My alpha hen has been dethroned

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by deacons, Mar 29, 2016.

  1. deacons

    deacons Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have a flock of 7 hens, all between three and four years old. They've been together with no additions since the 3-year-olds came as day-old chicks.

    Last week, my alpha hen, Red, had a terrible sour crop incident. I really didn't think she'd make it through- only with the help of a local avian vet (and an embarrassinng bill to go with it! :)) did she pull through.

    However, she spent 2 days at the vet's office, and 3 more in my house recovering. Once she started feeling a little better, I slowly gave her time outside with her best buddy before putting her back out with the flock. Before putting her back out in the run with all the rest of them, I let her out in the yard with them for supervised free ranging time.

    The unthinkable happened- one of the other hens decided to challenge her in a chest-to-chest battle for the flock- and she lost :( I feel terrible, because she's still skinny and a little weak, so I'm second guessing whether I should have let her out with the others when I did. But she was clearly depressed on her own, so I didn't feel that I had a choice. She was down to 3.5 lbs when she was really sick, and is slowly gaining back- the Golden Laced Wyandotte who took her on is probably close to 7lbs, so it wasn't much of a match.

    Red has been the unchallenged flock leader for as long as I've had chickens. She's a benevolent leader but has always clearly been in charge. Now, this Wynadotte and her sidekick have moved up in the pecking order, putting Red back in 3rd position. She makes these really pathetic little cheeping chick sounds when the mean girls walk past her, and runs away from them (which seems to incite them to start chasing her). So far, there's been no physical violence. It was just the chest thumping, and occassionally the new #2 will chase after her and grab her feathers between her shoulders. It's been two days now of full integration back with the flock, but I'm not seeing anything improving.

    Since she really needs to start eating well to put back a couple of lost lbs, I'm worried she's not going to eat enough with them around. They have a large fenced run with multiple food and water stations, and they free range a couple of hours a day.

    Am I feeling worse about this than she is? Will she get used to her new position or is this going to be an ongoing problem? As she gets stronger, will she try to regain her spot?
     
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2016
  2. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician Premium Member

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    As she regains her strength, she may regain her position. Just keep an eye on things to assure that she is eating and not being physically injured. Removing her from the flock would most likely make things worse upon her reintroduction.
     
  3. enola

    enola Overrun With Chickens

    The pecking order has changed. It is absolutely normal. She will adjust. Trust me, you are worrying about this more than she is.

    After she is healthy again, she may challenge the new lead hen, she may not. As long as there is not any blood after any of their scuffles, don't worry about it.
     
  4. enola

    enola Overrun With Chickens

    A flock's dynamics change constantly. A lot of times, néwbies to the hobby don't realize what is taking place. Every single time a chicken pecks another chicken, they are reminding that chicken where their place is in the pecking order. A chicken society is kind of complicated, but, they understand how it works. The less human's try to "fix" the pecking order in their flock, the better off everyone involved are.
     
  5. deacons

    deacons Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for the reassurance @sourland and @enola . I usually don't mess with their squabbles and spats, but I will admit that I got emotionally invested in this one as she's my favorite and I really thought I was losing her. It felt really unfair that she'd go through such a tough illness and then have this to deal with. But as my husband keeps telling me, she's alive, and that's really all she cares about. I'm sure she'll be fine, whether as #1 or #3. I just need to be sure she's eating enough.
     
  6. deacons

    deacons Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Unfortunately things don't seem to really be getting better. The "bullying" isn't rough at all- there are two hens who will give her a little chase or peck on her back, but they're not actually hurting her. She just seems completely spooked by this change. She won't eat, and she stands on high alert all the time watching where these two are. Even when they're out free ranging, she's keeping one eye on them, even if they're pretty far away.

    Her weight loss is continuing, and yesterday I found her hiding out in a nesting box inside the coop. When I picked her up and brought her out, she went for the water.

    I'm really at a loss for what to do right now. She's so skinny and weak, she needs to start eating on her own again. I can't tell if she's being picked on because she's still sick, or if she's weak and getting sick again because of being picked on.

    It just seems that removing her is going to make things much worse in the long run, assuming she pulls through.

    This is so sad to watch :(
     
  7. enola

    enola Overrun With Chickens

    How many food and water stations do you have? Has your flock been wormed?
     
  8. deacons

    deacons Chillin' With My Peeps

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    There are two of each (water and feeder), probably about 5 feet apart.

    The flock was all dewormed using Safeguard about 2 months ago.

    And, when Red (the hen in question) was sick, she was tested for parasites at the vet's and came up clear, so I don't think that's a worry. She also had x-rays that showed no internal swelling or blockages, including stuck eggs or obvious cancerous tumors, that explain it. Slightly elevated liver enzymes on a blood test were the only physical question mark, aside from the obvious sour crop.
     
  9. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician Premium Member

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    Five feet apart is probably not sufficient. Can you move one of the feeders and waterers to a place where it can not be seen from the main feeding station?
     
  10. deacons

    deacons Chillin' With My Peeps

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    @sourland , I can try that. Will take a look out there later this afternoon and see how I could rearrange things.

    And just had a thought, I forgot there are actually 3 feeders- there's one inside the coop that no one ever eats from, so every few days I just dump the food because I imagine it gets stale. The other two, plus both waterers, are out in the run.
     
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2016

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