A dysfunctional group of feathers?


10 Years
Apr 7, 2013
Southern Sweden
I'm a newbie in this chicken raising (addiction?) after just recently acquiring (less than two weeks ago) three hens and a rooster of about one year of age... Buff Orpingtons, they are.

We were informed that they were in a molting period as a couple of the hens had a few bare spots, one looking more like a 'Transylvanian naked neck', as it was lacking a good patch of neck feathers (back of the neck). After careful observation during the following two days, my realization was, though they were showing some small degree of possible molting, this one hen's nakedness seemed more a result of some brutal pecking by the two other hens and largely just one of those in particular. She had a dark scab on this bare part of the neck and there were no feather quills growing out at the time.

I had earlier built a chicken tractor that would be adequate for three Orpingtons but with the acquisition of these hens, the rooster was an extra (unaccounted for) part of the group, so I figured the tractor space might be insufficient. The house floor plan is 1.3 meter x 1.2 meter with additional space of two nesting boxes, while the entire run area measures, 1.3 meter x 3.1 meters. My feeling was that maybe this space was just a tad bit too tight for the four large birds so I quickly built a new house (0.7 meter x 1.8 meter plus one nest box) in the barn with an exterior run of 2 meter x 4 meter and an interior run of 2 meter x 5 meter. I separated the group by placing the attacked hen and the larger less aggressive hen in the barn and left the main "attacker" with the rooster in the chicken tractor.

After a few days, I've witnessed the hen and rooster are getting along just fine while there remains just a little bit of pecking on the smaller hen in the barn. What surprised me though was from the first day that the two hens were together in the barn's house, the larger hen does not use the roost at all but immediately chose (and continues) to sleep in the one nesting box. She doesn't soil it any at all... just sleeps there and lays eggs there. The first few days she wouldn't even allow the 'pecked' hen access for laying eggs. I first noticed the smaller hen's agitation towards this and built her an emergency nest under the exterior ladder/ramp which she used to lay her first egg (within five minutes of me building it). After three days of using this 'emergency' nest for her egg laying, she was apparently given permission to use the regular nesting box, as that is where she has laid her eggs since. However, she sleeps alone on the perch while the larger hen continues to maintain her nighttime segregation in the nesting box.

Is sleeping in the nesting box an unusual behavior for a one year old hen and can I expect her to change or is this just her manner of handling her dislike of having an undesirable for a roommate?

Of the three hens this smaller one has the sweetest most people friendly attitude and is always happy to see either me, my wife or anybody... and is always quietly talking to us when we're around. Can anybody give me some guidance on 'chicken psychology' or tips to help me out with this dysfunctional group? Or do I just need to allow them more time to adjust to this new environment? Also from what we were told this is the first time that they have all had access to the exterior environment during the day.
The hen who is sleeping in the nesting box may be working on going broody. If the nest box is higher than the roost bar, some chickens will choose to sleep there rather than on the roost, too.

I suspect that the feather problems may be caused by your rooster (does he have some bare spots too, or just the hens?). Some roosters are awfully hard on the hen's back and neck feathers. Once a hen has skin showing, she's more likely to be pecked by other hens.
It sounds like you've got things going perfectly. I'd give your small hen some time to heal and regrow feathers, and the extra space and access to the outdoors will probably help a lot with the bullying issues. My chicks started feather-picking when they were getting too big for their brooder, I split them up and gave them a daily treat to hunt for and the problem sorted itself right out.
Thanks for the feedback, Ceilismom. The nest box is at floor level while the roost bar is about 30 cm (12 ") height, so I don't think that is the case here. And her wanting to roost in the nest box immediately upon being moved made me think it was more related to the pecking situation with the undesirable underling than a brooding behavior.

However, that brings up another question that I've had, as I'm not clear on this. Are there other telltale signs of a hen wanting to brood? As you mentioned her sleeping in the nest box may indicate her 'working on going broody?' If I remove the fresh laid eggs everyday leaving only a wooden 'nest' egg and there remains nothing more to sit on, how would I know she has the desire to be building a brood rather than having some internal strife with the other hen?

I ask as I've been thinking of allowing one of the hens to have a brood if one shows signs of broodiness.

The rooster doesn't show any signs of molting or feather loss and just this one underling has visible skin, while the other two hens just have a slight bedraggled appearance with a few feathers falling off daily. The hen residing with the rooster has more feather shafts visible on both sides back of the saddle, where the rooster's feet are during the mount. Maybe he needs cornhuskers lotion on his calloused feet. I figured that it was probably a combination of the hens pecking the underling coupled with the rooster nipping at the back of the neck that caused the bareness and scab, which is why I elected to separate the smaller hen from the rooster, though she did always roost between him and the wall. It was probably more for protection from the two hens as the rooster has always been seemingly friendly to her... the Machiavellian rake!

Thanks Thebazilly... I've kind of followed a little advice in the form of bits and pieces of information gleaned from the hundreds of years of experience represented in this forum's postings. What a wonderful site!

There seems to be progress on a daily basis regarding the waning of being pecked by the small hen and the larger hen is even becoming a bit more friendly towards me, when I come around... even without a small handful of fresh dug earthworms and beetles... so hopefully that will continue to work itself out. The feathers are now growing out on her neck (about 7mm quills presently) while the scab seems to be drying and falling off as well. Good sign, that!
"working on being broody": Some of my hens will hang out in the nest box for an hour or two after laying their egg, growling and snapping at anything that comes near them. Then, they'll just leave the nest box and go about their business. They might be like this for several days, and then finally decide to get serious and sit in that nest all day and all night, for long enough to hatch eggs. Others, get in the nest box and stay there from the beginning, without having to build up to it first. And then, some of my most determined broodies don't ever growl, peck or snap at us when we collect eggs, though they'll fluff up and one of them makes chipmunk sounds.

All of my broodies are sitting on wooden eggs, and one of them is sitting on nothing but wood shavings. I'd say if she's staying in the nest box all night, if you take her off the nest during the day and toss her outside, and she climbs right back in, then try giving her some eggs. Not all broody hens will stick with the program the first time around, but the best broody I've had hatched out 18 chicks on her first try, and then did it again that same summer, and she wasn't yet a year old.
Hmmmmm...good tips... Cielismom...

I'll be watching for those signs or similar. Presently this hen continues to sleep in the nest box nightly but leaves at sunup when the door is opened. She then returns to the nest generally within 3-5 hours for about 30 minutes (thereabouts) to lay an egg and then generally leaves right away, not returning until evening for 'nighttime' retirement. So it actually appears to me that she is more interested in having her own private bedroom suite rather than a family, right now.

What I truly find fascinating and appreciate very much... is that she has not 'soiled' the nest box at all in the past week. She in fact does no elimination in the henhouse at all during the night but quickly does the job as soon as she gets outside at daybreak.
Good Girl! That speaks volume about the possibility of that particular one being a 'clean' house pet, but it is her roommate that my wife would actually like to keep in the house.

The pecking conflict improves greatly on a daily basis... and presently (after 7 days in this setup together) I've seen no pecking today, though there were a couple of chase scenes when the little hen stole a large worm the other was about to scarf down and the same happened over a large beetle that the little one stole from her beak. So it seems now if there is any pecking it may well be deserved. The little hen has no manners or regards to allowing others to finish what is in their beaks...

Thanks for the tips....
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