This is my first year as an urban chicken farmer. Last May I adopted four 4 month old hens from my mom after we built a coop using an old play structure that my partner had built an ex-girlfriend's kids in his backyard. We utilized all the spare lumber laying around our yard from projects past, even the dog house he had built for Brittany who hadn't used it in several years. His parents donated some scrap tin for the roof and Ben put in roosting rods and homemade nesting boxes. We had to change the design after we realized that the chickens decided they wanted to roost where he wanted them to lay but they soon settled into thier new home.
They were laying within a couple of weeks of placing them inthe coop. Samantha was first and she showed the others the ropes. They chose the rear nesting box and have shunned the other. If we put an egg in the other box they get tricked into laying there that day, but as soon as the egg is removed it is back to their favorite box. I have a few pictures of them sitting on top of each other or side by side in there, its quite amusing, if also a bit noisy to see them fight over that dang nesting box despite the existence of a perfectly good box right next to it. Now that there are only two left the nesting box schedule has evened out for now. But thre is a reason there are only two left.
This is a post I placed in the forum hoping for some commentary regarding my recent troubles in my flock. I plan to update this as I get more information in my search to have a happy and healthy flock. I hope that others find this and offer advice, and/or get some helpful information of thier own to help them with similar issues of thier own. Thank you for taking the time to share my story.
THE POST originated yesterday on Thursday December 3, 2009:
I would really appreciate any advice anyone could give on this:

For those that just want the quick and dirty, I would like advice on two things. First, recommendations on breeds that are docile, friendly, and less prone to bad behaviors like picking and cannabilism, as well as being cold hardy. I want egg layers but its not as important that they be supreme egg machines as get along well and be able to handle winter temps as I free range as much as I can and I dont want to worry. Secondly I am hoping someone out there has information about pro charge vs avia charge 2000. Anyone have preferences, could I use them together or would that be overkill? is one better than the other? Will either really help my hen stop pecking the other?

The low-down:
I have had problems with pecking recently within my small flock of four. They are a rhode Island Red/New Hampshire red mix. We got them last may as four month old hens. The trouble started a couple months ago. We got rid of the meanest one, found a home for her where a friend was all too stoked at the chance to rehabilitate. miranda is doing great now by the way, no troubles anymore. I was hoping I had culled her in time but alas I did not. The second one to go mean was Charlotte and she was way worse. She was originally my favorite chicken but that changed as she pecked huge holes in the others backs, between the feathers. particularly kept bloodying up Samantha. I tried everything but it didnt stop her so she went away as well. now I am left with just the two, Carrie and Samantha.

Samantha is the sweetest thing, very gentle, well behaved and a great egg layer. Carrie is now feather picking off her butt every day, she isnt as mean as the other two were but i am worried its only a matter of time. So far she hasnt broken her skin like Charlotte was doing thank god! I would just ship her off too as my friend is all too eager for her eggs, but I know Samantha hates to be alone. She panicks every time i have to separate them due to Carrie's picking. So I am trying to salvage Carrie's behavior as best as I can at least until spring when I can get new hens to replenish the flock. I would love some advice as to which breeds i should look into as regards to a docile temperament, hardiness, and cold-hardiness as it gets cold here. I dont care as much about wether they lay lots of eggs as much as wether I am going to have to deal with constant chicken drama as it breaks my heart and is quite frustrating.

Here is what I have been doing: I feed them layer crumbles and they are available to them 24/7 as there is a feeder in the coop and in the tractor. I recently switched from layer pellets to crumbles due to tips on here about how it may lessen the desire to peck because it takes them longer to eat, avoids boredom. In addition to the food they have free-choice grit and oyster shell, and I hide boss daily in leafs. They get the occasional scratch but not often and in small doses, and frequent additions of kitchen scraps mainly fruits/veggie/grain stuff but occasional meat and dairy product makes it in. I have been trying to include more meat for the protien as of late. I move them from the 10 x 30 garden area run off the coop to a small chicken tractor that we move around the yard for sun and lawn exposure, and to stave of boredom, I hang apples and cabbages in both the tractor and the coop, I have a flock block in the coop, and i apply the pick no more daily sometimes multiple times. I keep thinking I have it under control but everything is temporary. she goes back to pecking almost as soon as Samantha has cleaned off the pick no more because she hates it.

The only two things I havent tried are the hot pick spray which I am about to order online as none of the local stores carry it, and the avia charge 2000. Many on this forum have said that these two products are often effective in helping eliminate pecking. In my search for avia charge 2000 I came accross Pro charge and wondered if that may be a good alternative to avia charge 2000. I am a little concerned about the fact that it is a water additive as it is winter and the water freezes and as I break it up I throw ice out which seems to me like I would be tossing out expensive avia charge instead of just a bit of easily replaced and inexpensive water. The Pro charge is something that can be mixed in with the feed but the avia charge does seem to be more of a well rounded supplement from the description. Could I give them both or would that be overkill?

Any opinions on this? I want to make sure I am doing everything I can for my chickens, any additional suggestions are most welcome.

Here is some of the advice I have recieved:
I suggest you get the aviacharge (as I dont know anything about the "pro-charge" )
Dont put it in their waterer but mix it in with a cup of cooked human oatmeal and then mix that through their feed along with some cooked boiled egg and some sunflowerseed hearts > mix just enough feed in with that till it is clumpy and then after they have eaten it all give them their normal feed.
Personally I would find new homes for the problem birds (separate them until you do) , then expand your flock with another breed (which I understand you are looking for).

Birds are intelligent and they get bored. Also providing them with more than one feeding and water station (a good distance from each other) will ensure everyone gets their share.

As far as table scraps goes... your birds will wait for these. Try not to give too much and not every day (if you do the chances are high your birds will simply wait for these goodies and that means they are irritable and hungry when it comes along and that might be one reason they are fighting)

Try a tbsp of apple cider vinegar per gallon of water, this wil help her grow her feathers back quickly.

Get a heated waterer.

I have been trying to entice my partner to get the outside outlets working again to no avail. I am very pleased to get the advice on how to utilize the more expensive avia charge 2000 without putting it in water. i wont mind tossing out ACV water now and again. i like to keep their water as fresh as possible, I dont like to let it get dirty or stagnant but I do have to break the ice every day now if not replacing it. So with this advice I can try out the avia charge and ACV without having to wait for the heated waterer or tossing out expensive avia charge. I know where I can get good quality apple cider vinegar in bulk too :)

As far as separating them this is hard. i have a small coop, it has enough space for several to sleep out of the elements, nesting boxes, a dirt bathing area and room for all thier food, water, and grit/shell/etc. But there is no spare room left to build a separate area. they have to share it. Right outside of this is a fenced 30 x 10 ft area that was our garden. But there is no seperate area for them to sleep. We do have a small chicken tractor with feed and water, equipped with a nesting box but it is only partially roofed and not enclosed enough for sleeping in at night. This is also in the area of the yard that gets the most winter sun so we have been moving them over here during the sunny times of the day so they get grass, the occasional grub or worm they find and sun in addition to what we provide in the way of produce hanging on strings and regular feed. The problem is this: when they are in there together too long Carrie will harrass Samantha. I try to move them frequently to curtail this and sometimes lock Carrie in there and leave Samantha in the main yard so they are separated. i cant leave Carrie in the main yard long because she has a tendancy to jump the fence and get where she is not supposed to be. but then Samantha gets ripped off on sunbathing time and with how cold it is lately I
dont like that.

I have been trying to figure out how to separate them during the day in a way that works. Samantha hates to be alone and often will start squawking until reunited with Carrie. I have lately been locking One in the coop and the other in the chicken trailer and switching them off so each gets sun and change but I find that one or the other will start squawking and raising hell if left alone too long. Lately they will both start doing it from opposite sides of my backyard and it gets awful loud! They love each other despite it all. So how do I deal with the separation anxiety they exhibit? They really get upset, and I am not just concerned for them because I know too much stress can invite sickness. I am also concerned with my neighbors complaining. So far so good but I am sure that the more they squawk the less my neighbors are going to think it is cute.

By this time they have pretty much demolished everything in their main run. They have eaten all the vegetation, eaten all the bugs and now the ground is getting frozen due to winter temps so its harder and harder to scratch for much. They still manage to find some stuff in the leaf litter though and I hide them seeds to find in the leaves. But as I find it harder and harder to put them both in the tractor to get fresh grass, and scratch for grubs and worms in the sunny areas where the ground has thawed a bit due to Carrie's behavior i am concerned about what they will forage for. What exactly is the best way to keep chickens occupied in the winter months? What do I do when and if it snows? My first winter with them will be rife with opportunities to learn.