Chicken bully/chicken victim - a two-sided issue

By azygous · May 12, 2018 · ·
  1. azygous
    Just as school officials often overlook the importance of dealing with the victim of bullying in a school situation, we chicken folk often neglect the importance of dealing with the victim of bullying in our flocks. We get distracted by the aggression and disruption bullying causes, while the victim is often neglected as she sinks further into a permanent state of victim-hood. This has the effect of perpetuating the bullying by even more individuals than just the original bully and causing continuing unrest and disruption in a flock.

    When we see a chicken bully tormenting a timid individual, our first impulse is to grab the bully and place them where they can't do their mischief. This is one method of dealing with the problem, and it often can be effective, lowering the rank of the bully after several days of isolation, forcing her to defend herself upon being returned to the flock. But the victim often continues to see herself as a victim, and this causes her to behave in a way that calls attention to her vulnerability. This can have the effect of her signalling to the flock that she's open to being shoved around. This is how chickens roll.

    Many years ago I learned quite by accident that a nice vacation from bullying can restore self confidence in a victim, causing a personality change. I had a Buff Brahma hen named Joycie who had a breed tendency to being very timid. Her mates were stripping her neck and back of feathers, rendering her perpetually half naked. I commissioned a neighbor to crochet a saddle for her with a turtleneck to protect her neck as well as her back. While Joycie looked rather dashing in her finery, it did nothing to improve her victim status. In fact, it caused her to be even more conspicuous and picked on. Besides, she hated the garment and I ended up releasing her from it. P1010005.JPG

    In desperation, I began putting Joycie in the run "jail" during the daytime, while still letting her roost with the flock at night. It was clear that Joycie was enjoying her safe refuge and she began to relax. After about three weeks, I let her out to mingle with the flock. Much to my surprise, she stood her ground when a previous bully confronted her. This transformation stuck with her, and Joycie went on to enjoy her newfound self confidence. No one bullied her again.

    Over the years, I've treated a number of bullying victims in this manner, and all went through similar transformations from timid victim to self assured members of the flock. I've had no failures.

    The latest victim was a seven-year old Speckled Sussex named Geobett. Geobett was the last chicken I ever expected to be overcome by the victim syndrome. Her entire life, she'd been independent, self confident, and on occasions, she'd even been guilty of being a bully. P1010003.JPG

    Her tormentor was a one-year old hen by the name of Lady Bug, a Cream Legbar. Lady Bug was raised as a single chick by another Speckled Sussex named Linda. Under the care of Auntie Geobett and her broody mama Linda, Lady Bug grew up to be a force to be reckoned with. I began to notice Lady Bug chasing and biting Geobett. When it got to the point where Geobett lost her appetite, quit eating, and spent her days hiding out in the coop, I knew I needed to intervene.

    Geobett went from the roost to the "jail" enclosure each morning. For a change, she had all the time in the world to eat in peace and safety, and she began to regain the weight she'd lost. After about a week of seclusion, I began letting Geobett out to mingle with the flock for short periods. When it appeared she was feeling unsure of herself and Lady Bug was noticing, I returned her to her refuge.

    Over the next two weeks, Geobett got increasingly longer periods out with the flock while still roosting every night in the coop with Linda. It was becoming easy to see that she was feeling more and more confident, and while Lady Bug was still being a little jerk, Geobett was getting good at side-stepping her moves and going about her own business. Lady Bug was also getting the message, and she began to tone down her bullying.

    Now, months later, Geobett is once again her independent, self confident self, and just today, I witness Lady Bug getting physically put in her place by an eight-year old very meek Golden-laced Wyandotte. It appeared someone had noticed Lady Bug needed a little flock discipline. Peace once again reigns in the Azygous flock.

    If you are building or enlarging your run, I urge you to set aside space, it need not be any larger than approximately four feet by eight feet, for a chicken "jail". I've found this space to be indispensable. Besides using it for rehabilitating bully victims, it proves useful and convenient for restricting an aggressive hen or rooster. I've also used it to brood chicks right in my run alongside the adults, making it possible safely to integrate chicks as young as two weeks to mingle with the adult chickens. Most of all, a chicken jail is indispensable in maintaining a peaceful flock.

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Recent User Reviews

  1. honanbm
    "Great information from a different perspective"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed May 12, 2019
    Building a new coop this coming month. I will definitely add an additional space for this purpose. Really useful information for something I'd never thought about before.
  2. Hobbshouse14
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Apr 28, 2019
    This is so helpful for our situation! Thank you so much for sharing!
  3. ButtonquailGirl14
    "Thank you!!"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Apr 21, 2019


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  1. Georgeschicks
    Would this work with a “jail” that was not attached to the coop? Like within eyeshot but not sharing a fence and being a few feet away.
      ChooksNQuilts likes this.
    1. azygous
      Try it. It ought to work.
      ChooksNQuilts likes this.
  2. Abriana
    Wow! This opens up a whole new insight on how to better manage bullying.
  3. Noelani
    I have a feral chicken that hops around - not having use of one of her legs. Hoppy was in her own pen alongside my chickens for almost 2 months. Yesterday I decided to introduce her into the flock, but it was a mess. Mulitple bullies, 3, 4 or 5 at a time pecking at her, sitting on her so she couldn't move. I would watch one scare everyone away, only to turn around and bully Hoppy herself. I ended up putting her in the pen by herself again. I know there is a pecking order, it seems to change a little among my flock. But, will I ever be able to introduce her into my flock successfully? I thought about maybe getting one or two of the more docile chickens and putting them in her pen one at a time and see if they can work things out. She is just a little larger than my one remaining Bantam. Will introducing my flock one at a time into her pen be a good idea?

    I have a very mixed flock of chickens that we have collected from various places, and they have generally gotten along pretty well, even when I introduced the duck - there was never a gang up like I saw yesterday. Do chickens do well alone or do they need a flock? I'm just wondering if she is safer by herself or does a chicken need companionship?

    Any comments would be greatly appreciated.
    1. azygous
      ChooksNQuilts likes this.
  4. Mimi’s 13
    Excellent advice for an all too common problem. Thank you.
  5. meat1709
    Excellent article, wish I would have found something like this a couple years ago. I had the friendliest Australorp hen, but after a neighbor's dog attacked and killed off my rooster and the hen that my EE had been with her whole life the EE started bullying Lolita. I tried getting another rooster, but he was just as bad (i shoulda let my EE kill him like she wanted to the day i brought him home) when that didn't help I tried getting two more hens. they stuck with Lolita and mama henned her, and I would spend as much time as I could with her, but nothing helped and she just gave up and died.
  6. tohbi
    seems like a lot of trouble. i use the dog's toenail clippers to snip off the end of the bully's beak. it grows back after awhile but, often, allows enough time to modify bad behavior.
  7. Ilypecknbushel
    Thanks for featuring this in the email! I have a small mixed flock (2 rhode island reds, 1phoenix, 1 barred rock, 2 buff orpingtons) and the buff orpintons are definitely getting picked on. I never really see bullying in the yard, though you can tell the phoenix is “alpha”. I am thinking it’s mostly happening in the coop early am, before I get out to open the pop door. I was thinking about trying to make some type of automation for the way my door is, thinking that a true sunrise “let out” would cut down on the damage for these poor girls ( especially fricassee, who interestingly is the bravest and friendliest of them all—she’s always the one to try new things!).
    Do you think that “isolation” could help this issue, before I figure out how to get them out earlier ( i’m just NOT a sunrise person)?
    Thanks so much!
  8. dianacirce
    Great timing for this article. Last fall I had a dog attack that killed 10 of my 14 chickens. I have generally been given chickens in groups, 3 Rhode Island Reds, 2 Austolorps, 5 Isa browns... I lost all of those but 1 Austalorp and 1 Isa, along with a mixed breed and a sussex. It took them a while to quit being so crazy, the dog had literally broken in my coop door and did most of his damage inside the coop, but once they settled down they established a pecking order. The Isa is queen bee, the Austalorp has suddenly become persona non grata. During their free range time I noticed the Isa going after the Austalorp with no apparent reason. Long story short, this weekend I will be setting up a "prison" section so my sweet Lila can hopefully get some confidence back!
      azygous likes this.
  9. Cluckington101
    awesome thx for the article but my rooster (who is the bully) attacks everyone, and i really can't isolate everyone
    1. azygous
      Sounds like this rooster needs to be a bachelor. I'd put him outside of the run so he can do sentry duty.
      ChooksNQuilts likes this.
  10. SVTechChick
    This is awesome. I made the ridiculous mistake of thinking that getting a new chicken would keep the other girls away from my Silkie, who was their original target. WRONG! Getting a Polish only meant that the Silkie moved UP in the ranks, and now everyone is picking on the Polish -- even the diminutive Silkie, the lil witch!

    So, the Polish is going to get a 'spa week' in full view of the others. Fresh dirt to roll in, lots of treats, and peace and quiet away from the 'mean girls'!
      ChooksNQuilts and azygous like this.
  11. newchick64
    This is an awesome article. I love your coop/run. This is what I would love to have someday. I'm a newbie so the information in this article is so helpful! I have 4 Amberlinks right now but I would love to increase my flock some day.
      azygous likes this.
  12. Bocktobery 10
    This article gets featured just at the right time for me. I have a little tiny puff ball of a silkie serama who is a newbie to the flock and gets picked on. I'm going to try it.
      azygous likes this.
  13. Amy V
    Love this article, thank you! I have a poor little gold sex-link that is at the bottom of the pecking order and everyone picks on her except the rooster! All the articles I had read said to separate the bully, but they're all bullies, but just to her and the hens below them. I think she just gets tormented. I'm glad to see that removing her will not make this situation worse. I'm removing her so she can eat in peace and gain some weight before it gets too bad. Thanks again! Love BYCs too!
      azygous likes this.
  14. Sylvester017
    Thank you for voicing your experience. Will definitely try it at my end to see if it will be effective for my girls!
      azygous likes this.
  15. Shady Oak Farm
    This is great info. Sadly a few of my girls are bald a bit on their backs. I got rid of the to many roos I had hoping this is the solution. If not I'm looking in to this "jail" option. Thank you
      azygous likes this.
  16. sharol
    My 7 year old Welsumer hen was nearly scalped a couple of years ago after the head hen died (egg binding) and she lost status with the flock. We removed her from the coop and put her in a portable unit I use for new hatchlings and their moms. I figured she would die, but she healed and after a few weeks indicated that she wanted to go out into the yard again. She lived alone at night (and in the yard with the other hens and roosters) for almost 2 years before a raccoon got her (failure to communicate with the chicken sitter about closing a door at night -- totally my fault). Lizbeth was my last true "pet" hen and I still miss her, but putting her in her own space made her happier and healthier than having to watch her back all the time. It gave her 2 more happy, comfortable, egg laying, years.
      azygous likes this.
    1. meat1709
      I had similar happen to a hen that i had been given. She couldn't be kept with the others, after the scalping i kept her in my house at nite and made her a run next to my house. Saddest part was her surviving all of the attacks just to die from constipation.
  17. ChildersCoopMama
    I am so thankful for this article! we have never had this problem before but we do have three hens that are looking pitiful, we assumed it was Mr. Rooster but it may not be. My question is, can i put all three victim hens in "jail" together or do I have to do them separately?
      azygous likes this.
    1. azygous
      If the three victims all get along, they would benefit from being together in protective confinement.
      ChildersCoopMama likes this.
    2. ChildersCoopMama
      Thank you so much for your advice!
  18. LaurenRae
    Does this apply when a rooster is bullying a hen as well? I have a barnevelder, Mabel, who used to pick on the little lavender Ameraucana chicks I had. Now one of those little ameraucana chicks is Rhaegar, my big floofy rooster, who takes great care of all of the 13 other chickens we have-- except he constantly attacks Mabel. I don't think he ever got over her bullying. She is constantly flying out of the run to avoid him, and spends most of her days alone. I don't want to remove Rhaegar because we've had a huge hawk problem lately, and he always sounds the alarm to protect everyone else. However this poor lady is incessantly chased and pecked at by him while shes in the run. What would you do in this situation?
    1. View previous replies...
    2. sharol
      Karma can be a b!tch.
      Compost King and Killer Tomato like this.
    3. All Ball
      I had a similar situation, except the roo went after the hen who raised him. She had been the flock boss and my guess is she wasn't willing to fully knuckle under the new boss. He was trying to expel her from the flock. She was starting to lose her self-confidence and become a very different personality, as Azygous describes. I've ended up keeping him in a kennel in the free-range yard, and he gets to mingle freely when his enemy is laying an egg or being broody in the garage. Also, girls choose to visit him. It does take a lot more management, opening doors for them here and there.
    4. azygous
      This is a tough call. I do have a few older hens who scream with protest when either of my two roosters start to grab them to mate. I usually holler at them, and the older roo stops, while the younger one isn't aware of anything but sex. So I usually just grab him up and hold him until he settles down, and when I put him down, he's lost interest in the old hen.

      Now, if your roo is standing on your hen's back and pecking her mercilessly, that's aggression and not mating. It would call for some drastic flock management that separates the hen from the roo.
      ChooksNQuilts likes this.
  19. silkielover64
    azygous Tried this a year ago it doesn't work for me. I also have very bad luck with my flocks attitude. I have some polish which are the meanest birds around. they are the ones that actually start the picking. I have been raising chickens for many years love them they help me get out of bed in the morning. I have MS and they give me the want to to move and to get out of bed
      jsr5 and azygous like this.
  20. Shezadandy
    If you have Easter Eggers or Ameraucanas or something else with puffy cheeks and beards ... it took me a while to catch on- but finally I realized that my heavily face-feathered pullets were getting mercilessly jumped by everybody. The poor things - and it's happened multiple times with multiple birds- were having problems seeing behind them with those adorable puffy cheeks. The solution was simple-- I took a pair of mini curved Fiskar scissors (can be found at Walmart in the sewing area) and trimmed the feathers around their eyes so they could easily see everything. It took about a day each time- but as soon as my little victims could see their tormentors, they stopped being the squeaky toy for the flock. For those concerned with aesthetics, I've only had to do it one time with each bird (except for feathers that brush their eyeballs). The curved scissors are preferred for this because the tip of the scissors is pointed away from the eyes- so even if they make a sudden movement, they're not getting stabbed in the eye with the curved mini scissors. =)
  21. HeidiN
    Thank you for this timely article. I have been trying to figure out how to help our poor, naked hen regain her confidence and regrow her feathers. Chicken jail (aka grow out pen) will be moving back into the run. Its big and awkward, and I was glad to move it out, but I guess I either need to bring it back in, or build something different.
      micstrachan and azygous like this.
  22. PoncePoultry
    I’m building a chicken jail this weekend in my run, I have a poor little buff they all seem to pick on. She has taken to roosting under the coop. Tonight I had to use the hose to get her out as she’s been laying eggs for days under there and gone broody to boot! She’s a mess, so this weekend she’s getting her own space, thanks for the advice!
      azygous likes this.
  23. micstrachan
    I love this article! Thanks so much for writing it. I don’t have that much space for chicken jail, unless I close off half the run, but it’s something g to aspire to!
      azygous likes this.
  24. esavvymom
    We had a similar experience but in reverse. We had two roosters. One was merciless to the other. The alpha would chase the other rooster for more than an hour. It was exhausting for the second rooster, and he was just getting beat up, to the point that he couldn't even be in the coop at night with the rest.

    We have a separate coop for guineas. So rooster #2 got moved into the guinea coop to roost at night. During the day, we kept the chicken flock in their large enclosed run, while rooster #2 was able to free-range with the PEACE. After about 2 weeks of that, he got quite cocky and would strut around the fence in front of the other rooster. I think he was showing off. :)

    So after another week, we started letting ALL of the birds out to free-range again. A few days later, I noticed that rooster #2 was no longer the second dog. He was the ALPHA rooster! There had been a barnyard brawl and Old Rooster #1 got a taste of his own medicine. Ever since, he just gives the new #1 a wide berth. They live in peace in the coop.

    Thanks for the article. Have to keep it in mind. Right now, the only bully we have is a young rooster who just bullies US. :barnie
      ChooksNQuilts, Rbmack and azygous like this.
    1. silkielover64
      I have found that only 1 rooster will be allowed in the flock.
      Tierney Shelton likes this.
  25. Betsy57
    I have an Easter Egger whose neck is bare too. I will try this. Thank you.
  26. Ducklover2

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