badly behaved chicken pecking a biting humans

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Xtineart, Nov 7, 2014.

  1. Xtineart

    Xtineart Chillin' With My Peeps

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    on of my hens lacks people skills. and I mean really lacks them, she's a little hannibal lecter of a hen. She wants to be with people as much as the others but nothing I do seems to stop her wanting to bite and peck. From trying to grab my fingernails, buttons on clothes, pulling on clothes, anyone wearing jewellery is in trouble, and she's even aimed at bare skin and pecked me straight in the eyeball on one occasion when I wasn't quick enough to avoid her. I've tried ignoring her, walking away, saying NO, even a wee slap or a pinch on her comb if she's really being naughty. But it doesn't seem to stop her. In all other ways she's a contented happy chicken. If only she wasn't such a nippy creature. I honestly think if I died with my hens she would be the one who would have eaten half my face off and a couple of fingers before my body was found.

    is there any way to stop her behaviour before she hurts one of the children?
     
  2. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    Physically punishing her will only teach her to fear you in the long run; she's not attacking you with intent to harm, she's experiencing a mental glitch basically, so she won't put cause and effect together and understand that her pecking something causes you to hurt her.

    What she's doing sounds like investigative pecking. It's the kind of behavior shown by an animal severely lacking instinct about what to eat. Normally you see this in very young chicks, and only very occasionally in adult chickens when exposed to something new.

    When you see it expressed nonstop as you're seeing here, it is indicative of underlying problems. Instinct levels and accuracy of instinctive behaviors are severely altered in many modern breeds, especially commercial types like layers, so you will often see this in them.

    Best bet is to keep the kids away from her for now, possibly forever, and maybe tell them she bites because she doesn't know what's food and what's not. In the meanwhile you can try to retrain her. It may not work, but I had biters who learned not to so there is hope. But it may take a fair while.

    I'd do things like handfeed her daily, possibly even sit on the ground with something she likes scattered on your legs, hands etc so she can walk about pecking up the food and learning to leave your clothes/flesh alone. She will peck you numerous times as she learns but over time should come to identify what she is able to consume and what she can't. It may help to get something like raw pet mince for cats, something with no additives, or any food she goes crazy for, and feed her out of an almost completely closed fist, so she learns to avoid the fingers and skin to get to the treat. The same way you train a careless dog to carefully take the treat without biting fingers, basically.

    She may be --- probably will be --- always a danger with earrings etc, it's beyond some chickens' intellectual capacities to understand they're not shiny insects, and she doesn't sound too bright to start with. If she goes nuts about shiny things, eyes will always be at risk around her, possibly teeth and mouths too. You could probably retrain her about that too by having shiny but inedible (meaning non-swallowable not just non-food) items around her until she stops responding. So, perhaps tinsel or glitter very securely glued to wood or something so she cannot peck it up, and learns to ignore it. It would need to be covered in a layer of perhaps woodglue to make sure she cannot swallow it.

    I.Q. has a heck of a lot to do with diet and fluctuates throughout the average individual's lifetime, mainly based on dietary influences; she is not showing excessive smarts right now so treating that will definitely help. With many behavioral problems with all species, increasing nutrition will either eradicate or mitigate the problems. There are so many common behavioral issues I find are not faults of character but rather faults of health status... Everything from excessive fear to neuroses to obsessive stuff like this 'sampling the world' behavior she's showing.

    If you add something like kelp to her food, (or any other decent and wide spectrum multi-vitamin/mineral mix), it will help. In humans iodine deficiency causes a drop of around 16 IQ points, and iodine deficiency is epidemic all over the world both in humans and animals. Kelp is high in iodine as well as many other necessary nutrients. You can get it from health food stores, produce stores, livestock suppliers, etc.

    If using kelp just give a pinch a day on perhaps some wholemeal bread with cold pressed olive oil, this will help prevent so many health problems that are common as well as boost her IQ; there's a good chance she is pecking due to pica, a disorder causing confusion about what is edible and what is inedible, which is caused by extreme deprivation of nutrition. Most commercial layer types have some degree of pica and it can't be treated in all of them, for some it is a lifelong affliction.

    The average commercial layer diet does not provide them with anything more than meager survival rations that enable them to live a short life before dying prematurely, and it causes a kind of derangement that manifests as you're seeing: in attempting to eat the whole world around them. Kelp helps address that desperate nutritional craving/seeking behavior. It also boosts IQ massively.

    Best wishes.
     
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  3. Xtineart

    Xtineart Chillin' With My Peeps

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    thank you so much for your reply.

    She is certainly one dumb cluck but I didn't know that about diet affecting IQ.

    I will certainly get her some iodine to add to the feed and try the glittery object trick as she is a real pain and I've been trying to stay terribly patient towards her and not hurt or punish her. It can be very frustrating when I cant get her to leave me alone and she has that 'I'm gonna eat you' glint in her eye. She is an ex-commercial hen, about 2 years old and has been with me for around 5 months now and has settled in really well apart from her bitey-ness. I did wonder that it was some kind of food testing thing as she's had such a varied diet since coming to live here, free range all day long, layer feed, grit, shell, beach sand and breakfast treats everyday that range from chopped grapes, porridge and yoghurt to kale, lettuce and srambled egg on toast. I have been hand feeding and holding my rescue hens a lot, especially dried mealworms from a flat palm or in a dish rather than thrown on the ground and wondered if that was maybe causing or aggravating the problem as she wouldn't have had much human contact in her former life.

    She is the happiest beastie and often sits with me and just purrs her wee heart out which is lovely to see, but I really need to get the biting under control.

    I will look up info on dog training as well since you recommended the behavioural programming and see how they do it to stop her thinking everything is for chewing on.

    Everything is probably still a bit new to them and they must have had a horrible and limited life before so I will absolutely continue to let them have their 'sit with mummy' time when I sit down with them most days and they seem really calmed by it and spend the time preening and purring.

    yup kelp and some brain training for her it is then. thank you
     
  4. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    For what it's worth, it's not your fault, it's the fault of how she was raised. She genuinely doesn't know any better and doesn't mean any harm; you're not exacerbating it, just providing the environment in which the problem becomes apparent, since obviously she could never have shown this problem before under conditions in which she was never handled. She sounds pretty nice-natured, just a typical byproduct of her background. There's hope for her yet. :)

    Best wishes.
     
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  5. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener True BYC Addict

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    I respectfully beg to differ. I would not provide any part of my body for training purposes. She may be mis-guided in what she chooses to peck, but I can bet that she is not getting away with this behavior with her flock mates. She is doing it to you because you allow it. I would not provide her with access to bare skin. When she pecks, I'd give a verbal reprimand as well as speaking to her in the same language that her flock mates would use. They'd peck her back or discipline her by an act of dominance. They would peck her: Since you lack a beak, you can peck back with a finger jab to the chest. They would dominate her... or be dominated by her. When she oversteps personal boundaries, grab the feathers at the back of her neck, and pin her to the ground. Hold her there until she willingly stays put when you let go. Or, alternately, you can pick her up, hold her in a football hold with one hand while you push her head down below her chest with the other hand. Hold her head down, and repeat as necessary until she keeps her head down in submission. Do this as often as necessary to teach her personal boundaries. Would you allow a dog to bite you? Didn't think so. Same goes for chickens. They are much smarter than most folks give them credit for, and are capable of learning to modify their behavior. Chooks brings up some interesting thoughts: provide some diet supplements, don't give her targets by wearing bright and shiny objects while around her, and keep her away from your children.
     
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  6. islandgirl82

    islandgirl82 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    x2 on not placing food anywhere on the body to teach them NOT to peck you. That seems extremely counter-productive. Chickens are not dogs and methods that work well for one may not work for the other.

    Lazy Gardener and I recently discussed my cockerel's "enthusiasm" with treats as he would also get flesh. I had before he started that and continue now to use my index finger to jab in his direction anytime he shows questionable behavior and it has worked wonders. No, he no longer eats from my hands even though the rest of my flock does because they're gentle but he has learned to respect me. He follows me and rushes over when I pick up one of the girls but one quick jab taught him that I can do what I want and he just has to accept it so he'll watch me now but keeps his distance.

    They are absolutely smarter than they get credit for.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2014
  7. Xtineart

    Xtineart Chillin' With My Peeps

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    sorry chooks 4 but I think I'm going to have to go the punishment route. The little cow drew blood this morning when she jumped up and bit me on the hand as I went in to fill the feed bowls.
     
  8. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    I don't believe it will 'cure' her behavior, it will only teach her to fear you. For her sake I suggest you rehome her. You can't abuse or dominate or train pica out of an animal. It is NOT a logical process therefore treating it as one will only fail.

    I expect you'll try anyway, but chances are only teach her to avoid you, but, that's your right and maybe it will be sufficient for you and your circumstances.

    Please let us know how it goes in future, so others with similar problems can have some frame of reference for potential options and their respective success rates.

    Re: the suggestions to dominate her... Her behavior is not attempting to dominate, it's showing derangement, pica specifically, therefore dominating her is not going to make sense to her in the context.

    But, each to their own.

    Best wishes.
     
  9. islandgirl82

    islandgirl82 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jabbing a finger in her direction is not abuse...I don't even make contact with my cockerel and yes, he has learned to keep a step or two away but better that than getting bitten, especially to the point of having blood drawn or maybe worse. He has respect but I wouldn't hardly say he's afraid of me; if he were, he wouldn't be following at my heels or come running towards me whenever he sees me or walking across my feet to get from point a to point b, etc. He'd be avoiding me altogether and that's just not the case.

    There are children who are at risk of being severely injured in the OP's scenario as well. If this hen I incapable of learning, I don't believe that rehoming her is the answer. That's just passing the issue on to someone else. If she were mine and this behavior did not improve, I would put her down.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2014
  10. Xtineart

    Xtineart Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Chooks, I dont, haven't, wouldn't and will never abuse an animal, most definitely not my baby chickens, but I cannot and will not allow her to think that drawing blood and coming back for more is a good thing to do. The worst I have ever done to reprimand her is when she had a hold of my finger one day I gently pinched her on the comb thinking it might have the same effect as when the other hens do this to her if she is out of line with them, or to gently shove her out of the way while telling her off.

    I wouldn't re home her either as she is fairly old and is a rescue hen, so she's been through enough and settled in her home with the other hens, I don't think it would be fair to move the problem on as such.

    I'm not sure it is as simple as Pica as she's not going round pecking everything in sight, it's mainly pecking at me, my clothing or at other people and she really does need to realise that I'm the boss lady around here.

    Like Island girl says I can cope with a little cut or a nip or two but the local kids might not be so lucky if she gets a taste for human blood.

    My girl does love me, she is the first to come running up to see me when I open the house door and often just lies at my feet and purrs, but maybe that's part of the issue, maybe she needs to realise where she is in the pecking order around here.
     

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