For How Long Can a Lonely Hen Be Lonely?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by Henrik Petersson, Dec 11, 2018.

  1. Henrik Petersson

    Henrik Petersson Crowing

    Jan 9, 2009
    Karlskrona, Sweden
    A person on a Swedish chicken forum recently lamented a misfortune that had befallen her, a tragedy which I'm sure a few of you have had the unpleasantness of experiencing: A predator had taken all her chooks but one, a physically healthy albeit as of now completely lonely hen. The owner of said bird put forth the very legitimate question of how long it would be reasonable to let the lone survivor be on her own while the owner tried to find other flock-mates. Naturally, the search for new chickens would be conducted as quickly as possible, but such an endeavor could take weeks if one is unlucky. As chickens are highly social creatures, to the point of the keeping of just one of them oughting to be seen as bordering on animal cruelty in most circumstances, a dead-line was sought.

    I realized this was beyond my area of expertise. However, I started to muse on the matter:

    Chickens sometimes wander away from the flock and stay out of their sight for extended periods of time, but I've never experienced such a period going on for more than a few hours. This I took as evidence that a chicken should in most cases not be left alone for longer than that.

    However, I've had the odd bird getting isolated due to unfortunate circumstances, and in such cases, the outsider hasn't shown any blatant sign of overt suffering, such as loud vocalizing or inactivity.

    One of those times was when one chicken, from out of the blue one day, got bullied by the rest of the flock. She solved this problem by keeping to herself (we eventually bought her a buddy, which she bonded well with).

    I also remembered an episode in my childhood years, when mom and dad gave a lone hen to a friend of theirs who had a farm, but no chickens. That chicken seemed to do fine. When we visited her new home some time later, she had grown notably tamer towards humans, which I today interpret as her taking humans as her companions.

    I was also thinking back to that time when I visited rural Indonesia for several weeks and had the opportunity to study feral chickens. As you might have guessed, those chooks didn't walk around in the standard "1 rooster to 10 hens"-groups we see in our western backyards; rather, their flock composition seemed somewhat random. I remember a group of "teenagers" hanging out together. One particular rooster strolled around with one particular hen in what appeared to be a monogamy strong enough to make any puritan proud. And then there was this other hen, a jet-black one, who always walked around totally on her own. I don't think I once saw her with a buddy during the several weeks I took note of her, and she was an inquisitive lady who seemed happy, as far as I could tell.

    One can also think about it in pure hypothetical terms. Is it likely that it's common for wild chickens to occasionally get isolated for extended time periods? I think so. Is it therefore likely that they are unendurably miserable during some time of forced loneliness? My guess is not.

    Or, one could try to draw a parallell to another highly social animal with which we have a MUCH better insight into how well they handle loneliness: Us. Humans crave daily company, and loneliness surely can drive us mad, but most of the time, we can handle quite a long stretch of time on our own.

    With all of this taken into account, my answer to my own question would be: Several weeks.

    If the weeks are starting to turn into months, the maybe (but maybe not) I would see it as the more humane thing to do to send the lone bird up to Chicken Heaven.

    Also, I would see it as depending highly on the circumstances and the individual. Is she nervous or cool? Flighty or tame? Is she in the company of other species or not? Is she cooped up in a boring place or able to entertain herself all day? Is she showing any signs of suffering? Harking back to my human comparison, there exist people who literally want to be alone all the time.

    What are your thoughts on the matter?
  2. tacothechicken

    tacothechicken Songster

    Apr 2, 2015
    Anacortes WA
    My Coop
    PS. This became a rant sorry XD. Honestly I've had the same thing happen and it took up to 2 months to find a suitable chicken to bring home to her and then found a few more later on. I think prolonged loneliness will make them want more human interaction but only because that's all that's available and once introduced to another bird they'll go back to chicken based socialism. Unfortunately or fortunately we had someone surrender a russian orloff hen at a 1 and 1/2 yrs who was BOUGHT AND RAISED ALONE!!!!! I have never seen a chicken in such awfull condition both physically and mentally. She didn't properly groom herself had a hooked and split beak and nails 2 inches long also curved and cracked. She had no understanding of flock social order and hid whith us for months whenever we were outside! Eventually we got her nice and plump and shiny and she became 3rd in command! But the mental and health issues caused by a lone bird is something awfull unless babied and constantly cared by humans. which is just as bad if the people just sell the bird after its outgrown cuteness, cause then it has no clue how to be a chicken!!! I'll admit ive gotten snappy whith people who pop into the feed store when I'm there and say 'oh but we only want one' ....there's no such thing as ONE chicken unless that chickens a lifelong housepet as far as I'm concerned -_- in summary I think a chicken who lost a flock can go a few months fine but I'd get another bird as soon as possible otherwise it's like being on house arrest and only allowed to speak to your niebors a few times a day who don't speak the same language. It would drive anyone insane and depressed
  3. Henrik Petersson

    Henrik Petersson Crowing

    Jan 9, 2009
    Karlskrona, Sweden
    I like that you apologize for a rant after making a post one third as long as mine. :lau

    That was an interesting "rant" you made there, anyway, so no need to apologize. I've never experienced a chicken raised completely without chickens and I didn't know it could end so badly, though it doesn't surprise me now that you've enlightened me. We can make a comparison with humans yet again: Leave a child alone for 10 years and it will be way worse off than an adult left alone for 10 years!

    We seem to agree on the answer to my question! :thumbsup
  4. ThreeOfSeven

    ThreeOfSeven Chirping

    Jul 29, 2016
    New York
    Thanks for this great post. Nice to know that I made the right decision when we took a friend's "lone survivor." It was a week before I was to leave on vacation, but I asked that she bring her hen over. I rigged up a separation/isolation area, and "Lucky" stayed there until I returned. She was separated about 4 weeks, and then I integrated her with my 4 hens in our backyard. They are now a solid flock of 5. (My biggest fear at the time was not her mental health but that the predator would come back hoping to find dessert.)
  5. Chickassan

    Chickassan Wattle Fondler

    I don't know, the answer to how long would depend on the hen in question. My lone survivor was alone for two months before I adopted her. I thought my girls would be the issue intergrating her but that wasn't the case at all it was her! She was alone for so long she despised other chickens. This was odd due to her not even being old enough to lay so you'd think she'd want flock security...wrong! Iv'e had her a little over a year and she's just now trying to be a part of the flock. So this isn't a one answer type of question.:)
  6. Henrik Petersson

    Henrik Petersson Crowing

    Jan 9, 2009
    Karlskrona, Sweden
    Speculating a bit here: Your loner was alone for a good part of her chickhood. It could be that chickens that miss out on company during that early phase become a bit odd, at least for a while, as the aforementioned Orloff. It would be interesting to see if she turns around!
    puffypoo likes this.
  7. BantyChooks

    BantyChooks Pullarius

    Aug 1, 2015
    My Coop
    Interesting stuff here.

    I've raised a few single chicks/ducks. They did fine, and became normal birds (albeit a bit clingy) once integrated into the main flock at a few weeks of age. I had a duck once that had exactly the same thing you described happen to her... predator attack. Wounded her, killed the other two. She was alone for 6 months, and was doing great mentally, until she had to be put down for other reasons. She took humans in as her friends. I think the most important time for them to have buddies of their own species is when they're nearing sexual maturity, so they can learn proper social skills and day-to-day behaviours. Especially roosters.

    Absolutely. I'm one of that group—house arrest, with foreign neighbours? Count me in. While I haven't noticed any birds that are that antisocial, there are some that stray farther than the rest without caring.
    Last edited: Dec 11, 2018
    puffypoo and Henrik Petersson like this.
  8. springtail

    springtail Hatching

    Dec 11, 2018
    My chicken lost all of her siblings at a young age, she lived to be almost a year old. She didn't die naturally though, she was hit by a car. But in my opinion, they shouldn't be alone for long. My chicken was not as happy as she had been before nor was she as happy as my past chickens. I suppose it would be harder for an adult chicken who had lived with others for a long time to live without company.
    puffypoo and Henrik Petersson like this.
  9. OhZark Biddies

    OhZark Biddies Crowing

    Apr 13, 2018
    south central Missouri
    My Coop
    Trying to cross the road?

    We might now know the answer to the age old question, of why... loneliness.
    puffypoo, BantyChooks and springtail like this.
  10. Henrik Petersson

    Henrik Petersson Crowing

    Jan 9, 2009
    Karlskrona, Sweden
    Did you notice any particular behaviors that indicated her being unhappy?
    puffypoo likes this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by: