Are you having problems with one your hens getting picked on? Is she missing feathers on her back even to the point of being bloody? These could be signs that you have chicken bullies on your hands.
Chicken bullying can be a really frustrating problem, but it’s one you don’t have to live with. We’ll explain below all the reasons chickens tend to bully each other and exactly what you can do to stop it.
Is it a Bully or a Pecking Order Change?
Sometimes it can be hard to tell what’s going on in the world of chicken drama. As you’ll see below, any small change to the flock or their environment can throw off the power dynamics and cause fights.
One thing to keep in mind is not all chicken fights are a bad thing, and not all of them are caused by bullying.
Practically all chickens fight sometimes, it’s normal, natural chicken behavior. Chickens fight to establish their place in the pecking order, and they’re going to do it on occasion no matter what.
If you see your chickens sparring a bit, take a moment to observe what’s going on, then put on your detective hat and get to the bottom of it. If you know something recently changed the dynamics of your flock, like adding or losing flock members, it might be worthwhile to give it a little time and see if what’s happening is the formation of a new pecking order.
This will be obvious if not one, but many, or even all of your chickens are fighting and pecking at each other. If that’s the case, there’s nothing you can do but give it time to sort itself out.
However, if there is one or a few chickens that are constantly doing the fighting, you may have a bully on your hands. On the other side of the coin, if you have one chicken that’s getting picked on by everyone, there’s an issue that needs to be solved with that one hen.
Read on to find out why chickens bully and what you can do about it.
What Causes chicken bullying?
The first thing you need to do when there is a bullying issue in your flock is to try to figure out what’s causing this aggressive behavior.
First, let’s take a look at reasons that can cause bullying.
Sick chicken or Injured Hen
Sickness and injuries in a chicken can cause the rest of the flock to be on high alert. Their instinct is to remove the sick one from the flock, and they will begin pecking and pulling feathers to get them to leave. Wounded chickens will get picked on relentlessly, especially if they’re bleeding, as other chickens are drawn to the blood.
Is one of your hens getting picked on by several other flock members, or even the entire flock? Then there’s an issue with that hen that needs to be solved.
It’s possible that she’s sick or injured and needs to recuperate in a safe place. Check the hen over thoroughly, since chickens are prey animals they are very good at hiding their maladies. Even if you can’t find anything wrong with her, it might be best to give her a few days reprieve from the rest of the flock. A little time away can do wonders.
Stress is a significant factor, and one of the most common reasons that chickens bully each other. Chickens become stressed during the hot months of summer, when they have changes in diet, they lose or gain new flock members or move to a new coop.
Chickens can also become stressed if predators are lurking outside the coop. Do your best to make sure your coop is predator proof to keep your flock safe and stress free.
Make sure your flock always has plenty of food and water, and you might even want to set up 2 or 3 different feeding stations so there isn’t competition for the one.
Chickens are touchy to change, so keep a close eye whenever you make changes with your flock, and do so gradually whenever possible. Eliminate stressors whenever you can.
Change in Pecking Order
There are many things that can cause an abrupt change in the pecking order in your flock. The most common is getting new chickens or losing chickens from your established flock.
The social hierarchy in a flock of chickens is a precious balance, and disruptions will almost always lead to fighting. If you’re adding new chickens to your flock the best thing to do is to introduce them to the rest of the flock gradually so the new hens don’t immediately fall to the bottom of the pecking order.
If the hen at the top of the pecking order has fallen from grace, she may be trying to re-establish her dominance.
The truth is, all chickens peck at each other at times. It’s possible what you’re seeing is short periods of disruption that will work themselves out. If you’ve added or lost chickens from your flock, give it a little time to sort itself out.
If you have one chicken who’s still fighting after a few weeks, you may want to follow the tips below to take care of that bully.
During the long winter months or any time the flock has to be locked up in the coop, boredom can set in. They are curious birds and need entertainment if not, they can turn on one another.
If it’s during one of the seasons where the flock doesn’t get out as much, such as winter, there are several boredom busters you can add for your flock such as throwing mealworms in with new bedding for the coop and adding entertainment into the coop such as mirrors, hanging cabbages or new roosting areas.
You can also build some dust baths in the chicken run to keep the hens busy, or let them out to free range more frequently so they stay busy.
Is the bullied hen acting broody? If so, this is likely to cause the whole rest of the flock to pick on her.
A broody hen can be isolated and pecked by other hens. The other hens could keep the broody hen from getting food and water and when she comes out of the nest. You’ll need to either break the broodiness or isolate her until she naturally stops being broody.
Lack of Space
If chickens don’t have enough room, this also can cause bullying. There is a minimum number of square feet necessary for each bird in order for the whole flock to be comfortable.
Chickens act on instinct, so if they don’t have enough space, they try to make the others leave to alleviate the situation.
If overcrowding is the issue, you may have to separate your flock into two coops, build a bigger coop, or re-home some of them to help the situation. Making sure your chickens have plenty of space is one of the best ways you can keep them from bullying each other.
How to Stop Chicken Bullies
If you’ve worked your way through the list above and found that you still have a bully on your hands, it’s time to get a little tougher.
Sometimes all is well with most of the birds, the coop is fine, there’s nothing stressing the chickens, and you still have one chicken who has to be a jerk. Occasionally you get an aggressive hen and there’s no rhyme or reason to this behavior.
If you’re just dealing with one bully chicken and there’s no obvious reason for their behavior, you’ll have to try some tactics to help this one chicken turn things around.
Pinless Peepers restrict the view directly in front of the chicken. These “glasses” don’t inhibit all their sight as they can see to the sides, but it stops the picking of feathers on another hen. They’re quite inexpensive, and it’s recommended to use a unique pair of pliers to place them on the hen.
Some chicken keepers swear by this contraption and claim it has completely stopped feather picking and bullying in their flock. It’s certainly worth a try, it could be the perfect way to a peaceful flock.
Isolating the bully is a great way to modify her behavior.
Separation from the rest of the flock while still in view is preferable. Chickens are social birds, and hopefully, after a few days, you can return her to the flock where she will have to go through the pecking order once again. The rest of the flock will adjust their social order while the bully is separated and she’ll have to work her way back into it when she returns. We like to keep a separate pen available for just these types of situations.
If you’re having problems with more than one hen being a bully, then isolating the flock in their coop and run and allowing the bullied hen to roam free and forage quickly changes the pecking order. The bullied hen is raised in status, while the rest of the flock lowers.
Alas, you may have tried all types of gentle behavior modification but to no end.
It is time to think about rehoming the bully or bullies to a new location. Sometimes this is just what’s needed for the bird to re-set and fit into a different flock.
If you do choose to re-home, be very upfront about why you’re doing it. It’s not fair to another chicken keeper to trick them into taking a problem chicken. Tell them this hen has been bullying in your flock and you’re hoping a new flock dynamic will be a better fit.
We had an issue several years ago where we took 3 hens from an acquaintance and no matter what we did, those new birds couldn’t acclimate to our flock. They were too dominant and were constantly fighting with all the rest of our flock.
We knew pretty quickly that they needed a new home but didn’t want to load our problem onto someone else. Luckily we had a friend who was looking to start raising chickens and only wanted a few hens. She was happy to take those three hens, who got along perfectly with each other, and raised them for years in a small coop in her backyard. It was a happy ending for everyone.
Hopefully, your flock lives peacefully together, but if not, try out some of these solutions and let us know in the comments how it goes!