Are hens mean and aggressive before they start laying?


In the Brooder
10 Years
May 10, 2009
So I posted in the "Raising baby chicks" section about difficulties with integrating 3 ten week olds with a 5 month old Barred Rock (see below). I tried leaving them together again today, and the big chicken is still going after them but not as aggressively as before (no blood). And I have noticed that she is spending a lot of time settling around in the nest box. Could she be getting ready to start laying eggs, and is it possible she would settle down and stop going after the others so much after she starts laying (can chickens get aggressive just before starting to lay eggs?)?

Is there still hope for having a happy flock? I think the big chicken might just be stressed out, and maybe she'll calm down as the others get older... She was much happier before she lost her 3 friends that she grew up with (2 were roosters that we had to return, and one lost a fight with a raccoon... First was killed at 2 months, the first rooster was returned a week later, and the second rooster returned about a month after that). The little ones were the replacements.

Hopefully they will all work it out, I guess as long as there is no blood, let them work out the pecking order on their own, and just keep separating them whenever I see blood? I won't really start to worry until all of them are full grown, and the younger ones are still getting severely bullied...


We have been trying to integrate our three 10 week olds (Buff Orpington, Easter Egger, Rhode Island Red), and one 5 month old (Barred Rock). (We have a 3x4.5 coop and connected 3.5x10 run (they do not free range)

When the little ones were 4 weeks old, we put a divider in the run and I would bring them out every morning and take them back to the brooder at night.

At 7 weeks we tried putting the big chicken in the coop with them at night and pulled out the divider in the run. This lasted for about 2 or 3 days of slight nipping and aggression before the big chicken started really drawing blood from the runt (the Rhode Island Red).

So still about 7 weeks old, we put the little chickens in the coop during the day with the big chicken on the other side of the divider. At night we would bring the big chicken into the coop and take her out to her confinement area in the morning. Absolutely no problems with this setup.

We tried briefly to open up a section of the divider around 8 or 9 weeks, but the big chicken would still go after the runt.

Now at 10 weeks, we tried putting them together again. Yesterday ~1230 we opened up the divider, and we had no problems at all (they actually all looked kind of happy) until today at 1530 when the big chicken drew blood again, this time from the Buff Orpington. I think this may have been spurred on by the fact that the waterer inside the coop was empty, so the BO had to come out into the run to get some water (the Barred Rock's territory).

So. Do we just keep doing what we're doing? Keep them separated during the day, and every week or 2 try to combine them again until there is no blood? Do you think they would have been fine if I had not let the water go dry inside the coop (I think it's strange that they were totally fine for over 24 hours, and then all of a sudden the big chicken went on a rampage...)?

Or maybe we just need to get rid of the evil Barred Rock... (I have an unhealthy hatred for that bird!). The three little ones get along great (there is no pecking even after blood has already been drawn), we just need to get the big one in line!
I don't know. I keep reading posts about integrating Buff Orpingtons and every time the Orpingtons get beat up. They remind of viola-players---they are the sweetest, happiest musicians in the whole orchestra.
I'd be concerned about the size of the coop and run. They need enough room to get away from higher ranking chickens. The more space, the happier the flock will be.

Also, even if you rehome the Barred Rock, that's no guarantee the others will live happily ever after. If you have just two chickens, one will be at the bottom of the pecking order.

I doubt that laying is making her "mean and agressive". She's probably really stressed.
I have a hen with chicks that has become really agressive towards her flock mates. I know that she's only defending her chicks though. I've seen her chase her former best buddy and come back with a mouthful of feathers.
I just have to turn around and walk back to the house. It's the pecking order, and she's at the top.
My four buffs are shuned and picked on by the other chickens. I finally put up another roost in the coop and the whole order of who sleeps where has changed and my little buffs now have a place to call home too.
This is the gospel according to Pop! Couldn`t have said it better myself. Chickens don`t like strangers and they are very territorial. They do get tired of chasing the newbies after a few days and thus the need for lots of room. Don`t blame it all on the older pullet, she`s just doing what comes naturally. The rub comes when humans don`t understand their ways and try to make them conform to human ways, which looks less like a good idea every day.......Pop
The three little ones are all good friends, they sleep huddled together on one side of the roost, and the big chicken sleeps by herself on the other side. We'll see how things change as they all get older.

The space inside the coop is just under 3.5' per chicken, and outside is just under 9', so we are a little shy of the 4' and 10' rule of thumb. We sort of built to the space we had (and scrap wood we had - I originally planned for a slightly larger coop, but my husband had spare plywood that would make the dimensions we ended up with). At least the nest box (15"x15") is outside the coop as are the food and water, so that is not taking up space. And the single roost is 4.5' long, so they have more than 1' per bird... I also originally planned on including the space under the coop in the run (it is a foot or 2 off the ground), but I was overruled on that because it was easier to just hardware cloth in one side of the coop than three...

The plan is to eventually fence in a large section of the yard so they can be left out to forage during the day when I am home (I work 3 days a week, so they'd still be confined to their run those days), so that would be better.

But, we have what we have. Do you think it would be worthwhile to include the space under the coop, or would they not use it anyway? (Not sure how much they would like a cozy little dark place like that...)
I know chickens are aggressive and have to set up the pecking order, but I thought drawing blood was sort of crossing a line. So drawing blood is normal and expected behavior? So are the 10/11 week olds big enough to fend for themselves, blood or no, and we should just leave them be?
When blood is showing, cannibalism is the biggest threat. They will eat that bird to death. Best thing to do is watch for the aggression and if you see bare spots or maybe a favorite target, put some Noxema face cream on those areas pronto. That should curb their appitite.

10/11 week old birds are OK as long as they have room to escape the aggressor. Blood is not OK, but it is normal. Like I said, watch for the aggression.......Pop
I never try to bring a flock together unless they are the same size. Otherwise there is always trouble. 16 weeks works well but since this behavior has already started I don't know. I would either get less chicks or get more space. Sorry you are having this problem. Gloria Jean
You could try isolating the barred rock for several days. Ideal would be in a cage where the others can see her. Hopefully she will be lower on the pecking order when you let her loose. BO's do have a reputation for letting themselves get bullied. It just makes sense that being at point of lay is messing with their hormones, so things may look a bit different in a couple of weeks.

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