Older Hens mean to juniors. Advice?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by MasAhora, Nov 25, 2016.

  1. MasAhora

    MasAhora Chillin' With My Peeps

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    A year ago we bought our property with a Rooster and 16 layer hens at that time they were 1-2+ years old. I have culled a few older ones so we are down to 6 original hens and the original rooster.

    (Culling- sorry! they are not pets but live happy lives meantime then IMHO the older ones have made the best stock EVER, my folks are not so impressed, but I really appreciated knowing I ate an animal that had lived a wonderful life).

    So now I have a mix of older hens and mama raised chicks. Until chicks are about 5 or so months old I keep them penned separate, due to bad experiences with hawks, etc and also one had its neck broken at 4 months old by someone in the flock after a slow integration and I won't let that happen again if possible. The flock can see mama hen and babes through the fence.
    I've chosen to reduce the number of layer hens to no more than 10 plus rooster, this keeps the coop free of crowding issues. I am very lucky I never have to lock them in the coop, their entry hatch is always open, I shut the main door at night and do a head count and bed time song that they think is terribly off key, and I can allow them to free range over a few acres daily. I see each evening how they settle into the coop, they are not short of space.

    I do not know the breeds I have (this is rural paraguay - it is a layer and/or a meat chicken!!). I now have a mix of 2-3 year olds, 9 months and 6 month old girls... I am about ready to put ALL the older girls in the stew pot just because they are so mean to the younger ones. I integrated the last 3 chicks slowly, they took a few days to move into the main coop cause Mama moved on quicker, but they still hide from the adults during the day. I did see them free ranging together for the first time today but that is after a month of integration and they still hang back from good feed I need them to eat at least once a day for protection from parasites, etc..

    I really want to maintain a variety of ages for many reasons - but the mean hens are nasty, a newly hatched chick got away from mama and into their coop (gate was open) and within a moment it was killed. Not sure if the rooster is not part of the problem. He is a good guardian in the free range paddock.

    Any advice?
     
  2. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    First of all, could be some type of jungle fowl or game fowl type in your area, not sure, but no matter the breed, a hen who is not broody WILL kill a chick so that is normal. The rooster is not the problem. It is just natural behavior. And what appears brutal to us is just their way of managing their hierarchy. Check out this video of my 24 week old and very large size Brahma flock being harassed by my older, smaller hens-some are 6-7 years old, some are upwards of 9+ years old, but that is just what they do. Unless a bird is truly injured, and that really rarely happens unless you put chicks in with older birds (generally, should not do that), let them work it out. That said, sometimes, accidents happen and a bird will be hurt worse than usual, but unless you separate groups, this is what you'll have to be used to seeing. Even then, hens that get along most of the time will get into an argument on occasion. After considering all that, if they seem to be truly quite old and you just can't handle the drama, you could cull the worst offenders and they will reorganize when the members are gone and it may get better. But, pecking order will always be what it is.

    [​IMG] I say it's age before beauty and attitude over size in the barnyard.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016
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  3. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

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    What you are seeing is typical chicken society. There is a hierarchy in every flock. The older ones are at the top of the pecking order and are making sure the younger ones know their place. As long as they're not pinning them down and attacking relentlessly, they will be fine. I think it's harder for us as humans to witness the interactions between chickens than it is for the chickens to experience it. One thing that will help with the food issue is if you can have multiple feeding and watering stations.

    Something to consider in the future would be to integrate broodies and chicks back into the flock at an earlier age, or even let your broodies hatch within the flock. Integration seems to go a little easier that way, while mama still has her broody hormones going. She will defend her chicks, and in my experience the roosters of my flock will defend the broody and chicks from other hens. If you wait too long (after 4 weeks), the hen is weaning her chicks and no longer protective of them. That leaves them to deal with integration on their own. I learned the benefits of early integration a few years ago when one of my broodies was killed - her chicks were 5 weeks old, but already part of the flock so I didn't have to worry about it.
     
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  4. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    I think also putting broodies into the flock varies with the birds themselves and the breeds. My little Belgian D'Anvers can easily raise chicks in with the other hens and roosters. In my large fowl flocks, I have to keep them separate unless I want to lose chicks to aggressive hens. But, you are right, it's just typical stuff with chicken society.

    ETA: I think roosters are less likely to kill a chick than another hen. They seem to know that is their future somehow. Other hens can be much meaner to chicks than any rooster I've seen. The sire of the male in my avatar when he was just TWO WEEKS OLD repeatedly flogged his own sire in the face when he was bent over and flirting with his broody mama, LOL. He got several pokes in the eye and still didn't thunk the crap out of the little goober. Now, that's patience! Cute story my best friend wrote because she saw it happen, we were both right there to save his little behind: https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/796637/isaac-beloved-roo-of-speckledhen-was-attacked-yesterday
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
  5. bobbi-j

    bobbi-j Chicken Obsessed

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    I personally have not had success having broodies try to hatch within the flock. It seems that eggs always end up broken in the nest - presumably from other hens crowding into the nest trying to lay their eggs. I have had much better luck separating them, letting them hatch, and then integrating when the chicks were around 2-3 weeks old.
     
  6. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Oh, that would definitely happen with large fowl, but my Belgian D'anvers are teensy birds. The smallest hen is just 17 ounces and their eggs have always had good shell quality when they lay (they are terrible layers and tend to quit after one or two years for the most part). Even one of my Barred Rock hens would always crush her own eggs. We called her Bigfoot. She was heavy and just stepped on them when she was getting back on the nest after a poop break.

    I did have one cockerel get a broken toe when I tried to integrate him with his sire's flock as a teenager (about 13-14 weeks old or so). One of the smaller hens, the lowest in pecking order, was especially brutal. She was just plain evil. Of course when he became more confident after I removed him and he was breeding his own two girls, she was the one running from him, as I suspected would happen. His toe healed at a strange angle, though, because I didn't catch the break in time to tape it up or anything. It was rough seeing him fly into walls and just hunker on the floor and hide his head from her. He's still a very mild-mannered boy.
     
    Last edited: Nov 25, 2016
  7. MasAhora

    MasAhora Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Yikes! I would love to do that but am very worried after the recent experiences, can't say I feel great about learning on the go with live animals....however I have no option and yard chicks and hens move freely here in Paraguay so I am an odd foreigner who fusses and speaks funny. It is a new ball game for me.

    I am feeling better thanks to people replying with their experiences and advice,
    Bless this forum, my anxiety is down a notch and that is very good for thinking, learning and trying to work with my flock, rather than against them due to misplaced stress on my part.
    I will drown you all in questions my family does not want to be in the the actual care so all newbie observations and experiences are mine.....they help in MANY other ways.
     
  8. speckledhen

    speckledhen Intentional Solitude Premium Member

    Sometimes, you just have to go with your gut and decide if a particular hen is being really evil and causing more than normal trouble. You sort of got these dumped on you, not of your choosing, so you're in a different position than a lot of us are. Just remember that pecking order can appear brutal and though usually, there is little actual bloodshed among hens, there will be an occasional casualty, say a hen was cornered and pecked more than she normally would have been or she hit a wall and broke her neck trying to escape from bullying, things like that, things you can't foresee or control. No matter what, the ones who are at the bottom of the pecking order will bully any newbies so they don't lose their new up-one-on-the-ladder position. Just normal chicken life.
     
  9. chickengeorgeto

    chickengeorgeto Overrun With Chickens

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    Your older flock was raised together or at least had been thrown in together for a long time so they had the pecking order thing already settled. The problem is that the new birds were raised separately and they don't know nothing about which hen or hens to avoid. It will take a good long time for the old birds to educate the younger birds.
     
  10. MasAhora

    MasAhora Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Speckledhen I think you have enlightened me as to how the chick died, we could not see a wound just a broken neck. A freak accident seems likely even though the chick knew the area and all the bushes to hide under, the coop is a little brick building.... not something great to run into and miss the open hatch.

    Chickengeorgeto thanks for that, sounds logical when explained. I think the next hen raised chick(s) will join the group after a couple of hens are sent to the pot, maybe that help/hinder as the older hens will get regular rounds of newbies joining the flock. I would like the flock to have a spread of ages so I can get the most of the layers and then stew/stock them well before they reach 2 yrs.
     
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2016

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