9 Years
Mar 26, 2015
Two hens who have been flock mates for 2 years now have suddenly started fighting each other. We separated them several times and they seem to draw straight back into a fight, drawing blood. A little background: We tried several times this summer to hatch eggs and 4 of my 6 hens were unsuccessful for one reason or another until this September, when Dottie (buff orpington/brahma banty) hatched a single chick on September 7. Frankie, the other hen, (white leghorn/silkie) was broody at the same time as Dottie. We separated Dottie and her chick from the rest of the flock for the first three weeks, and as she was itching to get back to the coop and her routine, so I transitioned them back, in early October with no issues. At night, Dottie usually puts herself to bed in the same nest box with her chick, and Frankie will often sleep in one close by. The flock (8 total) free ranges together and Frankie seemed to be the only hen Dottie would let close to her chick, who is almost 8 weeks now. Last night I closed up the coop and counted hens and the chick was in the nest box with Frankie, rather than Dottie. I didn't think too much of it, but today they're fighting. If this isn't pecking order, and it's about who "owns" the chick, I'm afraid they'll fight to the death, and Frankie is worse for wear. She's separated now in a crate, after tending her wounds, but that is only a temporary fix. If anyone has any advice or solutions, I'd be grateful for the help.
I generally let mine fight it out, but mine can get away from each other if necessary. Broody hens and new chicks always messes up the pecking order and brings out bickering.

How big is your set up? Could be the one extra bird is too much.
Their setup is a smallish coop that they only use it to lay eggs and roost at night. It's big enough for the 8 of them to hang out in and there's a small covered run for bad weather days, but most of the time they're out free ranging. I've had up to 13 at one time with two roosters and they got along better than this. I did let the two hens fight it out for a few minutes, but when Dottie drew blood on Frankie's comb we couldn't let it continue. I'm wondering if this is about pecking order too, since we lost our top hen Petals (a 4-yearl old RIR) about a month ago to the neighborhood dog. Dottie was in the nursery at the time, and the other hens got along without any trouble. We also lost Dottie's twin Lottie and my other rooster, Shaggy, so I guess the whole dynamic is changed. Dottie's outside right now literally trying to crow. Her only target is Frankie that I can see, so maybe Frankie has been trying to assert dominance. This hen drama is worse than having two roosters--at least with my roosters one backed down after a single fight and that was that.
Interesting situation! What may be happening is this... MOST broody hens dump their chicks somewhere around the time the chicks are between the six to eight week old mark. It can be as sudden as still brooding them and defending them one day, and chasing them away, sometimes quite violently, the next day, or the broody will still show some concern for their welfare and gradually lose interest in them for an additional month...but the chicks finding themselves on their own by the eight-week mark is fairly average. Broodies, while they still have their chicks, can also disrupt the usual pecking order. The very fact of being a broody with chicks in tow can temporarily elevate their status within the flock--although you'd have to leave them with the flock from day one to observe this--and I've read that even the lowest ranking hen may thus briefly become the top ranking hen...but only as long as she's got those chicks in tow. I've only ever used middle of the road ranking hens as broodies in the past and sure enough, have watched higher ranking hens give way to such broodies and their chicks quite peacefully as long as the families stay together and the broodies continue clucking. So maybe that's what's at the heart of what's going on with your two battling hens. Your mama hen who actually hatched out the chick is through with her nurturing duties in her mind and left the chick on his or her own, and your wannabe mama who's still feeling broody scooped the chick up and adopted it and now expects to be treated as a proper broody with chicks should be, which may include a temporary rise in status, hence the fighting. Is the hen who's now looking after the chick normally subordinate to the one who actually raised the chick? Is yes, then I think misguided broody expectations really is the likely reason your hens are fighting and the best solution, I'd think, is to separate the new mom and her adoptee from the flock and let her maternal instincts run it's course until new mom dumps the chick in turn. Of course, this is all dependent on whether the chick itself seems happy with the new arrangement. You could also take the new mom away on her own, mothering instincts be damned, and break her of her broodiness before returning her back to the flock herself. As long as she's no longer feeling broody and the chick's adjusted to being on its own in the meantime, I suspect things would go right back to normal very quickly...

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