So you think you have a bully chicken? Learn how to determine if you have a bully chicken and how to reform the bully and restore peace and harmony to the coop.
Normal Chicken Behavior vs. Bullying
First, let’s discuss the difference between normal chicken behavior and bullying. Chickens will peck on each other. That is a part of their nature. An older hen will often deliver a sharp peck to a younger hen to remind her who is the boss. A quick peck here and there is nothing to worry about. It is part of establishing the pecking order of the flock.
And pecking order is a very real thing. But it is part of normal chicken behavior. This is how chickens establish their social hierarchy. The pecking order determines how chickens interact with each other within the flock. The pecking order typically influences who gets the most to eat, who gets the best nest box, and who gets the top roost post.
The order depends on many things within the flock. Age, breed, and personality all play a role in who is the head chicken. The hen highest on the pecking order typically is an older, more aggressive hen. To be the top chicken in the flock, most hens have had to challenge other hens to get there. (And if you have more than one flock of chickens, they each will have their own hierarchy.)
It is important to know the difference between normal behavior and bullying. Bullying is sustained mean behavior by one or more flock members.
Bullying behavior in chickens happens when a chicken is constantly being attacked or pecked by one or more flock members. And oftentimes, the bully is not the head chicken, but rather one in the middle of the pack trying to show dominance to others. And usually, a member lower on the pecking order is the one being bullied.
This is different than a chicken fighting to become higher on the pecking order. When a chicken is trying to move up in the pecking order, she will be fighting with members higher on the social ladder.
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What Causes A Chicken To Become A Bully
There are many factors that can lead a chicken to become a bully. And determining the cause can help you figure out the best way to solve the problem.
Overcrowding in the coop or run is probably the most common cause of a chicken becoming a bully. When chickens live in too close quarters, the flock members lower on the pecking order don’t have places to go to escape the bully. Many times, the problem becomes even more evident in the winter when the chickens aren’t allowed out or choose to spend more time “cooped up” inside. Just like humans, they get on each other’s nerves after a while.
Boredom is another common cause of bullying in the coop. When chickens don’t have enough to do, they will entertain themselves at the expense of other flock members. This is another problem that tends to be more common in the winter when the flock is more confined. Plus, even if your flock does free range, there are less bugs and grass to peck at and discover, so the chickens have less to do.
Stress can also cause a chicken to decide to bully other hens. And there are many factors that can cause the stress. A change in routine, the death of a flock mate, predators around the coop, or even a change in feed can result in extra stress on the hens. And just like humans, stressed chickens tend to act out.
If lots of members of the flock are ganging up on one chicken, it’s possible that the chicken being bullied is sick. A sick chicken will try to hide an illness for as long as possible but many times the flock can sense it anyway.
Before chickens were domesticated a sick chicken would have been pushed out of the flock or even killed because the flock is only as strong as its weakest member. And while our chickens no longer live in the wild, they still retain many of these behaviors. So the natural instinct of the chickens is to drive out the weaker members.
If you notice a chicken is just plucking other chickens feathers and then eating them, your chicken may have a calcium deficiency. It takes a lot of calcium to lay eggs, so be sure to supplement your laying hens with oyster shell to ensure their shells remain thick.
Read: What To Do For Soft Shelled Eggs to learn how to prevent calcium deficiency in your laying hens.
How To Deal With A Bully Chicken
If you determine that you have a bully chicken in your flock and you don’t have any serious injuries, review the reasons above to see if it’s possible for you to determine what might have caused a hen to start bullying other flock members.
If overcrowding is the problem, try to give your chickens more space. Add a few extra roost posts to the inside of the coop. Allow your chickens to free range some if you feel comfortable doing so.
If you think your chickens are bored, try hanging a cabbage or other vegetables in the coop every few days. These hanging vegetable feeders make it easy to add some healthy produce to entertain your hens. Occasionally add some mealworm blocks for the chickens to peck at.
I have even seen chicken swings used to keep a flock of chickens from getting bored. If that’s not your style, at least add some interesting rocks and logs to the run for the chickens to climb on and inspect. Throw in some twigs or old garden debris for the chickens to investigate. Activities where the chickens can peck at other interesting things will give them something to do instead of being mean to their flock mates.
Think about whether your chickens have had any new stressors lately. If you have changed their feed, changed your routine, or there has been a death in the flock, there may be nothing that can be done. But if you notice predators roaming about, be sure your chickens are locked up securely at night so they feel safe.
And if you think a chicken might be sick, by all means, check the hen out and see what can be done for her. If you notice lots of chickens picking on one particular hen, sickness could likely be the cause.
How To Stop A Chicken From Bullying Others
If you have one bully chicken and the chicken isn’t inflicting any damage other than a sharp peck, just monitor the situation. Give them some things to do and maybe even add a few places for the bullied chicken to hide. (Be sure to check these hiding places for eggs as the bullied chicken may decide to start laying her eggs there.)
If the situation seems a bit worse and you have the time, grab a water gun or spray bottle with a stream of water and spend some time with your chickens. Anytime you see the bully attempting to harass other flock members, spray the bully with a stream of water. I have successfully used this method quite a few times to reform a bully chicken.
If You Have An Injured Chicken
If the situation is bad, and the bully won’t leave one or more hens alone, it’s time to take more serious action. The one thing you don’t want to do is to remove the bullied chicken unless she is injured. She will only be worse off when you return her to the flock.
Instead, remove the bully! Take the bully out of the flock and keep her separate for at least a week in isolation. Don’t allow her to see or interact with the other flock members. After a week or so, you can try returning her to the flock. By this time the other members have most likely forgotten about her so she will be back at the bottom of the pecking order.
As low chicken on the totem pole, she really won’t have anyone to bully. And she will have to fight her way back up to her position. Most of the time, she will decide it’s not worth the hassle. This method has always worked for me. However, you occasionally will get a chicken that will try to regain her position. Again, watch closely. But remember, the pecking order is real and there will be some minor pecking and fighting as the chickens jockey for positions.
What To Do For An Injured Chicken
If you do have a chicken that is injured, you have no choice but to remove her from the flock. Otherwise, the hens may kill her. If you see blood, you must immediately remove the hen and treat her injuries. However, if possible, keep the injured hen where she can see her flock mates. This way they don’t forget her. If they do forget who she is, she will start all over at the bottom of the pecking order and is likely to get picked on and bullied again.
How To Prevent Chickens From Being Bullied
While you can’t always prevent a chicken from being bullied, there are some things you can do to make bullying less likely.
First, provide plenty of space for your hens. At a minimum, provide 4 feet of space per chicken in the coop and 8 feet per chicken in the run. However, the more space, the better.
Secondly, provide at least 2 feeders and 2 waterers some distance apart. This makes it much harder for a one chicken to keep others from eating and drinking.
Some people have had good luck using a light with a red bulb. This makes it more difficult for chickens to peck at red combs and wattles. However, I am always hesitant to use any kind of light bulbs in my coop as they are a major fire hazard. But I did find red rope lights on Amazon which should work well, provided they are installed out of the reach of the chickens. (I use regular rope lights to light my coop in the winter.)
If you are trying to integrate new chickens into an existing flock, there will be some fighting and pecking. Both flocks have their own pecking order so a whole new order has to be established. You will closely need to monitor your flock to ensure nothing gets out of hand. I have an entire post on combining two flocks of chickens.
What If My Rooster Is The Bully?
Occasionally, you will have a rooster that is a bully to the hens. First, determine if your rooster is actually being mean to one of your hens or is just mating with her too frequently. If the hen has feathers worn off her back, she is probably the favorite of your rooster. You may want to purchase a chicken saddle to protect her feathers. These fit over a hen’s wings to keep the rooster from pulling out her feathers when he is mating.
If the rooster is really being mean to the hens, it’s time to remove him and try the isolation tricks above.
If you have more than one rooster, it’s possible that you don’t have enough hens for each rooster to have his share. There should be at least 4 hens per rooster in your flock.
And if you introduce a new rooster to a flock with an existing rooster, there will almost certainly be fighting and probably bloodshed. Many times the roosters will fight until one dies.
So while there will most likely be times of unrest in the chicken coop as members shuffle the pecking order, the majority of the time, you shouldn’t notice too much fighting and bullying. Most of the time, peace and harmony will reign.
Have you ever had a bully chicken? What did you do to handle the situation?