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Discouraging broody behavior

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by HeidiHeb, Jun 8, 2016.

  1. HeidiHeb

    HeidiHeb New Egg

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    Hi, I'm new to hens and new to this forum. We have 4 ladies who were POL when we brought them home before Easter, and one has spent the last 2 days in the nesting box. She is the bottom of the pecking order a bit thin I noticed when I picked her up a couple of days ago, so I'd much rather she was out with the others scratching about in the grass and eating her layers pellets. NNever mind that we have no Roo so hatching chicks is out of the question.

    I've been collecting the eggs under her, and she still stays put. Can I lift her out of the nesting box? Can I keep lifting her out of the nesting box? Can I close off the coop once they've all laid so she has to stay out with the others for the afternoons? (We have an Omlet Cube which is "up", a large tarp over the covered wire enclosure part for sun/rain/wind protection, surrounded by a 50m electric poultry netting enclosure, all grass underfoot.)

    I look forward to your advice xx
     
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    She could be broody, she could be sick, or she could be hiding from the other hens. If you take her out does she puff up and cluck with occasional screeching? Than she's probably broody. If she runs right back in without walking about clucking she could be hiding. If she doesn't move much she could be sick. So first you need to determine what's going on, blocking the nestboxes is fine for broodiness, sometimes it's enough to break them.
     
  3. HeidiHeb

    HeidiHeb New Egg

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    She growled at me and fluffed up her feathers when I felt about under her for eggs a couple of times today, which sounds like broodiness? But I did wonder today if she was hiding. She has lost a lot of feathers around her neck over the last few weeks, the two RIR's can seem mean. I've tried a few different anti-pecking sprays, they help but don't stop it. I've done lots of reading and just can't understand what's behind the feather pecking. They have masses organic layers pellets free choice, grass to scratch about on during the day, a mug full of scratch, sunflower kernels and grit scattered every afternoon, have their coop cleaned thoroughly each week and dusted with diamotaceous Earth, have been wormed (flubenvet), have apple cider vinegar in their water on a schedule, I've been keeping them In the pen (~8'x4') for for the first and last hour of the day to encourage a couple of proper pellet meals....but maybe that's become too confined for our little henpecked Sussex? This afternoon, after I lifted her out of the nesting box and closed off the coop, she stretched up her neck and fluffed up her feathers and walked about. But then I looked out after I had shut them in for supper and she was standing in a corner with a RIR either side pecking at her. I shouted and glared at them, opened up the coop door and up she hopped, to the nesting box I'm sure. I would dearly love some anti-pecking help, I've been worried about my little Sussex, and now this broodiness......

    I would so love to have 4 happy hens!
     
  4. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    Unfortunately Rhode island reds are known for being aggressive in confined set ups. Sussex are more meek so I'm not surprised you are having troubles. Sometimes keeping only a few chickens can end up with pecking as there's only a small number of members to pick on. How big is your coop and run? Enlarging it might help, otherwise you might have to pick sides and rehomed either the Sussex or the RIR.

    I also no longer feed layer because it doesn't have enough protein for laying hens especially when extras are added. I recommend something with 18-20 % protein, either an all flock or a non medicated starter, so if they are pecking from a protein deficiency that might help.
     
  5. HeidiHeb

    HeidiHeb New Egg

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    They are really only confined the first and last hour of the day, 4 hens in a space that Omlet says is suitable for as many as 10! The rest of the day they are in a big 50m enclosure. Also 3 feeders and 2 water containers. But I have a friend with 18 hens and a Roo who's son is keen for the RIR's, I just thought I'd see how the last anti pecking spray worked and got my head around what to do next. That would leave me with a buff Sussex and my poor speckled Sussex who are friends. Is that too few for their need for companionship? If I added more (sussex, or docile hybrids?), 1 at a time or 2 together? And I don't have a quarantine setup for new ones!

    I did ask the breeder when I bought them if I'd have aggression issues with the RiIR's--should I stick with 1 breed for comparability and he said they'd be fine...:-( I have a mind to let him know what's going on--and that they were full of worms when they came home!

    What is it that you feed--I haven't heard of it. All the reading and advice I've gotten is for layers pellets...I've added in the sunflower seeds in case their was a protein deficiency, but that might not be enough?

    I do appreciate your help xx
     
  6. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Chicken Obsessed Premium Member

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    Claiming to hold a lot more chickens than it actually will is pretty typical for online purchased coops and runs. That space is not even close to space for ten hens. It’s tight for four hens if they are left locked in there for long periods of time. I’m assuming you got the 3 meter run which they advertise for $1700. Here’s what I think you have.

    https://www.omlet.us/shop/chicken_keeping/eglu_cube/

    First stop locking them in there when you don’t have to. You don’t need to micromanage their diet, they can manage quite well on their own. Does this behavior occur when they are not locked up? Maybe something as simple as this can be the solution. You never know until you try.

    I’m still not sure if she is truly broody or just hiding. I’ve had plenty of hens that will growl when I reach under them if they are just laying an egg, no broodiness involved. Normally when a broody is off the nest she walks around fluffed up and pocking, pretty much warning the other chickens she’s in one of those moods so leave me alone. Since this behavior just started two days ago broodiness might have something to do with it but I’m not convinced.

    Many people can keep RIR and Sussex together without problems. With the space you have for them in the netting I’d really expect you to be OK, but obviously you are not. Sometimes you get chickens that are just aggressive for whatever reasons. Did something change two days ago in how you manage them or have you always locked them up at the start and end of the day? Something triggered them to start attacking her two days ago, I don’t know what. But now they are in the habit of attacking her so you have to deal with it.

    Does one of the RIR initiate the attack with the other following? Is there any way you can isolate one RIR hen from the flock for several days, hopefully the aggressor, maybe in a dog crate? It does not have to have a lot of room. Does removing one hen alter the behavior of the other RIR? Sometimes removing one hen for a while and then returning her can alter flock dynamics enough to solve these problems. Sometimes. Or maybe you are destined for a three hen flock, or maybe just two.

    Assuming she is broody, can you rig up a broody buster? That’s a crate with an elevated wire floor so her bottom can cool off. It needs to be predator proof. Give her food and water but nothing that looks like a nest. Usually a broody will break from being broody after three or four days in something like this. Doing something like this can be challenging for a lot of people, especially in suburbia.

    I’m not at all convinced this behavior is due to a protein deficiency. You can stop that mug full of scratch if you wish but I don’t think that is enough to alter their behavior. You can ask at the feed store for a feed higher in protein. The protein content should be on the label. I’m guessing you are somewhere that when you say grit, you mean soluble grit, like oyster shell. In the US when we say grit we mean insoluble grit like granite. That’s often a language trap on this forum since we are worldwide. The higher protein feed will not have the amount of calcium the hens need for the egg shells but if you are offering insoluble grit (oyster shell) that’s OK. They should get enough calcium from that for their egg shells.

    I’m kind of at a loss for any other suggestions. I haven’t dealt with anything quite like this.

    Are two hens too few for companionship? Not really but you run the risk of something happening to one so you only have one left. I’d really like a minimum of three but a flock of two might work for years.

    One problem with those facilities is that you are not set up great for integration. Ideally you would house them side by side with a wire separation for a week or so before you let them out together. A lot of people don’t do that though, they just toss the new chickens in with the old and see what happens. Often that works out fine. There is often a difference in “ideal” conditions and conditions “I deal” with. You may be in one of those situations.

    Quarantine is an issue. You’ve seen how chickens can come in with problems. Usually those are more of an inconvenience than a serious problem, like worms or mites, and you’ve already shown you can manage those. But it is possible you could bring in something that would endanger the life of your flock. It’s also possible you will not bring in anything new. It’s a risk I’d probably take in your situation. The risk of actually losing your flock is pretty low, but there is a risk.

    If she is truly broody you could get hatching eggs, maybe even from that breeder. I could easily see you setting up a broody enclosure in that covered run (or maybe get rid of the two RIR’s and let her hatch in a normal nest), but you don’t know how many will hatch or how many will be pullets or cockerels. You need a plan to deal with cockerels and be able to handle the number of pullets you get.

    I’m sorry you are having all these problems. With your set-up and space you should be able to have four hens without any real issues. All that space in the netting should really make life easy for you. I really don’t see that you are doing anything wrong, I think you have just had some bad luck. When you deal with living animals that sometimes happens.
     
  7. HeidiHeb

    HeidiHeb New Egg

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    Apr 4, 2016
    I really appreciate the time and thoghtful help you've all given me.

    Yes, you are right about our coop, so the one in the picture is the Omlet Cube, elevated, and with the run extension, which is what we have. The feather picking didn't just start 2 days ago though, it's been going on since at least 9 April (I keep a flock log), but has been escalating to the point that today I saw one of the RIR's actually chasing Pebbles in the big run to grab a feather. But I believe I created the environment for the pecking to begin, as hens came home to just the coop and run on 18 Mar and it wasn't until 27 April that I had the electric netting sorted out. In retrospect, electric fencing is not such a complicated job, but it took me a while to get my head around and there is a fox nearby. I didn't want to be one of those who had to lose hens to a fox before going with electric.

    I been watching keenly for weeks to see who the primary aggressor is, it's not clear to me, as soon as I think it's one, the other makes a first move. But I'm agreeing with your suggestion that Pebbles "broody" behavior is self preservation, not true broodiness. I've contained Pebbles in the omlet run this afternoon, unfortunately by herself, which is not my choice--I'd rather have her Sussex friend in with her, but that lady is the least tame and I couldn't manage to entice her in, even with mealworms. Pebbles has been a normal hen this afternoon, eating and drinking again, even cuddling up to the others in the shade with the wire between them. I've also closed her out of the nesting box--she can go up to roosting area if she wants, but not to nestle in amongst the wood shavings.

    I've got our big dog crate out there now so they get used to the sight and smell of it (dog), and that's a good idea to put one of the RIR's in there. I'd rather contain an aggressor, (consequence for bad behaviour) so will do that tomorrow and following for several days. Just during the day though, right? I would have thought they'd be all right roosting at night...? And I will stop penning them up at the beginning and end of the day--which was also extra protection against Mr Fox, but at the expense of poor Pebbles it seems.

    I have a mixed "grit", a mixture of both granite and oyster shells. Their shells are plenty strong, much stronger than any eggs I've ever bought. The scratch was begun because of the corn content in the cold weather and has continued because it's fun to call "chook chook chook" and have them come running :) The sunflower seeds were added recently just in case protein deficiency is a factor, but I don't think it is either, nobody is eating the feathers.

    Have you ever tried "peepers" or "bits", to hamper the vision or beak function of more aggressive birds? I think "peepers" may be a US product while "bits" are what's available in the UK for the same purpose....? I'm new to this, but am not really comfortable with the idea of either product for free range birds, but people seem to say the birds can still scratch and eat and roost, just can't feather peck.....?

    You are all really amazing. I am grateful for your thoughts and support.
     
  8. chickens really

    chickens really Overrun With Chickens

    As stated.
    Red hens are aggressive with other hens of other colours or feathers.
    I think your hen is tired of being pecked and is hiding out.
    Just my thoughts, I got rid of all my Red hens and never had an issue since.
     
  9. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    If you have a good willing home for your two RIR I would personally take that route and try again with another pair. I would avoid RIR, and Wyandotte, both seem to have troubles in confinement and smaller flocks. You would need to set up a separate area for the new ones and integration can take some time.

    If you chose to keep the two you might have to add some stuff in your run where the Sussex can get away from the RIR. Things to get on top of, chairs, tables, roosts, logs, or under, or even in. Also you might want to add things for your hens to do like throwing them pulled weeds, digging them a hole, putting down some boards to turn over daily for slugs and worms. Some birds just get bored.

    I feed an All Flock ration. It's just as said, it's made to be fed to multiple species and age groups. I like the higher protein content. Layer feed is 16%, which is recommended to be fed as the sole ration, and it's formulated for hens to lay well but not to get fat on. Backyard flocks are often given extras in their diet which can cut the daily protein and cause deficiencies. Scratch is around 8-12%, and sunflower seeds are 17% protein but be careful they are very fatty. Free range birds can often fix their own diet with bugs and seeds, but confined or those kept in a run can't. So if they are at our mercy. I feed a higher protein feed and have seen an improvement in my birds. I always have a dish of oyster shells available.

    I don't think your hens have a deficiency but sometimes picking and pecking can be because they are craving protein and can't find it anywhere but from each other. That's my opinion on it anyways.
     
  10. HeidiHeb

    HeidiHeb New Egg

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    Well, after thinking dear Pebbles was "fine" (that is normal/not broody--eating, drinking, napping) within the pen away from the RIR's early this afternoon....for the last 5 hrs and she's been up in the roost, hunched down, tail down....her eyes are bright and inquisitive, but that tail down...? And hanging out up there on her own...? Maybe she is broody after all? Or unwell? But what could it be? Three days ago she was truly fine, creatively dodging the RIR's but scratching, eating, dust bathing with abandon....

    I think I've decided to rehome the RIR's...it seems having the breed mix we have in a small flock will take a lot of creativity to effectively address the bullying.

    So....a week for the Sussex to re establish themselves on their own? And then add in two (or four) new POL sussex....? I'd like to figure out a way to keep them separate but acquainted over a fence for a week or so....somehow. This is all much trickier than I imagined when we decided to "keep a few hens"....
     

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