The Pecking Order Explained
Before you can deal with chickens pecking each other and bullying, you need to understand both the pecking order of your flock and their typical behavior.
Then you will be able to tell the difference between usual pecking and bullying.
The pecking order is the social ladder (or hierarchy) of a flock of chickens and it determines the way in which the chickens live within the flock.
The fittest and healthiest birds will sit at the higher levels of the hierarchy while the weaker birds will sit at the lower levels.
One good example of how the pecking order plays out in their daily lives is feeding or eating time. Birds at the top of the pecking order will get first access to food and water. The resources will continue to dwindle with each tier until the lowest level of chicken gets the leftovers.
It may seem cruel but the pecking order is a natural system and ensures that in the worst case scenario at least the healthiest chickens will live.
So what does pecking order behavior look like?
Pecking order behavior is intentional – it is done by a chicken who is looking to climb the hierarchy.
The chicken will behave aggressively in order to intimidate weaker chickens in order to establish their place.
This aggression can include pecking preventing access to feed and jostling.
Pecking order behavior is considered minimally aggressive and short-lived. It should be noted that once the hierarchy is established aggressive pecking should stop.
If the behavior does not stop after the chicken has climbed the ranks and is seemingly targeting a particular chicken, then it is chicken bullying. Bullying is done for a variety of reasons including boredom and stress, but it is never done for a specific reason such as pecking order behavior.
Reasons Why Chickens Peck And Bully Each Other
Overcrowding is the most common cause of chickens pecking each other.
A lack of resources will also cause competition between members of the flock. This encourages pecking between the more assertive members of the flock and the weaker ones. By providing enough space and resources, such as more feeders and waterers, weaker birds will be able to eat and drink without having to compete.
It is also important to have enough space for chickens to live if they are kept in a run. This discourages competition and gives them enough space to run from the bullies if the situation turns for the worst.
Enough perches should also be provided in order to provide some safe, high spaces for the chickens to escape too.
Overheating the chicken coop can also cause bullying.
This is because if it is too hot your chickens will be uncomfortable. They will peck and bully other chickens in order to relieve their frustrations at the uncomfortable temperature.
Clean and cool water should always be provided. Ventilation should also be provided in order to cool down the area.
Too Much light can lead to chickens becoming aggressive with each other.
In general it is best to not use any lighting in the coop and let the chickens follow the natural rhythm of daylight.
A lack of food and water is another major cause of pecking.
If chickens have certain deficiencies in their diet it can cause them to pick at feathers.
Make sure that your chickens are receiving a healthy diet by using a high quality feed that includes all the necessary nutrients.
Also it is also important that your chickens are receiving a lot of water in their diet, so providing a constant supply of fresh water is extremely important.
A lack of salt in the diet can specifically cause pecking at the preen gland. This gland produces an oil that chickens use to groom themselves. It is salty in taste so chickens peck at each other’s preen gland in order to compensate.
Injuries can commonly lead to chicken bullying.
Chickens will naturally always peck at each other but will gain significant interest if the chicken does not react or is unable to react due to injury. This is dangerous because it can swiftly become an unhealthy behavior.
Make sure that injured chickens are quickly removed from the flock to be treated and healed until they are better.
The size of a flock can also cause pecking.
In large flocks (30+ chickens) it is difficult to recognize who are the higher class and lower class chickens. This causes stress and anxiety for the chickens and makes them more aggressive and more likely to peck and bully each other.
Flocks will less than 30 birds do best.
Quick changes to their environment can also cause bullying.
This can be things like moving the feeders and waterers.
Feeders and waterers should stay in the same place as this helps them feel comfortable and confident wherever they go. If feeders and waterers need to be changed then it is best to leave the old ones in the coop until they are comfortable with using the new ones.
Finally if there are not enough nesting boxes then it can cause chickens to peck one another.
Hens are vulnerable when they lay eggs so a comfortable and secure space is highly prized. If there are not enough nesting boxes then more senior hens will bully other chickens out of the nesting boxes.
You should make sure to have at least 1 nesting box for every 3 hens.
How To Stop Chickens From Pecking Each Other
Now that you know many of the causes of pecking and bullying how should you go about preventing them?
It is your job to learn about your flock and observe their behavior.
You will then be able to identify the cause of pecking and make the appropriate changes.
As previously mentioned overcrowding is a common issue related to bullying. In general the best way to prevent this is to provide enough living space and resources in order for the chickens to feel comfortable and secure. Without enough space and resources chickens will feel the need to compete out of fear of lack of resources.
Chicken pecking due to overheating can be prevented by keeping the chicken coop and enclosure at the proper temperature. If it is too warm , then shade and water should be provided to help them cool down.
Excessive light can also be easily prevented by limiting the light exposure to about 16 hours per day. However it is best to mimic natural daylight patterns whenever possible.
Nutrition is an extremely important factor to consider when preventing bullying and pecking – deficiencies in their diet can cause aggression and pecking. You need to make sure they have access to a good quality laying feed. It is also important that chickens have an ample supply of fresh water so they are properly hydrated and are not competing for water.
Chickens will naturally peck at injured chickens due to curiosity and this can easily lead to destructive and harmful habits. Immediately removing the injured chicken to treat them is the best course of action here. Additionally make sure to chicken-proof the coop to make sure there is nothing that could injure your chickens.
Flock size is another hidden cause of chicken pecking. In order to prevent this you should keep each flock size to less than 30. Anymore than 30 chickens in each flock and you are risking antisocial behavior.
Environmental changes can stress a flock out (especially when it relates to food and water). When you are moving your chickens to a new environment or changing their environment try to keep their old feeders and waterers. This helps your chickens feel more comfortable when adapting to a new and strange situation.
Nesting boxes are supposed to be a safe space for your hens to lay their eggs. To prevent chicken bullying it is extremely important that these boxes are safe from the elements and other chickens. Other hens can easily pick on a hen ready to lay because she is vulnerable and cannot defend herself.
Boredom is another cause of pecking. In order to stop bullying due to boredom make sure to provide a stimulating environment which allows your chickens to be active and explore.
If all else fails then you can use separation.
Separating the bully from the victim chicken is the most surefire way to stop the bullying from happening. This may mean separate coops for the night or introducing the bullied chicken to a new flock.
How To Help Chickens Injured From Bullying
If one of your chickens is being pecked and bullied there are a few things you can do to help.
The first thing you need to do is consider our list earlier in the article and make sure all of your chickens basic needs are being met.
Also it could be you picked an assertive breed.
Remember bullying is a complex issue and there are a variety of factors that can influence it. It might not just be one factor but a combination of factors encouraging your chickens to bully each other.
Your job as their keeper is to act as a detective and observe their behavior.
Is there enough space per chicken in the coop? Although the minimum space requirement is often enough some chickens might be more territorial than others and need more space. Is it too hot in the coop or is there an excessive amount of light making the chickens uncomfortable and more prone to pecking? Are they getting enough nutrients from their diet?