Issue with bullying


In the Brooder
Jun 21, 2016
I've been reading up a bit on bullying in flocks, but I have to find a situation that quite matches my experience. I started my flock about a year ago with 6 chicks (3 RIR, 3 ISA Browns) and inherited 5 further chickens (2 Americaunas, 1 Orpington, 1 RIR, 1 Dominique) about 4 months later right after I moved my young hens out to their coop. The flocks initially maintained a shared but mostly parallel experience. I have a fairly large run (~800 sq. ft) and for months the two flocks shared the coop, food, and water but mostly had two distinct corners of the run that they would hang out it separately, both shaded by grape vines. I even put some makeshift roosts in these areas to give them something better than the ground to sit on. The only exception was one poor americauna from the new flock that my young chickens collectively harassed. For a long time this was just quick pecks when she was isolated but she was safe when she stuck with her flock. Over time, though, the two flocks became fully integrated and the bullied hen was spending more and more time by herself on the opposite end of whatever side of the run the rest of the chickens were hanging out.

This was fine until the last few weeks when my young hens have, as a group, taken to increasing going out of their way to attack her. Even when they free-range with several acres to roam, they will sometimes pounce on her and peck her repeatedly until I break them up and then still come at her while she’s hiding behind me. The bullied chicken is incredibly docile and rather than run she now just hunkers down and puts her wings out in a submissive stance while they the crowd around her and one jumps on her back to peck. What’s worse is the hens from her original flock, while not bullying her, are no longer sheltering her and occasionally will drive her off too. Up until this recent escalation I have not noticed any physical harm done to the bullied chicken and even still there has been no blood or injuries that have resulted from this, but they have started to pull out her feathers a bit. I am not interested in rehoming the 5 (I lost one to hawk last week) young chickens that are bullying her since they seem to get along just fine with the other chickens from the inherited flock, but I am wonder if, in this case, it might be a good idea to try and rehome the bullied chicken.

Other tidbits:
1) The bullied chicken is older than the chickens bullying her.
2) The inherited flock are all older than my young chickens and, with the exception of this americauna, seem to have a higher position in the pecking order than the young chickens.
3) When winter came and the vegetation died, the chickens seemed to be more agitated even in their large run and have spent more time grouped together under the roofed subrun where the coop and the food/water are. I wonder if spring and summer will give a wider range to feel safe in their run, reduce competition for space, and relax the bullying.

Sometimes once a bird starts acting scared it can trigger more attacks as they view it as weakness. The instinct of a chicken is to drive out odd or sick acting members. Providing more hiding places can sometimes help, as well as penning the one up but where she can still be seen through a fence to break the habit can sometimes work too. It is totally possible that there is actually something wrong with her as well that you aren't picking up on.

There's always a bottom bird. Sometimes they aren't bothered and other times they are. Providing space and places for them to escape is important. A rooster can sometimes help as they will often protect the bottom bird because she's easy to mate, but a rooster can come with problems and not all are good additions to a flock.

I suggest you keep an eye out and manage any aggression as you see it. Chickens can exhibit increased aggression this time of year as the increasing light makes hormones surge, and the desire to mate and procreate makes them more agitated. Many time stuff settle down after we hit the summer solstice and the increasing temperatures of summer can help slow them down too.
Thanks for the responses! I am leaning towards re-homing the bullied chicken, but @oldhenlikesdogs I had not thought of there being something actually wrong with her that I cannot pick up on. Because she's so docile, I pick her up regularly to check for wounds from the bullying and I have not noticed any obvious signs of injury or illness, but I am by no means an expert, having only had chickens for a year now. I will do a more extensive review of chicken illness symptoms and keep a closer eye on her for the next few days. I definitely do not want to re-home a sick chicken!
I'd isolate bird in a wire cage within the coop for a day or you can closely monitor her intake of food and water, crop function(checking at night and in morning before providing more feed), and her poops. Feel her abdomen for squishy or hard swelling.

Best to put crate right in coop or run so bird is still 'with' the flock.
I like to use a fold-able wire dog crate (24"L x 18"W x 21"H) with smaller mesh(1x2) on bottom of crate under tray.
Then you can put tray underneath crate to better observe droppings without it being stepped in. If smaller mesh is carefully installed, tray can still be used inside crate.

This will give her a break and you a chance to observe her health closely.
Is she laying?
Run space sounds great....but how big is your coop, in feet by feet.
Dimensions and pics would really help.

@azygous has a good theory about letting a bullied bird regain her confidence by allowing her to live without harassment for a time.
@aart Those are some fantastic suggestions! When she is isolated, should I still move put her in the main coop at night with the other birds?

I have always felt my coop space is a bit of a problem. All the birds can fit in there and have their own space to roost but it's a bit tight. I don't have a picture right now, but I will try to put one up sometime later. It's about 4x5x4ft with a 3x1.5ft extension for the nest box, which my orpington insists on sleeping. That might just be because she's huge but it doesn't help that the coop is so small. I only intended to have 6 chickens and then had 5 more fell in my lap when my neighbor moved. I'm planning on building a big walk-in coop at some point but with a 4 y/o, a 6 m/o, and a full time job, it's enough to just maintain at this point. I do clean the coop out fully and replace bedding every week and do some spot poop removal throughout the week to keep their environment as healthy as possible. Anyway, this is a round-about way of saying that re-homing this chicken would help what I think is an over-crowding issue in the coop.

@oldhenlikesdogs I am concerned about that as well. I've got a co-worker who is starting her first flock and I was thinking that my bullied girl could maybe be put out into her coop before the chicks move in, build up some confidence in her new space, and then be the old hen when the teenagers move into her space. I also know several people with small flocks (2-4 hens) that don't have as much inter-chicken conflict. I won't re-home her to someone I don't know, as I want to keep the door open to taking her back if things don't work out.
As @oldhenlikesdogs has pointed out, for the entire flock to be treating this hen so badly, there is likely something going on with her health to cause them to behave like this. Chickens have an instinct to preserve the genetics of the flock and often will drive out an infirm member.

Bullying/victim is its own reinforcing behavior. If you want to stop it, you need to interrupt it in some way. Years ago I had a very docile Buff Brahma hen that was having her neck stripped bare and finally was subjected to daily gang bangs where several would stomp her into the ground, standing on her back. This is as bad as bullying can get. Intervention is absolutely necessary.

I rescued my hen by placing her in a "jail" I had sectioned off in the run. Joycie would spend days in this safe enclosure in full view of the flock and I would take her out at night and put her on a roost with the others. In this manner, she remained a member of the flock in their eyes and hers.

After three or four weeks of this, I tried Joycie with the flock for short periods. To my surprise, she began standing up for herself and refused to put up with any pecking or bullying. I was still new to chickens at the time and new to BYC, too, and I posted asking if a hen could undergo a personality change after having a vacation from bullying. The consensus was an overwhelming yes from the experts here.

You do need to watch this hen for health problems. The flock is pointing it out to you, and you need to listen to them.
I would not recommend re-homing this hen, especially to a brand new flock of chicks. If it turns out this hen has an avian virus, you would be guilty of exporting it into a pristine flock. You would find it very hard to live with yourself if that happened. Best to resolve this problem within your flock than to take the risk of ruining someone's new flock.
I had this issue with one... I had to make her a doghouse coop with a small run an she had to live by herself.

The other thing you can do is jail the bullies for a few days at a time, starting with the ones higher on the pecking order, but it doesn't sound like that will be the best bet.

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom