Can I Raise Chickens and Turkeys or Peafowl Together?

Many people will say that you cannot raise turkeys or peafowl or any game bird with chickens because of Blackhead Disease. But the truth of this statement really varies according to the land on which your birds live and your ability to properly manage parasites in your birds.

What is Blackhead Disease?

Blackhead Disease is the common name for Histomoniasis. I do not know why people call it Blackhead, because there is no blackening or darkening or any issue with infected birds’ heads. The main sign that your birds are suffering from Blackhead is general lethargy, depression, loss of weight, or in younger birds general lack of weight gain and wasting. If not treated, the infected bird will eventually die.

Blackhead Disease in Turkeys, Chickens and other Game Birds

Blackhead is caused by a protozoan, Histomonas meleagridis, which severely damages the liver and cecum, a primary part of the intestine, of turkeys, peafowl, and other game birds. This protozoan is usually inside the eggs/larva of a parasitic cecal worm. The eggs of the cecal worm can last in the soil for up to three years, however, the infection does not usually occur this way. Typically, an earthworm ingests the cecal worm egg and then a bird eats the earthworm. The cecal worm egg and/or larva can live in an earthworm over a year. When birds eat an infected earthworm, the cecal worm larvae containing the protozoa are released.

Turkeys, peafowl, and game birds like pheasant are very sensitive to these protozoa, and the protozoa thrive in the systems of these types of birds, causing much internal damage. Chickens, on the other hand, may ingest the worms and protozoa but are rather immune to the effects. (Although there have been some cases of chickens being adversely affected by Blackhead, this is very uncommon.) The problem is though that chickens can carry the worms and protozoa and then spread the disease through their droppings. If you only have chickens, no one would ever know that Blackhead is present. If you have turkeys, peafowl, or game birds living with your chickens, specifically with exposure to the chickens’ droppings, then the Blackhead could make your other fowl very sick.

So, if you do not currently have Blackhead on your property, you should not have any problems raising chickens together with turkeys, peafowl, or other game birds. There is no test or way to tell if it is present until you have game birds living with your chickens. Many wild game birds can spread Blackhead, so the disease may creep up on you suddenly. Make a practice of observing your birds. Pick them up and make sure they feel appropriately heavy. Watch them as they move about the yard, and if you see any acting lethargic, depressed, uninterested in foraging, not preening, or with ragged looking feathers, take action. Blackhead can be cured with antiprotozoal medication, such as metronidazole, which specifically would need to be prescribed by a veterinarian and is not labeled for use in turkeys. You may also find commercial turkey feeds that contain a histostat which is a Blackhead preventative.

Note – You should not consume the eggs of birds on antiprotozoal medication. So that means you will have to separate your infected birds from your laying chickens.

I first discovered I had Blackhead on my property when my peafowl got sick. They were diagnosed by a veterinarian and were then separated from my chickens and put on the antiprotozoal medication. It worked, but I was worried they would get reinfected by the chickens, and I did not want to keep my peafowl and turkeys separated from the chickens forever. I wanted all my birds to be able to roam the yard freely.

So, I now have them on a schedule where I pen up the peafowl and turkeys in an aviary once a month, separate from my laying chickens, and I deworm them using Wazine. My thinking is that by regularly eliminating the worms, the protozoa should not have a chance to get into their systems. So far this has worked. For over eight years, I have not had any issues with the peafowl; and the turkeys have been fine and truly thriving since I got them three years ago.

Will this work for everybody? Maybe, maybe not… Here are some factors to note… I have a lot of space and a relatively small number of birds, so the Blackhead, if it is still present, would be spread very thin. Also, it may have been a very small infection to begin with, and so it may be gone completely at this point.

The original peafowl that got sick were only two months old, and younger birds are much more susceptible. I am now very careful with young birds, and I do not expose turkey poults or peachicks to ground that chickens were on until they are fully mature.

Also, I am very adamant about keeping my birds all in optimal health.

If you know you have Blackhead on your property, and you currently have chickens, I would suggest that you think hard before adding turkeys or peafowl or other game birds. Would you be able to separate them completely if need be? However, if your property has been chicken-free for a long time, then chances are, you do not have Blackhead present, and you can enjoy diversifying your chicken flock to include turkeys, peafowl, or other game birds!