Hens attacking and killing each other

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by crowe, Dec 26, 2011.

  1. crowe

    crowe Hatching

    Dec 26, 2011
    We are having one death a week with a hen being killed. There is no pecking on the body, but the whole cavity of the bird has been eaten away by the masses.

    I have a coop, 8ft x 14ft and 25 hens just starting to lay, they are ~5 months now. We also have a pen, which is 12ftx12ft outside.

    They are not all laying in the boxes I made, would they be attacking the hen while laying?

    It is winter here now, Ottawa Canada, and this seems to happen when we keep them in the coop on the really cold days.

    Any help appreciated.

  2. ekemily

    ekemily Songster

    Mar 8, 2010
    Fairhope, AL
    The standard rule is 4 square feet per bird (minimum) for coop space (I like at least 6), which you are meeting and 10 square feet per bird for coop which you have not met yet.
    It sounds like a classic case of cannibalism due to overcrowding. They are probably bored from being cooped up and started pecking the low bird in the pecking order and the bird could just not get away due to lack of space. They usually start pecking around the vent and just keep pecking until the poor thing dies from having its insides eaten out from its rear. The hen has no way to protect herself because she has nowhere to run to get away.
    I would suggest leaving feed out constantly (putting it away at night for rodent reasons), increasing the size of the run and free ranging if possible.
    I have also read that putting red rocks/plastic balls will decrease pecking because hens like to peck at red (blood colored) objects. Hope this helps
    Last edited: Dec 26, 2011
  3. dear god...what a tragic story. and hopefully very easy to fix!!! I'd rather see them free ranging and take their chances from other predators in this worst case scenario
  4. Ridgerunner

    Ridgerunner Free Ranging

    Feb 2, 2009
    Southeast Louisiana
    [​IMG] Welcome to the forum! [​IMG] Glad you joined us, just wish it were under better circumstances! [​IMG]

    There are different things that could be causing that. Each flock has its own dynamics due to the personalities of the chickens. A few thoughts.

    Are you sure they are killing and eating each other? If one dies, especially if some meat is exposed, they will eat each other, but are you sure a possum or something like that is not getting in the coop and killing one? Different predators have tendencies, but not all possums, raccoons, weasels, minks, bobcats, whatever will act the way you would expect. This kind of sounds like a possum, but it could easily be something else. For example, weasels are known to kill a lot instead of just one and eat the heads, but you never really know. This is what I really expect is happening, but you are looking at it and I am not.

    My next thought is space. Your coop should be big enough for that many chickens, but each flock is different. And the longer they are kept in a small space the more likely you are to have behavior problems. It's like they get bored and start picking on each other, like cabin fever. I know you are a lot further north than I am and you get more severe weather, but you might try giving them the option to go outside, regardless of the cold. If they don't want to go outside, they don't have to, but you might be surprised at what they choose. Mine choose to go outside on my coldest days of the year, which is around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Mine don't like a wind, and they don't like snow at first, but I've had some get used to snow and go out foraging in it. Chickens normally do quite well in cold as long as they can get out of the wind. I suggest giving them the option.

    Another thing you can try is toys to break the boredom. Try putting in a few extra perches or maybe things they can hide behind. Another thing is to hang a cabbage so they have to work a bit to jump up and peck it. Throw some Black Oil Sunflower Seeds on the floor for them to scratch and find. Just something to break the monotony.

    It is possible they are short on protein. I put this last for a reason. If you are feeding them a balanced diet, this is probably not it, but upping the protein a bit won't hurt them. The Black Oil Sunflower Seeds will work well for this.

    With it being as regular as it is and with the injuries you describe, I strongly suspect a predator. But with chickens you can never be sure.
  5. It does sound like you need more space inside. Could there be rats attacking? Then the hens finish them off. I'm so sorry that you are going through this. It is the one think about chickens that I find difficult to tolerate. All I can offer is sympathy as you figure out a resolution to the problem. [​IMG]
  6. rancher hicks

    rancher hicks Crowing

    Feb 28, 2009
    Syracuse, NY
    I don't like to leave chickens in the coop with out feed. Clearly you are doing something wrong. Overcrowding and boredom are the biggest reasons for this type of problem.

    You don't say which breeds you have but some are more prone to pecking than others. Even more some breeds do not do well in confinement.

    I can't say what the weather has been like where you are but you should have some plan for the winter months when you expect to keep them inside. Something to keep them busy.

    Here is my solution to winters and fresh air. The runs are covered with cheap blue tarps on the back side. Scratch is tossed each day to keep them busy. Straw on the floor of the run keeps things dry and their feet clean. Hay is stacked up to give them places to climb and get away from each other. In the largest run hay is stacked up three high. When spring comes I've lots to add to the garden or mulch around trees and shrubs. Even on the coldest days I let them choose to go out if they want. The occasional snow drifting in is a treat. Cheap painters drop cloths are sufficient to act as a wind break and can be tossed in the spring.

    Hope this gives you some ideas.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
  7. stone_family3

    stone_family3 Songster

    Apr 11, 2011
    We had something like that happen, turns out it was a possum. They would kill but not eat and then the girls would finish the dead girl off. They need more run space, also a bit of a distraction is a good thing. I like to chop up produce and toss it in the run to keep them busy. I don't have as many birds as you though so it would proabbly get expensive. I have also taken a cup or two of pellets and tossed it in the run to keep them busy.
  8. Judy

    Judy Crowing Staff Member Premium Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    I also agree that this is likely predation. The coop is a little small for my taste, for days they stay in, though it would be ample where I live. According to my math the coop does meet the 4 sq ft per bird rule of thumb -- which may well not be enough when they are indoors all day. The run is definitely small and I would both expand it and snow proof at least part of it so they will go out on snowy days. The chickens could be eating a killed chicken, but I doubt they are doing the killing. You should have seen a bunch of pecking and feather pulling type of injuries if they were doing this, before it advanced to cannibalism.

    Meanwhile, rats or a small animal like something from the weasel family are some of the critters which could be getting in -- many need a surprisingly small hole. I'd suggest some reading in the predators and pests or coops section about predator proofing. Losing one per night particularly suggests a predator -- whatever it is may well be coming back each night for its nightly meal.
  9. Fred's Hens

    Fred's Hens Crowing Premium Member

    With snow cover at all, you should see tracks around the building.
  10. GoldenSparrow

    GoldenSparrow Songster

    Mar 11, 2011
    Could there be rats attacking?

    sounds like it.​

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