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"Pecking Order" Big hen and little hens

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by mamma24brown, Jun 20, 2011.

  1. mamma24brown

    mamma24brown New Egg

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    Okay... my girls are a year old. I have six standards and six mixed bantams. Within the last 2 months my "queen" silver wyandotte chicken is literally plucking the feathers off my mille de fleur (one of my favorites!) A hawk almost had her for a snack back in March; but we rescued her and she went back to the pack the next day. I have noticed the standards picking on some of the little ones more recently; and my mille de feur is literally losing her tail. It looks like she just annoys them. When I "babysit" the while they free range, I get to observe certain behaviors. They are mainly picking on my favorite. Any thoughts beside setting the queen bee free, or separating them.... which isn't really a good option.
    Also, while I am posting, I have come home from a long trip to a broody buff orpington. Not only that - I feel like I can break her of the habit - but she has enlisted my little leghorn as her cohort and she is sitting on her. I can pull the leghorn out of the nesting box and she will mingle with everyone in the yard. Eventually though, she will go back and squeeze underneath the buff in the box. The last few days, it looks as if she is trying to hatch the leghorn. They almost seem like mommy and baby. What is going on?
    Do I need a chicken shrink for everyone???? Help. Thoughts?!
     
  2. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Jun 9, 2009
    The buff orp brooding the little leghorn -- how interesting! Personally I would just let it go on and to see what happens out of curiosity, but that's just me!

    As for the picking, well, if there is only one doing it, I deal with it aggressively and get rid of that one, before others join in the fun. That sort of thing can be contagious. Do they get to free range much of the time? I am surprised to hear of this happening in a free range situation. How much space do they have while cooped up?
     
  3. mamma24brown

    mamma24brown New Egg

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    Jun 24, 2010
    They have a 10'X15' run and I let them out at least twice a day for 30ish minutes. So, in your opinion, there isn't a pecking order so to speak for chickens? I was wondering if I got rid of her, then someone else would take her job. Thanks for your reply.
     
  4. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Yes, there is always a peck order, but that does not normally involve actual feather picking. Peck order refers just to dominance hierarchy. More dominant ones get good things like food and water over less dominant ones. They assert dominance not by actual feather picking, but by a gesture/threat to peck, without actually following through. You have probably seen this, if you watch them a lot.

    Feather picking is generally thought to be due to boredom and/or tight confinement. Chickens love to forage for their food, and love to explore new ground, pecking all the way. If they do not have much opportunity for that, they sometimes begin pecking each other. The behavior can become a habit and spread to others. If you intervene before it goes too far, you can often stop it.

    That said, I have heard of cases of feather picking even in idyllic free range conditions but this is rare. I have seen it start in my own birds only during long periods of confinement such as during cold, snowy winter weather when they choose not to go out.

    30 minutes twice a day of real free ranging is better than nothing, but not much. That leaves the remaining roughly 12 hrs of waking moments with pretty much nothing to do. Do they have access to the 10 x 15 ft run all the time, or is that what you let them out to, when you say "free range"?
     
  5. mamma24brown

    mamma24brown New Egg

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    The run is what they have access to all the time. They free range in a large make shift "movable" pen that is approximately 20'x50'. I stay out there with them so the hawks won't get them.
    Do you think they are bored with this amount of space????
     
  6. Oghdoff

    Oghdoff Chillin' With My Peeps

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    When I have one hen that is overly aggressive and starts pulling feathers out of the others I move her to a seperate pen for a few days. When she is reintroduced there is a lil squabling, but that is normal in chickens "pecking order" janinepeters talked about. Although if all of them are pecking on one hen I grab vicks vapor rub and cover the chicken's tail or other area that is being targeted. I usually have to reapply the vicks for a few days til the feathers grow back, but so far so good.
     
  7. janinepeters

    janinepeters Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Yes, the pen is nice and large for that many chickens, but they are there for only 1 hr a day. The run is sizable, but still I would say you are at risk of having this happen again, even if you put a stop to it this time, one way or another. Space is a good thing, a large run is always better than a small run, because it allows them to get away from each other, but it is still limiting in terms of what they can do in there. I would guess that there is no longer any green grass in the run, so not much for them to do. In my experience, a flock that size would use about an acre of land for foraging, if they had their druthers, and the land would be varied - shrubby field, forest edge, woods. They like variety, because good plant diversity means good insect diversity, and both of those mean lots of interesting foods. Not that you have to give them that much space, but just to give you a sense of how they like to live. The more you can do to approach that ideal, the less likely you are to run into these sorts of problems.
     

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