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Family Crisis: Young rooster attacking hen that hatched him

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by DownEastChickens, Mar 16, 2009.

  1. DownEastChickens

    DownEastChickens Out Of The Brooder

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    This might have been a "behavior" forum posting, if there weren't such severe injuries involved...

    We have a flock of 15 chickens, including just one rooster. The rooster and five hens were hatched last August by an older Buff Orpington who went broody over the summer. We didn't have a rooster, so asked a neighbor (who earlier took our Partridge Cochin rooster) for some fertilized eggs. A Partridge Cochin was father of all six hatched chicks, but I'm not recalling the varieties of hens that provided these eggs, but lots of orange in the feathers of these offspring.

    The mother hen and our other eight older hens in our flock were all hatched May '06, from a commercial hatchery.

    The mother hen was very protective and effectively signalled the other hens to stay clear when the chicks were small late this Summer and into the Fall -- she would get all puffed out and clucky when she led the chicks in and out of the coop. As the chicks got older, it was a fairly smooth transition: The six of them tended to roost together -- sometimes with the mother hen. The other older hens had room to roost a little bit apart from them, but over time I have seen more mixing of the two groups of chickens around food, etc., with minimal pecking.

    They were all cooped up, inside for *months* over this long winter, again with remarkably little pecking of each other. I was hoping with the rooster having no competition, he might stay on the relatively less aggressive side.

    One interesting -- and relevant -- additional behavioral detail: while I've read that hens loose interest in their chicks after a couple of months, this mother hen continued to affiliate with young flock and once, very *late* Fall, when my husband had to catch a young hen caught in some fencing, the mother hen got back into her "Protect!" posture, lowering her head, puffing out and running up to my husband as he untangled the squawking younger bird. At this point, the young chicken was at least three months old, well past the age that I had been led to expect a mother hen would show any such behavior.

    So now we're able to let the birds out into their yard some days -- they're no longer in continual confinement, and the young birds are seven months old, the new hens laying eggs for several weeks now, the rooster crowing. And here's the crisis: He is viciously attacking *his* mother hen, and none of the other hens (the older ones or his younger "sibs").

    About a couple of weeks ago I noticed that her comb was a little bloody, but not out of the range of what I've observed when a young rooster is "in action," and I wasn't entirely sure if this particular Buff Orpington was the mother -- there are three others in the flock.

    Then, about four days ago, I saw a gash on the back of her neck, and began to get more concerned, but have seen that occasionally in the past. However, none of the other hens showed injuries, so I started watching very closely.

    The reason I am now quite sure that it's the mother hen is that I'm now seeing her fluff up again and start clucking when she starts to approach the rooster -- as if she is "reverting" to defensive/"stay clear!" signals that used to work when she was escorting chicks past other hens. And, also, it's the younger hens (that she would have hatched) that seem to be hanging out with her. For the rooster, however, her "defensive" Mother Hen style of puffing up and clucking seems to be a provocation and he charges her, pushing her neck to the ground and biting it. N.B., the two times I've caught sight of him doing this, he is standing in front of her or slightly to the side, and does not appear to be interested in mating [I've seen he's got *that* technique down now with other hens.]

    When she was roosting the past several nights, I checked and she was between two other hens, either two of the hens she hatched and/or one very gentle Ameraucana hen, with them facing out into the middle of the coop and her facing towards the wall, so they weren't also pecking her. I have not yet seen another hen peck at her injury...

    The back of the mother hen's neck now has a bare, blood crusted patch about two inches long and now almost gridling around to the front...awful. I think I can see skin is split and pulled back on either side.

    Today things reached crisis stage: She and one of the hens she hatched separated themselves from the rest of the flock, going out further into the snow than the other birds have ventured. Later, when the temperature started to drop back to freezing, these two stayed out another hour or so. I went outside, keeping an eye on the chickens most of the time. I saw the rooster come out to the door of the coop several times, including when the two hens started to work their way back inside as it got colder. I turned my back and then I heard two quick loud squawks and didn't see the hens...I figured they got back in, but not before the rooster got one more bite in.

    Then, however, I saw that both hens had "flown the coop" and were outside the fencing. The mother hen had fresh blood on her neck and was looking up into the branches of a big bush. The other, younger hen, was nearby... Temperatures are going to get into the teens tonight, iffy for a night out for a weakened bird, so we intervened. The young hen we caught and brought back inside the coop, re-introduced without any problem with the rooster. For the mother hen, we rigged up "protective custody" caging for the night, but still inside the coop with the other birds [she stopped the distress calls once we brought her, caged, back in with the rest of the flock].

    My plan for the next several days, at least, is to bring her out into the yard, where she can escape as needed during the day (temps well above freezing) and then back into the separate cage contraption at night... She *is* still eating -- I've been bringing food pellets to her once she's safely outside, distracting the rooster and rest of the flock *not* to investigate her food by giving *them* treat-seeds at the same time.

    I'm really concerned, though, if a full re-introduction is going to be possible...that the rooster is going to mortally wound her (if he hasn't already). It really appears that she can't adapt behaviorally to drop the "Mother Hen" signalling behavior that appears, in turn, to so provoke the rooster.

    I've wondered if what appeared to be her longer than usual affiliation/mothering bond with the young birds ticked off the rooster.... today, she had with her, in "exile", one of the young hens, at one point *two* of them.

    So, in terms of the "emergency," does anyone think this destructive "family" dynamic can be resolved and the mother hen safely interact among them, or is the answer to remove permanently either the rooster or the mother hen. (I've been waiting to see if the rooster is going to turn on more hens, as that would help provide answer, but so far it's just this one hen...)

    ALSO, what are the prospects of the hen's recovery, in the first place, with her slashed neck?

    Thanks, and sorry for being so long-winded, but I was trying to anticipate questions folks might have...and I really want to manage this situation best I can!
     
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2009
  2. LovinMyChickies

    LovinMyChickies Out Of The Brooder

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    Redding, California
    I think your rooster needs to go. He is reaching sexual maturity and will pick out his "favorite" ladies.

    I got rid of mine and things are much more peaceful now.

    There is a BYC user on this site "Rooster-Red" that has a great page on rooster behavior.
     
  3. LovinMyChickies

    LovinMyChickies Out Of The Brooder

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    May 13, 2008
    Redding, California
    As far as your hens injury, check your local feed store for a product called "Blood Stop" it's a powder to stops bleeding. You could also put a dab of "Bag Balm" on it.
     
  4. ChooksChick

    ChooksChick BeakHouse's Mad Chicken Scientist

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    Larry, KS
    My Coop
    I may be completely out of line, but perhaps her behavior that is nurturing and bonding with her 'kids' appears to be rooish behavior to the roo- and thus he sees her as competition and is attacking her to show who's top roo? It seems fair to say her defensive behavior is like her saying, "Mine!" and he is disagreeing with that violently.

    I'm not sure what to do about it, even if my armchair chicken psychology is right! I'm so sorry!
     
  5. thebritt

    thebritt Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 5, 2009
    Humboldt County
    As for her injury, I'd clean with a dilute Betadine solution and put a thin layer of Neosporin on it. Just keep an eye out for infection and other chickens picking at her. As for the rooster...Ba Bye.
     
  6. MissPrissy

    MissPrissy Overrun With Chickens Premium Member

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    She is not letting him be the rooster - the leader, the king of the flock. He will bring her in line and it will be violent and it may be bloody but that is how things work in the chicken world. He will take his place and she will submit to him one way or the other. It is natural and normal. You can choose to let them work it out or you can remove one or the other from the flock.

    Don't read too much into their behavior in the way we humans do things. Chickens are programed by mother nature to do things instictively. He is working on male instinct. She on the other hand is trying to dominate his flock.
     
  7. DownEastChickens

    DownEastChickens Out Of The Brooder

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    Mar 16, 2009
    Thanks for these responses today!

    After going after the hen several times, the rooster seems to be escalating, and the hen not giving whatever signals would indicate she's going to give in. I think you are right, MissPrissy, that she would give in one way or another, but I have seen two roosters ready to fight to the death, and I'm not sure if, with more injuries, that might be this situations outcome (mortally wounded hen). I've gotten used to some of the dark side of chicken-life, but not all...

    Thanks for the recommendation of Rooster-red's "how to deal with aggressive roosters," LovinMyChickies. So far, the rooster hasn't been very aggressive with me or my husband, nor with the other hens...I've had interactions with about a half-dozen roosters, and it's interesting how they vary...

    I have tended to see things as rscrvc has speculated, that the left-over mother hen behavior (behavior that I didn't think would persist after the first couple of months) is responded to by the rooster as not letting him be the leader of the entire flock. The other hens (either the five hens she hatched or the other eight hens she grew up with) are *not* picking at the wound, which is really surprising, but further suggests that this not a matter of her being low on the overall pecking order (I've seen how *that* works with other other of the hens).

    As for the hen's injuries, I'm glad to get the recommendations re: "Blood Stop" and the antibiotic ointments. There hasn't been active bleeding since the rooster attacked her the last time yesterday morning. The injured section on her neck has a thick tarry-looking layer of old blood on it. I'm picking her up at least once a day now, to put her in the cage at night, so could put something on the wounded area, but not sure it would make a difference now -- the crusting looks so thick. I've been looking carefully at it and the edges of the wound don't look inflamed. But I will get some Betadine solution; already have Neosporin on hand. Might try the latter tomorrow.

    I guess my strategy, for another week, is to now keep the rooster and hen completely separated so he doesn't have a chance to re-open the wounds again, and see how the healing on her neck proceeds, and then to face question of which one goes, and how... Will post if something new happens! Thanks again!
     
  8. ChooksChick

    ChooksChick BeakHouse's Mad Chicken Scientist

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    Larry, KS
    My Coop
    Let me just say, in my uber-emotional way of being attached to these pals, that I believe that this sucks for you. I'm grateful for the journey into the workings of the chicken psyche, but I'm sorry you have to make such a hard decision and that it has digressed into violence...I wish you the best of luck!
     
  9. DownEastChickens

    DownEastChickens Out Of The Brooder

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    Update on this situation, in case anyone else ever has a rooster who singles out a hen for destruction: I spent a couple of weeks shuttling around the hen every day, securing her in a separate enclosure inside the coop with the rest overnight and then letting her roam free in the yard, getting as close to the coop fence as she wanted.... Was hoping for signs I could re-introduce her. *She* seemed interested in returning to the flock, but the rooster kept charging at her when she got close to the fence.

    Meanwhile the rooster stayed fine with the other hens (and isn't attacking people either)...so I remained reluctant to do him in. And didn't want to do in the hen that was so good a brooder and mother. Decided to keep the hen and a few of the more docile hens in a spare mobile chicken coop for the next months. The four hens were doing fine together, and the injured hen's neck healed up. She started laying eggs again.

    The long-term resolution has come about, sadly enough, due to the rooster dying (another story) I'm afraid that the conflict between the rooster and the motherr hen was going to be an issue come winter, when they all had to go inside for the winter.

    I'm still puzzled by what went on: how, in the rooster's presence, the mother hen kept getting clucky and puffing out of feathers (as if she still had chicks with her) and, in turn, how it provoked an attack response from the rooster-son.

    Thanks for the earlier suggestions folks provided!
     

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