bullying / merciless pecking (also paint eating)

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by curiositykt, Aug 15, 2014.

  1. curiositykt

    curiositykt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 4, 2012
    Marlborough MA
    So I have a pack of 5 two year old chickens and a pack of 4, four month old chickens.

    They have been living together for the last 2 months. They are now roughly all the same size.

    I had figured by now the pecking order would be settled, but if anything, the problems seem to be intensifying. And I am becoming unable to let them out much, which makes the problem worse, so it's compounding the issue

    Chicks born in April
    Chicks moved outside with the older chickens around the end of June
    Fox attacked the older chickens who were out while the younger chickens were locked away in the coop in the beginning of July
    House got painted end of July, and the chickens were cooped up for the duration (1 week)
    then we went on vacation the next week and told the sitter not to let the younger chickens out because they are harder to corral back in.
    Younger chickens and Porter started to refuse to go back into the coup in mid August

    The current pecking order:

    Hoppy - 2 year old, smaller golden Wyandotte
    Big Bird - 2 year old, all white EE

    Malty - 2 year old, larger golden Wyandotte - attacked by a fox 2 months ago
    Stout - 2 year old, larger silver Wyandotte - attacked by a fox 2 months ago

    Porter - 2 year old, smaller silver Wyandotte

    Bock - 4 month old laying Buff Orp
    Lager - 4 month old all white EE

    Saison - month old pullet Buff Orp
    Nut - 4 month old chipmunk EE

    Hoppy and Big Bird, being the smallest of the older chicken are of course the meanest. They both will chase down Porter and the four month olds and pin them down and peck them. They chase them across the open yard, they chase them in the coop. They basically give no quarter unless they are napping or are otherwise engaged. (They were not in the fox's attack and seem to have no knowledge of the fox)

    Malty and Stout don't really participate in the bullying unless they get bumped into or the younger chickens try something particularly annoying. They both are recovering well from having large bites taken out of their backs. The skin has grown back but not the feathers yet.

    Porter is currently low on feathers, and had been when they were attacked by the fox 2 months ago, so I think it's just a normal very slow moult, but recently she's stopped laying and also has taken up eating the scrapped off paint from when the house was repainted 3 weeks ago. I've also witnessed her being grabbed by Hoppy and Big Bird and held down while they pecked her. They don't let her eat and make her sleep in the doorway. She spends most of the day hiding in the hen house. If I let her out of the enclosed coop run, she refuses to go back into the coop and I have to pick her up and carry her in. She's always been the least brave of the 2 year olds, but lately it's gotten to the point where I don't know what to do.

    Bock and Lager are both mostly tolerated by the older chickens. They seem to have earned a little respect, I think partly because Bock is laying and because Lager is often mistaken for Big Bird, but both are willing to make forays into the parts of the coop where the older chickens are hanging out, provided the big chickens appear to not be paying attention. They sleep outside the henhouse on a makeshift roost.

    Saison and Nut both are scared half to death of the older chickens and refuse to go near them unless they are starving or the older chickens appear to be sleeping or not in the coop. They hang out all day on the branches in the coop and rarely walk on the ground unless the older chickens aren't present. They sleep outside the henhouse on a makeshift roost. I almost always have to pick them up and put them back in the coop.

    I can't let the chickens free range around the yard all day because of the fox and neighborhood dogs. They normally get to go out in the yard for an hour or two every day while we are home and paying attention. Lately I haven't been allowing the younger chickens free range time because they don't come home, and since Porter has started not coming home as well, she has been cooped up as well.

    (Porter's not coming home coincides with the paint eating behavior)

    I am pretty sure they are getting enough food and water, mostly as their crops feel full and they are otherwise healthy. There are two watering locations and two feeding locations. The outdoor sleeping roost is fine for now, but when it gets cold they will need to be inside with the rest of the chickens.

    I don't really have any good place to segregate chickens other than a dog crate we use as an infirmary for bites. I haven't seen blood from the pecking attacks since the first week when all the young chickens got forcefully pecked on the top of their beaks. That has since stopped, but the pecking in general continues. Saison has tattered flight feathers on both wings from the older chickens grabbing her by the wings.

    My coop is theoretically big enough for 10 chickens.

    Any help or commiseration is greatly appreciated. I'm not fond of the idea of culling, but Big Bird and Hoppy definitely on the short list for soup.
     
  2. jessietacos

    jessietacos Out Of The Brooder

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    May 31, 2014
    My chickens didn't get along at first, either. I just separated them and let them interact under supervision. Then, if you see bullying, you can correct it. This method worked for me, at least
     
  3. curiositykt

    curiositykt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 4, 2012
    Marlborough MA
    I am not sure if I should separate out the bullies or the bullied...
     
  4. welasharon

    welasharon Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 28, 2010
    North Florida
    Theoretically and what actually works are sometimes not the same thing! How big is their area actually? You may have to build a separate coop/run area for some. I have some birds who get along fine in their space but others who aggravate the daylights out of any other birds. I have them on their own.
     
  5. curiositykt

    curiositykt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 4, 2012
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    there is 80 square feet of ground level run, which goes up as high as 8 feet and they have places to go up throughout the coop, which they use to a great extent. The hen house portion (which is open to the coop in the summer by a large door, providing more "run" space) is 27 square feet, with an additional 3 square feet hanging off the side for the nest boxes. It's a slightly modified version of this plan: http://www.thegardencoop.com/chicken-coop-plans.html
     
  6. welasharon

    welasharon Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 28, 2010
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    I think you have two issues. The first is the age difference. The younger ones are going to have a hard time until they get older and more experienced. The other is the space. The minimum space recommended is four square feet per chicken but that to me is not practical if they are confined in that space a lot. Some chickens are just flat out mean. I really don't think you can do anything about it but try to get them more space. THe ideal would be to build a separate area for the younger ones. Sorry. Chickens are quite mean to each other.
     
  7. sbhkma

    sbhkma Chillin' With My Peeps

    I agree. That's really not enough space for chickens that are confined in it 24/7. If you can double that space, it would be better. The hen house itself is far too small-I have 25 sq feet in the upper coop area and only 4 birds. I could "probably" have 1 or 2 more in that space, but that's about it. It seems that chickens, who are mean to each other anyway, get even meaner when they feel crowded. (Not unlike humans, eh?)
    Your options appear to be cutting down on the number of chickens, making a bigger run and bigger coop, building a 2nd run/coop for the younger birds, or letting them duke it out and hope no one gets hurt seriously. Sorry about that fox attack-dealing with that sort of stuff truly sucks.
     
  8. curiositykt

    curiositykt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Apr 4, 2012
    Marlborough MA
    I think the answer will probably be increased free range time, with the possibility of hawks/foxes/dogs/fisher cats "helping" with the numbers. They will get more space and more foraging, and we don't spend quite as much time trying to keep predators away. Though they've already survived a number of attacks with no reduction in numbers... My friends have gotten 12 chickens over the past 2 years and are down to 3 or 4, we have had no losses! I keep expecting one of them to die of the usual chicken maladies, the numbers purchased assumed some attrition rate.

    Perhaps our paint eater will be the first. Though today she was hanging out with the rest of the older chickens and ran into the coop willingly...
     

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