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Hen "social issues" impact laying?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Mtn Laurel, Sep 30, 2013.

  1. Mtn Laurel

    Mtn Laurel Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have a mixed flock of 3 established hens plus 5 pullets that have just come into lay. The 8 girls have been living together for about two months. Of the pullets, the Easter Egger was the first of the chicks to lay at 19 weeks of age. That was 6 weeks ago and she has laid consistently since that time. Until a week ago, that is.

    About a week ago, the EE laid an egg with a thin shell that she managed to crush. That was odd as all her prior eggs had really nice, hard shells. There had been no change to her diet so I was left wondering the cause of the thin shell and chalked it up to her being an immature layer. However, that was the last egg she laid. We've had nothing from her since that time.

    Since then I've been watching her closely. She's eating well, her crop feels fine, her poo looks fine, I see no evidence of bugs or parasites - internal or external. She's not exhibiting symptoms of internal laying as she's up and about and eating just fine. No evidence of any pain, no swollen abdomen. However, about the time she laid her final thin shelled egg, I did find one drop of blood on the roost. I could never tell who it came from and figured it was from someone getting pecked at night as they shuffled about for prime roosting spots.

    In the week after her final egg, the EE became distant from the rest of the flock - particularly the older girls. She would hang back when I brought feed to them, waiting until everyone was done before getting any. Previously she would have been leader of the pack to get to the food. I threw out some BOSS to see her reaction and she hung back and then did everything in her power to keep from being anywhere near the three older hens.

    I'm wondering if we're having a shift in pecking order and if that's impacted her laying. Thinking maybe one of the big gals pecked her good and she's so upset she's quit laying. Has anyone experienced a similar situation? Not sure there's anything I can do to change things. I'm still rather new at this and chicken social issues are a bit foreign to me!
     
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    Even though you haven't seen any symptoms of illness, I would suspect something is wrong with the EE, that not laying has to do with the cause, and that the others in the flock sense this. It does sound like she's moved to the bottom of the pecking order. Just a guess, of course. I hope things turn out OK, that this is all temporary, or she's hiding eggs, or some eggs are being eaten by a small predator, or something.
     
  3. Mtn Laurel

    Mtn Laurel Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks so much for your response and you've raised an interesting point. I know that other animals can tell when one is weakened for whatever reason and that animal usually is put to the bottom of the social order. It didn't hit me that this could be what's going on but it's a good possibility. I'm trying to be vigilant in checking on her to see if any problem presents itself and it may well be that it's just not visible to me yet.

    There's no place for her to hide eggs as they're in a large paddock and predators haven't gotten to other eggs. The one nice thing with the EE is that I sure can tell when her blue egg is missing! Will continue to keep an eye on her and am sure hoping that it resolves itself.
     
  4. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    How long a stretch are you able to sit and observe your flock? Try to watch for any bullying. Is this hen ever chased by the others? It sounds from what you tell us that she is lowest in the pecking order, but see if you can figure out why.

    Also, does this hen stand around, inactive, mostly facing a wall or corner? Does she hold her tail down low? These are signs of not feeling well, and perhaps being in pain.

    Yes, all of the above can affect laying. If it's a pecking order issue, it will sort itself out in time. If the hen is sick, you need to figure out what's going on and treat it if it's possible.

    Good luck.
     
  5. Mtn Laurel

    Mtn Laurel Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I take my coffee out to the run and manage to have about 1/2 hr. observing them and, YES, there is bullying by my two older BSL hens. The hens are now beginning to molt and that seems to have made them even meaner. I actually witnessed one of the BSL's jumping on the back of the EE yesterday, talons and all. This was over food. That's why the EE is keeping such a distance from the older girls.

    The EE has always been very complacent and easy-going and was one of two girls on the bottom of the social ladder. The other bottom pullet - a Delaware - seems to have found herself since she began laying and isn't as easy-going as she'd once been. She's moved up the ladder and the EE is now the remaining girl on the bottom. With the onset of laying it seems that all the pullets personalities have changed a bit. They've suddenly found their voice and nerve to stand up to the three older hens. Except for the EE.

    The EE is staying on the far side of the coop from the older hens but not inactive or facing a wall. Her tail isn't low and she's eating well. DH picked her up this morning and said he's not feeling any change to her weight. Not a scientific measurement, for sure, but at least any change isn't yet obvious.

    I'm thinking of moving the two BSL's to a smaller tractor. A sort of "time-out" for a week or two. Hopefully, their spot on the social ladder would be knocked down a bit when they're re-introduced to the flock and the EE will have some time to recover if it's the BSL's bullying her that's the problem.
     
  6. Angelicisi

    Angelicisi Overrun With Chickens

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    I have this same problem :(:( my sweet EE hen is literally being mounted by a head hen AND a buly hen. But one hen in particular is a mean bully. Pecking/chasing without a reason and hunts ALL the other girls down for a bite :(
    ONLY the Bully hen and my head hen are laying now!

    I have tried timeout (sounds funny lol but worked for another hen)
    I tried a squirt gun if water to stop her in the act- works but I can't be there ALL the time.
    I may cull her because she's soooo mean.

    But am watching this thread for other options 1st!

     
  7. Mtn Laurel

    Mtn Laurel Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I use the water spray technique, too. I have a water bottle and give the mean hens a shot with it when they begin to get aggressive. Like you, I can't be there all the time and the blasted hens are so smart that they will "behave" when they see I have the bottle in my hand. The minute I put it down, they strike!
     
    1 person likes this.
  8. azygous

    azygous Chicken Obsessed

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    That's great that your problem appears to be just a social issue. However, trying to monkey with the pecking order could upset things in an unintended way.

    Unless your EE is in real physical danger, my advice would be to give her more time to work things out. If you do need to remove anyone from the flock for a period, don't assume it should be the bullies. I had a Brahma named Joycie who was, still is, quite timid. I have an enclosure adjacent to the main run I call "the jail" where a chicken(s) can be segregated while still being able to interact with the flock. Joycie enjoyed several weeks of "vacation" from being pecked and feather-picked, and when I returned her to the main run, her personality had changed. She was more assertive, and acted more confident. Her rank in the pecking order was still at the bottom, so she didn't actually lose anything by being given a time out from her ordeal, and it gave her a much needed rest that worked out to her benefit.

    The unintended consequences I experienced with my flock when I segregated another hen, a serious feather picker, was that the others began challenging her through the partition of the jail. Then soon after, a few began getting into "cock" fights with each other. When I let her out of jail, everything settled down again immediately. The pecking order is a very serious thing. Messing with it may not always be the best idea.
     

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