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.
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.
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.