Pecking Order versus Bullying

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by FunOnABun, May 19, 2016.

  1. FunOnABun

    FunOnABun Chillin' With My Peeps

    Hi all, I have a small flock of three barred rock hens that I've raised together from day-old chicks; they are currently just over a year old. Recently, within the last couple of weeks, the head hen, Bernadette, began harassing Amy to the point of mounting her, pinning her down, and pecking/pulling feathers out of her head, drawing blood and causing injury (she was leaving the third hen, Penny, alone as far as I was able to observe). There was no provocation as far as I could tell; it didn't seem to have anything to do with food, water, or nesting boxes and generally occurred in the run (as opposed to in the coop/free ranging).

    I tended Amy's injuries and applied Pick No More lotion, and then separated Bernadette from the other two within the coop and run (they could still see and hear each other but could not access each other) for approximately a week. When I reintegrated, Bernadette then went after both Amy AND Penny with the same aggression as before and at this point, Amy was absolutely terrified any time Bernadette was even anywhere near her, whether she was charging her or not.

    My next step was to completely isolate Bernadette from her flock mates by placing her in a dog crate in the garage; totally out of sight and earshot of Amy and Penny. While Bernadette was isolated, Amy and Penny functioned as they normally do when there's peace in the coop (as there had been up to two weeks ago); dust bathing together, foraging together, and generally enjoying each other's company, peacefully. There was no aggression between the two of them. When I reintegrated Bernadette for the second time after three days of solitary isolation, there was no change to her behavior whatsoever and she began harassing her flock mates within hours of being reintegrated.

    There has been no change to the structure of the flock (no new birds have been introduced) and there are no other obvious stressors within the group (plenty of coop/run space and free range time, access to fresh food and clean water, indoor and outdoor roosts, tree trunks, hanging treat baskets, more than enough nesting boxes to go around, etc.). Bernadette has been head hen from day one but has only recently became aggressive to the point of causing injury/drawing blood.

    Also of note, this morning, Bernadette sounded like she was attempting to crow at 5:30am...I've read of hens taking on rooster tendencies so I'm inclined to think that's what's going on here. I don't believe she has a hormone imbalance as she's been laying faithfully during all of this (even while she was in the dog crate) and her eggs are perfect.

    At this point, I've arranged to rehome her with my in-laws as they have property and other farm animals (but no chickens); any other options I might not have considered (I'm not prepared to process any of my birds right now so that's out of the question)?

    I don't believe this is normal pecking order behavior and believe it to be bullying but would love your insights/suggestions. Thank you!
    Last edited: May 19, 2016
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Peeps are a-peeping Premium Member

    Jul 16, 2015
    central Wisconsin
    My first thoughts are how big is your set up. That behavior is common in smaller set ups where chickens can't get away from each other and don't get to burn off excess energy and participate in regular chicken behaviors.

    From my observations a top hen and bottom hen require at least 5 feet between them, 10 is better or else the lower birds are often punished.

    This time of year chickens are hormonal and moody and more prone to aggressive behaviors.

    Another issue is you don't have a rooster which sometimes makes one hen to begin to act like a rooster.
  3. junebuggena

    junebuggena Chicken Obsessed

    Apr 17, 2015
    Long Beach, WA
    It does sound like you have a few issues that are adding up to the behavior you are seeing. Space, boredom, and hormones are probably all playing a part. This is the time of year when the chicken hormones begin raging. Egg laying picks back up, roosters that were gentlemen all winter begin to act like randy teenagers again, and hens start going broody. And while your top hen may not go all-out broody, she may have enough hormones going to make her more agitated and grumpy than she usually is. More space will help ease tensions, as will adding another feeder and waterer, and give them more to do. Dump some yard clippings in the run. Put an old log, or big rock in there. Every week flip it over and let have at the bugs underneath. Hang a head of lettuce or cabbage.
  4. FunOnABun

    FunOnABun Chillin' With My Peeps

    oldhenlikesdogs and junebuggena, I don't believe space is the issue as their coop is 30 square feet and their run is 60 square feet so that should be more than enough room for 3 hens (and there are multiple indoor and outdoor roosts, tree trunks, etc. and we dump grass clippings in the run every time we mow) they are let out of their enclosure to forage on a regular basis.

    I am in town so a rooster is out of the question, not to mention if injuring and bloodying hens is normal rooster behavior, I'd want no part of it anyway. She is definitely showing rooster tendencies with the mounting and attempted crowing, though.

    Thank you for the replies.
    Last edited: May 19, 2016
  5. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Chicken Obsessed

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    I think the bird is not working out for you, or the other hens. When one has chickens, I think it is important to handle things for the peace of the flock. She would go in my flock. I like a happy flock.

    Sometimes hens get cranky, sometimes they just don't work with the set up.

    Good luck,

    Mrs K
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

    Nov 7, 2012
    I believe you've found the solution to your problem. However... your in-laws might want to get a couple other hens. Chickens are flock animals, and if Bernadette joins a flock consisting of several other birds that may have arrived first (even if only the day before) she'll be low gal on the totem pole. If she continues her violent ways, she needs to be invited to dinner.
  7. teach1rusl

    teach1rusl Love My Chickens

    That is odd. Your space certainly sounds adequate. And it doesn't sound like a boredom issue. Just as there occasional physical, mental, and psychological issues in humans, the various species of animals encounter these issues sometimes too. Who knows what might be wrong chemically/hormonally??? I've never liked a bully...reading about your situation makes me appreciate my lead/dominant hen all the more. I'm glad you found a place for the meanie...
  8. FunOnABun

    FunOnABun Chillin' With My Peeps

    Thank you all for the replies; I was mainly wanting to make sure I wasn't confusing true aggressive bullying with normal pecking order behavior, there seems to be a fairly thin line between the two and didn't want to overreact or condemn Bernadette unfairly.
  9. teach1rusl

    teach1rusl Love My Chickens

    At least in my flock, pecking order is simply a quick Peck-Peck because someone didn't offer a submissive look/act. Between hens, I have NEVER had blood drawn, because as soon as the lower girl submits/acknowledges - it was done. Running away is a submission, so nobody is ever chased more than a few steps.

    I've had one bully hen (my second in command) - she would go out of her way to punish a lesser girl that she found disfavor with - she really ticked me off! BUT...although she would go out of her way, she would simply do the deed and then stop - blood was never drawn, and she never pursued/cornered anyone (which is why I didn't get rid of her - and thankfully she mellowed with age and is now 7 yrs. old and still here).

    I HAVE had rooster draw blood on one another fighting for dominance, but never hens.
  10. lynnehd

    lynnehd Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jan 1, 2015
    Vancouver, Wa.
    I believe your instincts are correct, and it is a good idea to rehome her. I did rehome a Barred Rock who was awful to my others, and the relative peace that has ensued has been wonderful.

    (@lazy gardener makes a good point, though. No chicken should live alone, really, and if your relatives are going to get a couple of other rehomes, they should establish their territory first and then add yours so she is at the bottom of the pecking order).
    1 person likes this.

BackYard Chickens is proudly sponsored by