Two of our hens are picking on the third hen. We've separated her, and every time we try to re-introduce her, she gets picked on. She becomes a bloody mess, mainly her comb. So we are constantly having to isolate her. Will all three ever be able to live together again? When they are free-ranging, they seem fine. The picking-on happens when they are enclosed in the coop, which is a large coop, so there is plenty of room. Our biggest fear is that she will be picked on to the point of being cannibalized. Any suggestions or ideas?
Hens picking on another hen
Make sure she is completely healed before you try putting her back with the others.
Thanks Ridgerunner. Believe it or not, her last isolation was for a few weeks and her comb had healed nicely. I guess she is just clearly at the bottom of the pecking order. This all started around Christmas. She was truly sick with some sort of bacterial infection so the vet put her on Baytril for a couple of weeks. We had to isolate her, couldn't eat her eggs, etc. I suppose the others started the picking because they knew she was the weak one. Anyway, she is better now and her had comb healed, but all it took was a couple of hours together in the coop. The others just won't give her a break unless the are out and about in the yard. It's kinda sad...she doesn't even try to fight back. This is the third or fourth time we've been through the healing and re-isolation routine. She's a Rhode Island Red. The pickers are another RIR and a Plymouth Rock. The coop is starting to look like the shower scene in Psycho. Unfortunatley, a rooster isn't an option.
I have just been through this same ordeal. Once they taste blood unfortunately they do not stop. They will do it again and again. sorry to sound so negative but it is just something that happens. Mine were too cooped up after being free-range and took it out on the weakest. It is so sad.
I suspect that they have forgotten that she is part of their flock. Could you try sectioning off part of the run for her, and either give her her own mini-coop, or crate her in the coop at night? So she will be able to be seen but not pecked at, and will get some companionship. Maybe after a couple of weeks, they will be more willing to accept her as part of the flock. And let them free-range together if it is not a problem.
It's winter in Maine and I feel pretty cooped up myself, so I know how the hens feel.
Biddieacres.....does your picked-on hen have her own coop now? How have you handled the situation?
When the weather gets a little warmer, I think I may try to do as Coopchick said...maybe try a mini "coop-in-a-coop" so they can refamiliarize themselves. The one hen has been in the basement and her comb has stayed larger and redder, I'm guessing because she's been in the warmer environment. The outside hens' combs are smaller and more shrunken. I wondered if they felt threatened by the isolated hens larger comb, as my understanding is that the comb is sort of a chickens "status symbol". Chicken politics...gotta love 'em.
We were hoping to get two additional pullets this spring...but now I'm not so sure about integrating them after all. Or maybe I'll put then with the underdog hen...
Sounds like you've already gone to more trouble than I probably would to solve this problem. I admire your effort.
I don't have experience with this, just what I've read. I'd certainly like to hear from Biddieacres or anyone else on how they handled this, whether successful or not, even if it is simply "I ate the victim and that ended it" or "I ate the victim and they then started picking on the new lowest in the pecking order so we had to get rid of all of them and start over." We can all learn that way.
Have you noticed if it is one of the two others that is a ringleader or are both equally guilty? I saw a post on here where one chick in the brooder was terrorizing the other chicks. Some time for the bully (I don't remember how long) in chick prison calmed the other chicks and the bully stopped the pecking when it got out of prison. If appropriate, you migth try coop-in-a-coop on the aggressor and see if the other two can get along.
The larger, redder comb may be the red flag that sets off the bullies. Good observation. If you can acclimatize them so the combs are equal, it may remove the trigger that starts the aggression. And a red light in the coop is supposed to reduce cannibalism. I don't know if a red light will keep them laying in winter.
I also like chookchick's idea of the coop-in-a-coop to get them used to each other again. It's worth a try. And I would get the new pullets this spring and house them side by side with the others (after quarantine to check for diseases) to give them a chance to get used to each other. There are reference books that will tell you how to do this. Many of these books area available at your local library. I've seen some threads in this forum on that topic or you could start your own like you did this one.
Thanks again Ridgerunner....you make several good points. We're lucky that we have the space and supplies to keep them separated. It's a tad inconvenient but we're managing. They free-ranged again today with no problems (no blood), but we didn't let them stay together in the coop.
I'm gonna give it a few more weeks before I move Ruth, the victim, back outside with the others. A couple of modest adaptations to our coop will allow her to be sectioned off but she'll remain separated by a wire mesh barrier...hence the coop-in-the-coop idea. We have wanted to do it sooner, but until very recently we've been dealing with many
-15 degree days and nights, and she had been housed in the basement since Christmas after being sick. I just didn't have the heart to stick her back in the elements after getting her used to the warmth of the house....even if she does have a lot of feathers and down. We're used to having her inside now ...it's like having a parrot. As soon as the temps stay in the high 20s and 30s regularly at night, I'll put her back out. Hopefully that will be in a few weeks.
The two outside chickens both pick on Ruth equally. The Plymouth Rock (Mayme) is the largest and definitely in charge and she also picks on the other RIR (Dorothy) that shares the coop, but not as badly as Ruth. Dorothy's comb is pretty gross...small and scabby with patches of white (frostbite?) but she holds her own against Mayme. I have tried to keep Vaseline and Neosporin on the combs to help with the frostbite and pecking wounds.
I read in one of my chicken books that the comb is the chickens means of controlling body temperature. It would stand to reason that the comb would be larger in the warmer months, the warm air being cooled by the comb's dense network of blood vessels and circulating the cooled blood to the rest of the body. In the winter here, the combs have gotten smaller and have turned whiteish here and there....makes sense...they need no cooling since its already freezing out. Ruth is in the warmer basement environment, so her comb hasn't shrunk so much. The book goes on to say that the hen with the largest comb can often become the leader and will even go as far as crowing like a rooster. It's just my own theory that the comb size might play into the politics, but I think it makes a certain amount of sense.
I'm hoping for the best this spring...it sure will be nice if they could all stay in the same tractor/coop again. If not, I guess we'll deal. Thanks again.
The wire mesh separation sounds perfect. They can still see each other but she will be protected and happy. It may be a little hard to figure out the separation but once it is in place everyone will benefit.
Come spring everone will be happy especially since they are able to free range on your property. When my were free range there were no problems. With the snow and being couped up is when the trouble began and got worse and worse.
Sorry, Yes mine are separated and she stays with her one pal who didn't terrorize her. They both were scared to even eat. Now that they are separated they are slowly beginning to relax and eat and drink. Chickiepoo and I both had the same problem with our hens. It is a weird thing some of them do by turning to cannibalism. She would have been eaten to death if I didn't find her when I did. I wouldn't want that to happen to poor Ruth or anyone!
A farmer up the road just told me that his hens did that in the winters when the water would freeze. OK I hope I don't make anyone sick.....but he said if they didn't have water they would peck a hen and get water. I guess he meant blood. ugghhhhhh I love chickies so much but I am learning that this is just some weird thing that just happens.
Good luck with the separation and I know things will look up for you come spring.
edited to say, I think it would be a good idea to integrate the spring pullets with ruth and having that wire separation it is a good way to let everyone see the pullets and get used to them with the wire protecting them. So that work you are doing on the coop will come in handy again for you.
Edited by Biddieacres - 2/22/09 at 5:49pm