Agitated by captivity?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by bird_brain_scientist, Oct 9, 2011.

  1. bird_brain_scientist

    bird_brain_scientist In the Brooder

    Mar 5, 2011
    I have four hens in my flock: 1 PR, 1 EE, 1 Welsummer and 1 RIR. Three of them are quite content to just roam around and chow down on feed, grit, water, grass inside their chicken tractor. The fourth one can often be spotted pacing along the run perimeter for hours at a time. I have tended to just associate this with chicken activity but today I put 2+2 together and realized that she is also usually the first one out of the coop when I release them in the morning. Is there anything I can do for her? Will she just get used to her lot in life? Making the tractor bigger is not really an option and the tractor is plenty big for 4 birds anyhow (~18 sq feet). I even tend to let them free range for a little while before they go to bed.

  2. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD Premium Member

    With the taste of freedom... she'll probably always pace given the chance. I range freely all day. Before they are let out, the ones in tractors will pace the front, the ones inside of solidwall coops will stand on roosts and look out their windows toward the house and wait.
  3. bird_brain_scientist

    bird_brain_scientist In the Brooder

    Mar 5, 2011
    It's nice to know this is not unusual behavior. But the dear birds - what a powerful desire to get out. They will never understand why the captivity is for their own good. If they feel this way in a backyard arrangement, I can't imagine what it must feel like for the poor battery hens.
  4. centrarchid

    centrarchid Free Ranging 8 Years

    Sep 19, 2009
    Holts Summit, Missouri
    There is a very strong genetic component to the nervous pacing behavior. Some birds / breeds pace owing to genes telling them to get away from cover / structure or to get to it if your confinement does not register as such. Wild birds are really prone to this. Others may be selected for increased activity levels in confinement because it is somehow associated with increased egg production (i.e. nervous behavior of leghorns).

    My games are as silkiechicken indicates where they have had a taste of freedom but seem to think pacing will get them past the wire. Many of the games will eventually resign themselves to confinement and stop pacing, other games will not. In my birds the inclination to pace seems to run in families. In really tight confinement the pacing seems to promote muscle tone.

  5. ChickenMack

    ChickenMack Songster

    Oct 7, 2011
    Just wondering... which one is your pacer?
  6. SteveBaz

    SteveBaz Songster

    Aug 6, 2011
    Pacific North West
    I have seen people that have coops and a chicken cloth run 3' wide by 3' high and that is it. Never letting them out of that little run and coop only. Never letting them out and that is the lot in life they have. I just think if you have pets you have to give them what you can and thats not in a cage for life. JMHO
  7. bird_brain_scientist

    bird_brain_scientist In the Brooder

    Mar 5, 2011
    How peculiar that their agitation produces desirable laying quailties. I suppose it is a form of exercise like any other, although it would be too bad that those benefits would arise out of their distress. Interesting also that it is genetic.

    It's the Plymouth Rock that is the pacer. You can probably see her in action via the link in my sig block. Right now 3 of them are flopped out in the sun and the PR is still roaming about (edit: now she is calming down a little). She is also the only one who I think is laying (they are about 21 weeks).

    I have not got a nest box suitable for my tractor just yet (working on it - I hear covered cat litter boxes are good) so that could be part of the problem.

    My birds get a chance to roam around the yard on weekends when I am around to keep an eye on them! They like it quite a bit, judging by the much lower level of chicken noises. They also seem to do all of their sparring while they are free ranging. Something about hearing/seeing another chicken running and flapping seems to provoke it.

  8. silkiechicken

    silkiechicken Staff PhD Premium Member

    If you had never let them out... they would probably be scared to go out and never known 2ny better. Some birds ( as individuals, breeds or lines) are better at confinement than others too as others mention.

    For the first year I had chickens, when I was 13 years old or so... my first birds lived in a tractor and were NEVER let out. Well... when they were about 8 months old, my parents said, go ahead and let them range. I remember it being weeks before they started to really leave the comfort of their home. I have videos of me when I was a kid trying to get the chickens to go out in the grass and explore. And these were adult birds. It was after they got used to the freedom did they want to get out all the time.

    Same differences can be seen with my caged indoor birds.

    My cockatiel is scared of everything at first. Different colored pencils, different rooms, toys... till comfortable with it and then will not leave those things alone. He gets free roam of the entire place here and does not like being in the cage. Given a choice, he will be underfoot or on your shoulder all day long and sleep in the bathroom... but we don't allow that and he has to spend at least bed time and part of day time "cooped up" to eat and for his own safety (such as not flying into a pot of boiling water).

    However, parakeets also get free roam but spend about 75% of their time IN the cage, and 20% on top. That last 5% are divided among the other bird cages or their bird bath. Once a week or so they will decide to take flight out of the bird room, do a few loops in the living room without landing and go right back home.

    Animal behavior is always interesting.
  9. elmo

    elmo Songster

    May 23, 2009
    Quote:That's just shy of 5 square feet per bird, which I would not consider to be "plenty big" by any standard. One common recommendation is 10 square feet per bird minimum for a run, plus 4 square feet per bird of coop. Nonetheless, overcrowding may not be the reason for this particular chicken's restlessness. Do you notice her being picked on by the others? If so, more room could help. If not, then there may be other factors at play.

    As others have noted, some chickens just tolerate confinement better than others. It helps to have something to keep chickens occupied. Do you move the tractor to fresh ground every day? That could help. I notice my 9 bantams clear out the ground in their tractor of everything interesting in about a couple of hours. If I toss in a bag of dried leaves. that gives them plenty more to do.

    Are your chickens laying yet? One thing I notice is that some of my hens have very definite preferences about where they want to lay their eggs. I have a stationary run/coop as well as a tractor, and even though I put a nestbox inside the tractor, some of the hens can't wait to get back to the coop to lay, and will pace as you describe until I let them out.

  10. bird_brain_scientist

    bird_brain_scientist In the Brooder

    Mar 5, 2011
    I believe the pacer is the only one laying and I have yet to install a nestbox for her (working on it, see above). So if your birds act that way, that could well explain it. It will be interesting to see if anything changes when I add a nestbox to the tractor. I'll post an update here when that happens!

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