By Jenny Brown

Have you ever driven 40 miles in a mini-van to pick up a young ram that bawled loudly the entire ride home?

Been there, done that.

(By the end of that trip, I was bawling)

Have you ever considered bringing home two large, shaggy, spitting llamas to be your chickens’ personal bodyguards for protection against coyotes and neighboring dogs?

Yep. Done that too.

He was so sweet and innocent…until I put him in the car.

Between my husband and myself, it’s more often been me who’s brought home a new species of animal to our little homestead…so it was usually me who did all the research on the animal ahead of time.

Grandma and Grandpa, who remembered the days of simple country life, were no longer around to reap knowledge from. So, I trusted the written experience and knowledge of others. I checked out every library book in the system on raising whatever animal I was considering for to our little farm. I made myself read as much as I could before any new creature set hoof or claw on our property, for their sake and for ours.

Not much resale value left in these farm books! They’ve seen sun, dirt, and unfortunately at times, rain.

If  I couldn’t gobble a book up in one or two sittings and I knew I would refer to it 100 times more, then, and only then, would that book pass muster and be purchased for my personal library. I think, amongst my ‘Hall of Fame’ farming book-shelf, there is around a half-dozen of the classic Storey’s Guides.

But, don’t stop reading here and go out and buy the Storey’s Guides just yet.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence and not as wet behind the ears, I’d like to share with you what I discovered for myself and I think everyone should at least be aware of when reading any farm-guide book.

But first, a little embarrassing history about me…

My husband’s family came from a farming background but they were vegetarians (yes, my husband is somewhat of a rebel – he now loves a good steak).  Cucumber and berry farms and organic gardening were their specialty. So, I was breaking new ground when I brought home our pick-up loaded with of a herd of sheep. Growing clover versus raising cloven hooves is quite a different game.

Early on, as a sophomoric shepherdess, you’d find me with one eye on my new herd and one eye in a book, usually a Storey’s Guide because they are so practical and thorough.

With only one coop, a little red barn, two fenced pastures and a collection of cattle, sheep, chickens, and turkeys, our little farm was a constant juggling act.

Somedays, one big happy family…

…other days a funny farm.

My husband and I would sometimes get in arguments over animal husbandry issues that would arise. He, being the logical thinking, independent type (i.e., one who says “I’ll figure it out myself”), he would approach matters in a way that made the most sense under the circumstances. Me, being the researcher, would follow him around the property, reading aloud from a book and informing him “That’s not the way the book says to do it!” when his ideas were contrary.

One spring, we added a small flock of heritage turkeys to the farm where we already had laying hens. Everyone knows turkey’s and chickens can’t be kept together. Storey’s Guides and just about every other poultry book tell us so. Turkey’s are, they say, very susceptible to contracting a deadly disease called ‘Blackhead’ if sharing the same living quarters with chickens. It was ingrained in my brain that chickens + turkeys = something equivalent to the Bubonic plague.

Our plan was to pasture them with the cattle but the young turkeys (poults) had a terrible habit of drowning in the water trough. Not the brightest birds I’ve seen. So, we built a ‘turkey tractor’ to keep the poults away from the chickens and out of the cattle trough.

By late fall we needed a different arrangement for the cold months ahead. The turkeys were now reaching 20-30 lbs. and much too big to accidentally drown in the shallow trough. We attempted to pasture them with the cattle again, which would give them access to a sheltered barn stall.

It wasn’t but a few days into our new arrangement that I went out to water the cattle and found our largest hen floating in the trough in less than 6” of water. These are, to date, the stupidest creatures we have ever raised.

The dilemma now was what to do with the turkeys. We were going through some tough financial times and building a new facility was not in the equation. All of our scrap wood had been used up for mending jobs and other needed projects around the farm.

My husband said, ”We’ll have to house the turkeys with the chickens in the coop.”

“What?! You can’t do that! They’ll get the blackhead disease and die! The book says so!”

I reluctantly gave in when Joel Salatin’s son, Daniel, told me over the phone that their turkeys and chickens are kept together and they have never had any issues……And, there clearly seemed to be no other option short of selling them.

Winter passed.
Amazingly, they didn’t die. They didn’t get sick. In fact they were quite robust and even got along fairly well with their smaller feathered friends; it was a rather entertaining combination.

Winter games: Chicken vs. Turkey in the 3 Yard Dash

The proud and ‘cocky’ winner

The biggest problem was having  25 – 30 lb. toms all perched together on one roost intended for chickens. By spring, all the roosts were either bowed or cracked and needed replaced.

This experience was one of the first experiences that made me look a little closer at what I had been taught through my reading. I started to question what the real source of authoritative information and scientific data from Storey’s and other livestock/poultry guides were based on.

So, Who were these farm experts that gave us all these do’s and don’ts anyway? A Little ‘Must Know’ History for today’s Homesteader…

Remember “Old Mc Donald” or “The Big Red Barn”? Although greatly ‘storybook-ized,Up until around the turn of the 20th century, a variety of animals really did live happily together on the farm.

The 1930’s was a time of great loss for American farmers.  If the Depression didn’t dry up the family farm, the worst drought in American history likely did. Many farms were lost or abandoned as farmer’s sought work elsewhere to support their families.

By the end of World War II, with all the advancement in machinery, farming was about to be revolutionized. Horse and plow were replaced by the tractor and the government became heavily involved by providing federal funds and new agricultural research.  The government stepped in to help with the food supply to feed all the war-stricken families.

The result?  The country’s main food supply was no longer being grown and raised on small family farms. Larger farms and factories began to feed our nation. By 1940, if you wanted to make money in farming, you needed to know how to run and manage the new government programs.

Some small farms stuck it out, if they could, seeing the downfalls of the commercial industry long before the majority did. Some continued to work the ground because it was deep in their soul. But, many of the remaining family farms happily traded in those years of chores and back-breaking labor for the convenience and savings of purchasing their meat from the local butcher, and eventually, the grocery super-stores.

That’s a very brief history in a nutshell but I just wanted you to get a picture.

Now, where I’m headed with all this…

When were Storey’s books first written? 1983.
The previous forty years of farming, except for a small handful of die-hard farmers, was mainly done on commercial farms and the food processed in commercial factories. Where did all our popular scientific data stem from? I’ll give you a clue…it wasn’t from the small farmer with ‘ol Bessy, who freely roamed the pasture, providing his milk supply.

The information and scientific studies supported by the government and collected from the commercial farms have influenced our resources and are still being published in books written to folks who want to raise a ½ dozen pet chickens in their backyard. The reality is that many of the problems that we are so  heavily warned about were caused by over-crowded factories and farms that the government supported. Yet this education continues on…the USDA has done an excellent job in making your chicken-fearing neighbors think they’ll contract an avian virus just by looking at your birds.

So, I had to ask myself “How does applying the stats of chickens with unattended health problems in a dirt floored, over-crowded building to John’s beautiful flock of 20 pastured hens that he feeds garden leftovers to and tucks in the coop every night, relate?”

Thankfully, as new authors write from a more  ‘homestead’ experience, the old information is slowly being challenged and replaced with information that is more relevant to the backyard farmer. Yet, I still see some of this older information being published.

Don’t get me wrong, in no way am I bashing Storey’s Guides or encouraging unhealthy farm practices. That’s not my point. Nor is being an irresponsible animal owner. Valuable information can still be ‘pecked’ out of such guides. They’re still on my shelf, aren’t they? I Just want you to keep this historical perspective in mind when reading any farm guide so you don’t end up chasing your spouse around the property or worry that the sky is falling if your chickens and turkeys should cross paths. Everything in perspective.

The famous scientist, Louis Agassiz once said, ” Study nature, not books. The best way to learn about the world of nature is to get outside and look at it carefully.”

Life on our little farm only improved when I was more open to learn from observing my own animals in their own environment.  Remember, the animals don’t read the books!

In my next article I will share my discovery on feeding chickens, I first had to test it myself for one full year…it’ll break every rule in the book you’ve ever read (and save you hundreds of dollars)!





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3 Responses to “The Story Behind Storey’s Guides – Who Really Says Chickens and Turkeys Don’t Get Along?”

  1. april Says:

    “the animals don’t read the books” yes ma’am i have always known that, just because it happened once or twice, or even a hundred times, don’t mean your critter will do it. my grandaddy gave me the best advice once. My cat had decided she was going to have her kittens in my 100lb dogs house. (a bull variety) i asked him “what if he hurts the kittens?” and he said “did you raise him that way” she had her kitties, and they had the best godfather anyone could ask for! every variable contributes. your chicks didn’t make the turkeys sick, cause you chicks were raised healthy. i love it.

  2. Audrey Says:

    My grandpa always raised his turkeys with chickens & never had any problems. Healthy animals kept in a clean, smaller-scale, more ‘natural’ farm set-up just cannot be compared to anything reared on a big commercial concern.

    Off topic: I saw your youtube vid on handmilking, and OMG, finally, a video from someone that knows what they’re doing. Not only do you approach the animal from the correct side, but you do that seemingly neglected thing that old farmers ALWAYS did: you express the first streams of milk outside of your milking bucket so the milk will be ‘clean’. Also it’s good to see someone just giving the udders/bag a clean with plain old soap ‘n water & not dousing the poor thing in bleach water…
    Watch some other vids on youtube and you’ll see what I mean!


  3. Alison Butterworth Says:

    Thank you to Jenny and your beautiful family. I’ve only just started reading your blog but from what I’ve read so far, I’m looking forward to reading the rest. I live in Australia and currently am very proud of my organic veggie garden. Although very small, I am still proud. I’d like to share with you that I saved some seeds from an organic red pawpaw and now I have one standing strong as an ox in my garden. Now I wasn’t sure how it was going to be pollinated because all the seeds that grew were female trees and knowing nothing about the previous growers I was starting to think all my efforts were going to be a waist of time. So I picked off one of my male pumpkin flowers and took it up to my female pawpaw and to my delight I now have one and one only pawpaw forming on my tree. I’m so excited. It’s quirky must it might just work. I have my fingers crossed. I will get back to you at a later stage and let you know how it’s going. Kind regards Alison.

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