I need some advice from any chicken psychologists out there. WARNING: LONG POST.
I have three girls about 8 months old, only one of whom is laying. I think bullying is the issue, but they have a pretty weird pecking arrangement. They all grew up together from chicks, but right around the time they started to lay they killed their buddy Sophia. :( We were on vacation when it happened, so I'm not sure what started it--if she was injured somehow or they just turned on her. Here are the profiles of the remaining chooks:
Blanche is a silver-laced Wyandotte. She's a total diva. She's an active, happy chicken and an excellent layer, and currently the top of the pecking order. However, she's becoming more and more of a bully. She mostly picks on Dorothy, but also Rose. When she gets frustrated, like if I walk by their pen without giving them any treats, she'll jump on top of Dorothy and hold her down while pecking at her comb, although I've never seen her draw blood. Last week I noticed Rose was missing a bunch of neck and tail feathers; not sure if it's pecking-related, but isn't she too young to molt?
Dorothy is a Black Marans. She is a lazy, mean-spirited chicken who likes to sit on the high roost all days and give this ungodly loud squawk at everything that moves. She reminds me of a grumpy old lady sitting on her front porch yelling at the kids to get off her lawn. :) She was the top of the pecking order when they were young, but Blanche turned on her around the time they started laying. Now she is skittish and scared and flinches every time Blanche comes near. She laid exactly two eggs and then apparently decided motherhood wasn't for her.
Rose is a Welsummer. She's kind of flighty and always seems perplexed by the fact that she is a chicken. I'm not sure if that's because she's really smart or really dumb. She is the follower of the group, so I assume she is at the bottom of the pecking order; but she won't tolerate being pecked. If Blanche nips at her, she fights back (wings spread, chest bumping) and Blanche always backs down. Then Rose will get a few hard pecks at Blanche for good measure. She laid for about a month and then just stopped; no eggs for several months. Her comb is fairly pale as well.
I've tried everything I can think of to keep them healthy and entertained. Their run is not huge but definitely big enough for 3 chickens (about 60 sq. ft., with two stories in one section, and roosts at different levels. They have toys and treats. Their diet consists of layer feed supplemented with oyster shell, grit and DE. They get vitamins in their water. As treats they get dried mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, weeds, kitchen scraps, and scratch. I treated them for worms about 3 weeks ago just in case (Safeguard) and I haven't seen any evidence of mites.
As a last resort, I separated Blanche about 10 days ago--she has the coop, and others have the run, which is covered and has roosts and overturned flowerpots to lay in. She can hear them and there are some gaps where she can see them. She thinks she got her own special apartment because she is a princess. The other two have perked up since she's been gone--Dorothy is back to her loud obnoxious self, and Rose is growing her feathers back. Their combs seem slightly redder too, but still no eggs. I think it's about time to let Blanche back in and see how it goes.
If things continue as they were after they're reunited, I'm not sure what to do. I don't want Dorothy and Rose being terrorized or even cannibalized. I could get rid of Blanche because she's the bully, but she's the only layer, and what if Dorothy and Rose don't ever start laying again? How long should it take them to start laying after the bully is removed, if that's the issue? Or is it really the issue? Could it be something else? Personally, I think all three of them are just really strong personalities and they stress each other out. Maybe they would do better integrated into a bigger flock. I'm thinking about getting rid of them all and starting over. Any thoughts?