Chicken Psychology -- How do I treat a chicken I've placed in solitary confinement?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by kristineputt, Jan 1, 2015.

  1. kristineputt

    kristineputt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I currently have a bully in isolation. My question pertains to how I should treat her while she's in solitary....

    Gracie is not the top hen. She's a Buff Orpington and the top hen has been ruling her since brooder days. But Gracie is extremely jealous of some recent newcomers. Ironically, the top hen has - with only some initial minor reservations - already accepted into the flock. The others are all fine together. The problem is Gracie. This was not normal pecking order business. She's been been behaving like a violent, mean and nasty girl -- launching full-on back attacks on the new ones. So I placed her inside the house in a very large dog crate (big enough for a Great Dane) in the spare room. She's cozy, but completely miserable. Cries and whines constantly. I'm only on Day Two of what I believe will be at least ten. Ugh.

    Thing is, I don't know how I should treat her now that I've isolated her! I feel bad for the poor girl, she obviously would prefer to be outside with her sisters, even though she hates some of them. Breaks my heart to hear her cry all day. She's a very affectionate and sweet girl to me, loves me beyond the stars -- wants to be in my lap every second she can. Part me of thinks I should give her special treatment. But on the other hand, if I treat her extra nicely because I feel guilty about isolating her, am I not further encouraging the mean-girl behaviour? Do I provide her with just the necessities, and leave her be otherwise? Wouldn't that be like the ultimate betrayal? Or should I spend more time with her?

    I keep going back and forth, I know. Sorry. I can't figure this out. I'm no chicken-whisperer. But if I understand time-out correctly, it's to break her spirit and her confidence a little, as well as drop her rank when she's introduced back outside. My rational mind says, "How much of her spirit can I possibly break if I continue to pamper her while she's in solitary?"

    I'm completely confused.[​IMG] And super glad I have no kids. Chicken behavioral psychology is tough enough!

    Thank you for any insight you can provide.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
  2. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    I'm going to make this real simple for you. You can feel free to cuddle and spoil and be as sweet as you want to Gracie and not feel any guilt for being nice to her.

    Because how you treat Gracie has nothing whatsoever to do with the pecking order and Gracie's attitude toward the new flock members or their attitude toward Gracie.

    It's important for Gracie to remain apart from the flock for the time being in order to try to reset the pecking order, and to give the new ones time to develop more self confidence to help them deal with Gracie's bullying. By keeping her out of the flock, it will reduce her rank in the pecking order, or how the others see Gracie. So when she returns, hopefully they will let her know she isn't as important as she once thought she was.

    So, go ahead and console Gracie. She's very lonely and she needs you.
     
  3. kristineputt

    kristineputt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Good points, all of them. Thank you azygous. After reading your reply, I went to spend some quality time with the poor girl. She's such a pitiful sight right now :(

    I can't help but think that her nasty behavior toward the others is a result of my having spoiled her with too much love and affection. Is that possible? For a chicken, I mean? She clearly thinks she's a princess, and I'm sure the love I raised her in has lent its fair hand to this outcome. Like a spoiled bratty child that grows up and eventually realizes the world doesn't revolve around him -- even though mommy always seemed to think it did! lol
     
  4. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    We've talked about, on various threads here, chicken emotions. People are always getting them confused with human emotions. It's important to understand the difference!

    While chickens do have emotions and behavior motives, they are not the same as human. What might spoil a child, won't have the same effect on a chicken. They need to be kept separate.

    Go ahead and love your Gracie. That's universal. All beings respond to love. But it's not going to affect her in the same way as loving a child.

    Chickens are far less complex beings than humans. For right now, you just need to quit over-thinking things. Gracie has a special bond with you that isn't related in the least to her relation to her flock members. That's the pecking order of which we speak so often. While complex in itself, the way you treat Gracie won't affect that.
     
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  5. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

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    I am going to play the devils' advocate.

    How sure are you that Gracie was only protecting her own turf and not being a bully?

    Slightly lower ranking chickens (especially roosters but also hens) in my experience frequently form alliances with upper echelon birds. They accomplish this feat by doing the uber chickens' heavy pecking for them.

    To me it seems that the lower ranking bird is paid for this service by being left in peace by the higher ranking chickens, that is as long as the lower rank bird stays in her place and doesn't challenge. When Gracie, the hen that you have in timeout is returned to her flock she very well may be forced to fight every hen on your place just to survive by reestablishing her right to eat and drink from the same feeder or fountain as well as roost in a good place just like the rest of your flock. At any rate if the new hens were not already attempting to bully or horning in on Gracie's turf, she would just ignore them unless they violated her personal space.

    The purpose of the pecking order, is to divide, divvy up, or "spread the wealth around, but not in equal proportions like some humans desire. The pecking order is designed to ensure the survival of the species by forcing lower ranking chickens to leave their current flock and seek out new, richer, or unoccupied territories in which to start new flocks.

    Thankfully chickens are blissfully unawares of human morals, ideals, or emotions like fair play, sharing, or bullying. Nothing that you can do to Gracie will make the slightest impression on her pea sized bird brain. All we ever accomplish by isolating a chicken is to damage that birds' self-esteem by demoting them to the bottom of the pecking order. Besides, Gracie didn't go out and buy new hens and then turn them loose in her own run just so that she could bully them
    did she? Someone else obviously had to do that for her.
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2015
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  6. kristineputt

    kristineputt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I truly appreciate your insight. Super smart observation, I would never have thought of that -- a second-ranker serving the upper-ranker in exchange for peace. But now, are you suggesting that, by isolating her, I may be turning her into an even more vicious monster for when she's returned to the group?

    Here's the thing:

    Gracie was not exhibiting "normal" pecking order behavior. She'd run full-speed from clear across the way at the newcomers, chasing and cornering them in, hunting them down, jumping on their backs and attacking them brutally. This wasn't a get-away-from-my-food-or-I'll-show-you-what-my-beak-is-for, not at all. It was more like a wild hair-raised screaming psycho chicken, pummeling anyone she could catch. I broke it up both times pretty quickly, so no serious damage was done. But given the chance, it was evident that she would have continued her psychotic murderous rampage, until someone was seriously hurt or killed.

    This is not an issue of space or resources -- they have more than enough in both coop and run and the older ones free range (albeit supervised for fear of overhead prey), and I have several feeders and waterers all over place, and the top hen can't guard them all at the same time. I've also installed a ton more roosts, so there's lots of ways and places to get up high to safety.

    I don't know if Gracie's psychotic behaviour means she's defending her territory, serving the top-ranking hen, or bullying. Maybe I'm the one with the pea-sized brain! lol I only know I had to yank her out of there before she did some real damage to someone. I do realize that solitary confinement may or may not solve the attitude problem. But I felt I had to try it before I resorted to more extreme measures.
     
  7. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    Segregating Gracie had to be done, and it was a wise move. I only addressed half of the issue with you since you seemed so intent on concluding you might somehow be responsible for Gracie's behavior.

    We need to address the problem of the pecking order next. But be forewarned, often whatever you try to do to alter it, will have little or no effect. If it does change things, it may just be coincidental or pure luck. But as you pointed out, you needed to do something or risk collecting dead bodies.

    After Gracie has been out of the pecking order for a few days, try re-introducing her to see what happens. That can give you important clues as to what you need to do next. Chickens can surprise you. If the youngsters have had time to gain self confidence, they may stand up to her and that can change Gracie's behavior. If timid chickens are afraid of a bully and they show it by running away or squatting and letting the bully stomp them, it encourages the bully even more. What you want to see is the new ones flaring neck feathers and standing their ground when Gracie takes a run at them.

    But you won't know until you try it. I would give Gracie until the fourth day and put her back for a trial run. Things could work themselves out and surprise you.
     
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  8. kristineputt

    kristineputt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Yes, you are right -- I was especially worried that I was responsible for her behavior. I've been told "don't spoil your chickens," and so naturally I thought this could be the reason why. Glad to know it's not. From what you've both said, it seems she would have acted like a psycho maniac whether I hugged her too many times or not at all. So at least in that regard, I feel relieved.

    I'm going to do as you suggested and put her out in a couple of days. Let's see what happens. I can always pull her back out and start over again. My thought is, chickens pick up on patterns pretty quickly. So if I pull her out every time she makes a leap for the new ones, it shouldn't be too long before she associates the consequences with the action.

    I'll let you know what happens! *crossing fingers*
     
  9. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    A caveat on causing bad behavior in chickens - by behaving in an erratic manner with roosters and occasionally some hens, people can cause them to adopt unacceptable behaviors toward humans. But you're not going to cause bullying by "spoiling" your hens with love and attention.

    I'll be watching for an update.
     
  10. kristineputt

    kristineputt Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Ok, update.... (sorry if this is long, but hopefully someone else will gain some useful tips from this post)....

    We've made progress! [​IMG]It took a little more effort than simply solitary confinement, but time-out gets quite a bit of credit. Here's what I did:

    azygous, you suggested I put Gracie out after a few days and I agreed to do that. However, afterwards I spoke with my hay supplier. He grew up on a farm with thousands of chickens, and he offered another valid point. He said that if I put her out too soon, it probably won't work -- he said, "If you think about it, a broody hen takes at least ten days away from her flock before she returns, and only then does she lose her status." Seeing as I only had six days left, I decided to stick out the whole ten days. And then, due to my own personal scheduling conflicts -- I wanted to be present as much as possible for the first three days after reintroducing Gracie to her flock -- so I actually ended up putting her out at Day Twelve.

    I put her out at midnight, setting her on the roost between the other birds. As expected, everyone slept fine together. I went to bed and came back to the coop just before dawn to be present when they all came out of their chicken coma. After everyone came down from the roost, Gracie slipped into attack mode again. But I was there to intervene. I grabbed her, held her down by forcing my hand on her back, and flicked her on the head (like a chicken pecking a younger one to discipline). She seemed fine for a little while, then attacked another hen again. This time, I not only grabbed her and flicked her on the head, but I pulled on her neck feathers and held her down a good minute or so. She was SO shocked and SO humiliated, she simply laid in that position for a few minutes -- literally, maybe three minutes! practically paralyzed -- before finally getting back up and resuming her normal chicken business.

    At one point, my top hen glared beak-to-beak at Gracie, looking very angry, as if to say "Stop acting like a nincompoop. We have it good now. DONT. SCREW. THIS. UP." She was clearly furious with her, and later on I noticed Gracie did have a tiny blood spot on her comb (nothing serious). Clearly, this was the top hen's doing. She was never my favorite, but I'm learning to really love my top hen. Apparently, she's taken on the role of the rooster and is doing her best to keep peace in the house.

    There have been no more brutal attacks since, at least not that I know of. Gracie is not charging anyone anymore, so things are working themselves out. I see a HUGE improvement over where we were two weeks ago. That is, the new ones steer clear of her still. When Gracie is out in the run, they go into the coop. If she comes left, they go right, etc. At the first sight of her, they cry and run. They're only dodging her, but I think it's the best I can hope for until they develop enough self confidence to hold their own. And they have lots of hay stacks to jump on, roosts, perches and ramps everywhere, several waterers and feeders on varying levels all around, and a plethora of obstacles to create diversion. My run isn't very large, but I've provided a ton of "playground items" which gives them options.

    One more thing I did...

    Lucy, the smallest of the newcomers, is beyond terrified to go to bed. She goes into complete panic mode when the sun sets and they all need to get on the same roost, with the Big Bad Bully sitting right next to her. So, I hung a "makeshift" curtain from the rafters that hangs down between the two sets of girls. It's just a scrap piece of fabric that I stapled overhead. It seems to give Lucy considerable peace of mind and everyone can sleep now. My plan is to raise the curtain height a little every few days so they can see more of each other each night, until eventually I can remove it altogether.

    So I'm pretty sure that now, it's just normal pecking order business. Which is what I was after.

    Thank you all [​IMG]

    P.S. chickengeorgeto, you mentioned that it's possible a second ranker may be doing the higher ranker's heavy pecking for her. I believe you were SPOT ON! I did notice that Gracie tends to be more "bullyish" when the top hen is around. When the top hen is in the nesting box or otherwise occupied, Gracie seems much more docile. She plays much more nicely with the younger ones and no one else even seems mildly afraid of her. They'll even eat together. It's as if Gracie only flexes her muscles around the top girl, as if to say "Look at me, look at what I can do."

    Wow. What an eye opener.
     

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