Dominance and aggression question

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

  1. Kikiriki

    Kikiriki Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 26, 2011
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    I have three pairs of chickens: two hens of two years age, two EE pullets 10 weeks old, and two Lav Ameraucanas (sex unknown) of 6 and 7 weeks age.

    The hens are next to, but separated from all the youngsters. They have had very limited and supervised get togethers that consisted of very aggressive attacks of the EEs with me stepping in to prevent injury.

    The four youngsters are sharing an enclosure, but they have their own sleeping areas due to the coop I managed to find.

    In the picture below, the hen area is to the left beyond the white wire door. The long white coop is where the youngsters sleep: it has a wire bottom and is divided into four sections. Both ends are wire enclosed and I put in roost bars. Each end unit has a hole cut in the inner wall that accesses the section next to it. Those are fully enclosed and do not connect to one another. Right now they are each set up to hold water and food for the pairs of pullets. (I will be adding more ventilation soon). The 30x6 area is enclosed except where I ran out of netting (where the palm fronds are).

    I am trying not to interfere with how the two pairs of pullets interact. My hope has been to let the small birds work out a relationship before throwing the hens into the mix. So far the two pairs are refusing to integrate:
    They stick together in their pairs, and both the older ones (EE) will chase and peck the LA's. So far there has been no physical damage. [The larger EE has not plucked feathers from anyone, but does eat feathers she finds on the ground. I am a bit concerned this may evolve into feather picking...none of my existing hens ever ate feathers.]
    Honestly, I don't like how much the EE's are stressing the younger pair, so I lock away one set and then the other for a while each day, so the LA's get some respite.

    I want to start introducing the EE's to the hens more intensely, but I am worried that as the hens pick on them and put them in their places, that they--in turn--will act even more aggressive toward the LA's.

    What is your experience? Is aggression something that spreads like the flu? If I do let the hens and the EE's interact, should I then keep the EE's completely apart from the LA's until the LA's are ready to join the bigger birds? It seems they would probably then just end up getting picked on by all four bigger birds...

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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  2. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Chicken Obsessed

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    Nov 23, 2010
    St. Louis, MO
    I believe you're thinking this out pretty well.
    The older hens picking on the middle birds may very well cause them to bully the younger. The reason for this is with pecking order, as birds mature, they know that the lower they are, the more they'll have to wait for feed, water and treats so they try to preserve as high a position as possible.

    The basics of pecking order and flock dynamics are such that the health of the flock is the most important thing for every bird. One bird will be on top, one will be on the bottom and the rest fit along the totem pole.
    When a flock is established, even if it is only 2 birds, they view any outsider as a threat to the health of the flock. More competition for food and possible disease carriers so they try to drive them off.

    In my experience, the younger birds are when integrated, the more thy bond.
    I wouldn't put the 10 week olds with the hens because, as you've noted, there will be 4 birds to bully the two youngest.

    You want the 4 young birds to be bonded before you put them with the mature hens.

    I would put one LA with one EE in each of the quarters. Make sure there are two food and water sources in each pen. Eventually they should bond. It might help that the 2 new pairs can't see their old friends.
    Then after a bit, you can combine the 4.
    Another idea is to put the hens in the small one's area and the chicks in the hen's pen (swapping the flocks).
    Then when you integrate them all, the adult birds will be going into the chicks quarters and the chicks will be more numerous. I'd wait till the youngest are big enough to stand up for themselves or at least avoid pecking.

    Pecking is from a couple things. 2 most common are exhibiting dominance/close confinement or a need for more protein.
    Make sure that they're all getting about 18+% protein (counting all scraps, treats and scratch grains), that will eliminate any desire to eat feathers. Once they're integrated, you can cut the protein back to normal levels.
     
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2015
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  3. Kikiriki

    Kikiriki Chillin' With My Peeps

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    May 26, 2011
    Central Florida

    Thank you so much for such a thoughtful and thorough response! I try taking each of the young four out, one at a time, to spend some quality time and to help them get used to me. As soon as they hear their particular best friend crying they get quite restless, so I am not mixing the pairs would not result in damage to the LA's by the EE's.

    I have been considering rehoming the EE's...they are a real challenge and I am not sure they are going to work in my little flock. They do not come near me, will not take treats, fly well enough to go over the six foot fence if they had the chance, and now this feather eating by the one is freaking me out.

    The LA's run right to me, let me pick them up, and really seem like sweet and gentle birds. That is what I really wanted--personality wise--in the few chickens I can have.

    Sigh... I think I know what I need to do...
     
  4. ChickenCanoe

    ChickenCanoe Chicken Obsessed

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    Another couple things to consider.

    Most chickens will eventually warm up to you once they know you won't eat them and that you feed them.

    A wary bird that is hard to approach is much more predator proof than a constantly calm bird that will let anything walk up to them.

    Given enough space, the mixed pairs of chicks will be fine together. The young ones are mobile enough to get away.
    You'll eventually want more chickens and this is your best chance to have 6 pullets/hens. I encourage you not to give up just yet but I'm not there so I don't see what you see.
     

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