and wings and may die.

When the poults are about a month old, separate the turkey poults and regular chicks if the chicks aren’t broiler (meat) chicks (you can leave turkeys with broiler chicks until the broilers are butchered). After they’re separated, you need to feed the growing chickens chick grower (lower protein). Turkeys need a high-protein feed until they finish growing.

Turkeys and chickens have been known to mate with each other, although it is rare. Sometimes hybrid birds have hatched from these matings, but those birds are sterile.

Guineas and chickens

Guinea fowl can be kept successfully with chickens, but they’re much noisier than chickens. They also fly well, wander extensively, and like to roost in trees at night.

Adult guineas can eat the same food as adult chickens. Baby guineas can be raised with chicks, but they should have a higher-protein feed, such as broiler chicken feed, of about 20 to 24 percent protein.

Guineas and chickens have mated with each other in rare circumstances and produced sterile offspring.

Pheasants and quail with chickens

Don’t mix pheasants and quail with chickens. As babies, these birds are fragile and require game bird starter as feed. As adults, they’re often aggressive, particularly some pheasant breeds, and often kill chickens. Pheasants and quail tend to make chickens act wilder when kept together.

Chickens are sometimes used to hatch pheasant or quail eggs and can raise the babies successfully. Pheasants rarely mate with chickens and, when they do, produce sterile offspring.

Other livestock and chickens

With the exception of pigs, it’s mostly up to individual animals how chickens and large livestock interact. Pigs will eat chickens they can catch, and it’s highly recommended that you keep chickens away from pig pens. Cattle, sheep, goats, and horses occasionally can be mean to chickens, but usually they ignore them.

Chickens will pick through manure to eat maggots and undigested food. This practice is great fly control, but if it disgusts you, keep the chickens out of pastures and stalls. It doesn’t affect the taste or safety of chicken eggs, by the way.

One issue to worry about when keeping chickens with livestock is the health of the livestock. Don’t let chickens poop on livestock feed or hay or in their water. Chicken waste can sicken livestock. Also be extremely careful to keep chicken feed where livestock can’t get to it. A few handfuls of chicken feed may kill a horse or goat because it causes bloat or colic.