Pecking order - my bully chicken

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by kimberliem, Mar 20, 2013.

  1. kimberliem

    kimberliem In the Brooder

    Apr 12, 2009
    Hi everyone! I'm kinda new on here. Actually I've been loitering and trolling the website for years but have never gotten to the point that I couldn't find the answers I needed. I've hit that spot now.

    A little history, I had backyard chickens for a few year then had to re-home them to a neighbor when we moved. We're settled now. I've set up a great new coop and run for the girls. It has about 16 sq. ft of coop space and about 40 sq ft of covered run.

    Instead of purchasing from the local feed store, I wanted to try my hand at hatching eggs. I ordered a few (4 Orpington and 4 Americauna)...only 3 of the 8 started any development...but all three hatched into very healthy chicks. This was in November. I ended up with one splash Orpington pullet, a black Orpington cockerel, and an Americauna pullet. We've raised them since day one. The splash pullet (Pippy) was the first born and has always seemed to be the top of the pecking order...not sure if it was because she was older/stronger as the other 2 were born or just the natural progression of things. We aren't allowed roosters in city limits. I took our sweet boy to the local feed store when he started to crow...I'm sure he went to a good home (wink)...I couldn't bring myself to make him into dinner myself.

    On to the current problem. Two chickens aren't quite enough so I purchased 2 new pullets to add to my 2 existing ones. They were 12 weeks vs mine at 14. I didn't want to just introduce one so as to make the integration easier. We got a Blue Laced Red Wyandotte (Pumpkin) and a California White Leghorn (Penny). The California white is the smallest of the the girls and I was most worried about her being accepted.

    Well, it was Pumpkin who got beat up. Badly. Her poor neck was pecked clean down to muscle. I thought for sure she was a goner. We brought her in and babied her while she healed. Amazingly, she is almost 100%! Except for a very small spot, almost all of her feathers have even grown back. The other 3 got along absolutely fine without her. The bully (my Orpington) made her position known but didn't touch the other new girl. And the Americauna seems oblivious to it all.

    Fast forward. Pumpkin was ready to be reintroduced. We put the dog crate by the run for a few day so she could see the others. Once all of her scabs were gone, we swapped positions. I put the bully in the crate and let the injured chicken out with the other 2. The 3 got along great. After about a week of the new integration, I've allowed the Orpington to free range in the backyard with the other 3. She ruffles her feathers on occasion and is still definitely top chicken but no pecking is happening.

    So, they've been free ranging every afternoon together and then are locked up in different places in the evening (Pippy the bully in the dog crate and the rest in the run/coop). Yesterday afternoon it started to rain. Pippy was the only one smart enough to get herself into the run. I went out and corralled the other 3 in. All 4 were in the run. I went out every 15 minutes to check on them and at first it all seemed ok. The 'three' were eating while Pippy was on the roost or foraging in the litter. After about an hour though, I went out and Pippy had Pumpkin cornered and was pecking her. Not badly. No feathers. No blood. Yet. But enough to know she's still picking on her. Maybe I should have just let it go as long as there was no blood? I put Pippy back in the dog crate immediately.

    SOOOOO, now I thank all of you who have actually read this far....should I separate Pippy completely so she has no interaction with the others for a while? Might that lower her status? The other 3 are definitely a nice little group. But I think they have memory...Pumpkin definitely seems to remember it's Pumpkin she should be afraid of. Should I set up a second smaller coop & run for the prima donna? They do seem to do OK when they are all out together...just not once they are contained in the run. Re-homing her is the very last option. We only have chickens for eggs and pets. We don't show or breed. But they have a special place in our hearts. But she's such a bully!!!! Do you think eventually they will just know the pecking order and Pippy won't feel the need to remind Pumpkin who's boss? Any advise is much appreciated!!!!

  2. Judy

    Judy Crowing Premium Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    I've seen it recommended man times to separate a bully for at least a week, preferably so they can't see or hear each other. Then when she is reintroduced, she should be at the bottom of the pecking order, and hopefully they will be OK. People also usually allow pecking if no blood is drawn; they are going to peck and establish a pecking order, and there is going to be one that is lowest in the order, it's just the nature of chickens. Things might have been OK if you had left them alone when you saw pecking without blood.

    I have a crippled hen who is of course at the bottom of the order. She's been with the flock and crippled for over a year now. I separated her off and on for weeks after her injury, til I finally decided she'd rather be with the flock and get pecked than have to live alone. She used to show more damage in the form of bald spots.from being pecked than she does now. Now the feathers on her head look a little ratty but there are no bald spots or sores. I sometimes see them peck her; it doesn't look all that hard or violent. But mine have plenty of room, a 70'x70' yard and I think an 11x17 coop for 9 hens (there used to be more.) She hides under a bush in the yard or in a corner of the coop most of the time.
  3. Just sounds like she is reestablishing the pecking order on her terms. Keep an eye out on her tho. Look for injuries again. Sometimes it stops, sometimes a hen just has a hate on for another hen. Best to separate then. Give it a shot and any blood or feathers missing from the head, separate.... Steve
  4. Michael Apple

    Michael Apple Crowing

    Mar 6, 2008
    Northern California
    It is rare from my experiences but have had to cull brutal ones in the past. I had one hen that injured another bad enough to where I had to cull her. I've always preferred one rooster in the flock because they generally keep order. Some breeds are more "clannish" than others and don't take well to other breeds if they are the minority in the group.
  5. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    It's only natural to be protective and want to avoid bullying and brutality. But Pippy and Pumpkin need to come to terms with each other.

    I've repeatedly observed re-ordering of the pecking order upon one hen being re-integrated after being segregated for a period. When the hen returning to the flock is a high ranking hen, almost always there is a confrontation where a lower ranked hen will challenge her. I have a feeling that Pumpkin may have challenged Pippy and Pippy was trying to settle it.

    "It takes two to tango" applies to pecking order issues, too. When a so-called bully goes after a hen, she'll usually do so because the other hen has signaled she doesn't accept her place in the order. It can be so subtle that we don't see the thing that set off the altercation. All we see is a "bully" going after a "victim".

    I would re-introduce Pippy to the other three, and watch carefully. What takes place will happen almost immediately. Pumpkin will signal to Pippy that she isn't pleased that she's returned. Pippy will respond by chasing Pumpkin and giving her a few hard pecks on the head. I've seen two hens go up to each other upon meeting again after a separation, stand motionless for almost a full minute, staring at each other, then one hen will peck the other between the eyes in one brutal move, and then they'll resume flock behavior as if nothing had happened.

    Just be prepared to step in if there's a prolonged fight where it's obvious injuries are going to happen or are happening. They can take quite a bit of brawling before they really hurt each other, so try to be patient.

  6. kimberliem

    kimberliem In the Brooder

    Apr 12, 2009
    Thanks everyone for your responses!

    They are all out in the yard right now. And seem to be getting along just great. Of course, Pippy chased Pumpkin off initially but they've settled into a comfortable routine of eating grass, bugs and rolling in the dirt. It's once they are all locked back up in the pen that I'm worried about. I'll continue to segregate Pippy at night for a couple more nights and then try to put them all in the run together under close observation. Might need to invest in one of those 'drop cams' to watch when I'm not out there with them. ;)

    I wonder if Pippy and Pumpkin are actually fighting for the #2 position. Pippy is the most aggressive but I'm wondering if that necessarily makes her #1. Pio (the kids went with a "P" naming theme), the americauna, might be the top of the order. She continually gently pecks all of the chickens. It's different than the brutal 'peck' reminds me of monkeys grooming each other. She even does it to my chocolate lab. But all of the chickens sit still and allow her to gently peck away.....

    It's all so fascinating! Just hoping that we don't have any nasty wounds again. I had no idea the pecking could get so brutal and now, admittedly, am probably being overly careful but....

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