Rooster Being Cannibalized

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by NickW1, Oct 5, 2013.

  1. NickW1

    NickW1 Out Of The Brooder

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    Hello, perhaps some of you have had this problem, I have eight hens (two Barred Rocks, two Easter-Eggers and four Buff’s) and one very big Marans Roo, all are about eight months old, their coup is 60 square feet, their primary run is 800 square feet and their secondary run is 1500 square feet. I use their primary run when everyone is away from the house and let them out in their secondary run when we are home, because the secondary run does not have any overhead protection from raptors and the primary run does; in any event, I think that’s enough space for them. Our problem is cannibalism; specifically, our hens are tearing out the feathers of our Roo, he has lost his feathers from between his wattles and is bleeding slightly, also he is feather legged so the hens have picked out some of his leg feathers and one of his toes is bleeding too. What’s infuriating is he lets them do! He’s a huge Roo far and away much bigger than the Hens. He’s a good Roo too, he has no problem mating with all of hens, he breaks up hen squabbles if they get out of hand, he gives the Raptor warning when they have fly-overs, he always tells them when there is something good to eat, in all ways he is the boss but, he will stand there and let them peck his sore spots! They have plenty of food & water and eat practically all our table scraps. I know most of the reason why chickens cannibalize one another and will act accordingly; however, why does HE let them do this? He is the biggest Roo I’ve ever seen and he’s not people aggressive so I would like to keep him. But if he’s not going to stick-up for himself I don’t know. Many thanks in advance.
     
  2. Judy

    Judy Moderator Staff Member

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    Sometimes they will do this. You need to separate him until he is completely healed or they will kill him.
     
  3. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

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    As Flockwatcher said, you will have to stop them, or separate the rooster and give him a chance to heal up. Have you treated his wounds with anything? Applying Blu-kote can also help in a situation like this as it masks the red (blood) which encourages pecking.
     
  4. NickW1

    NickW1 Out Of The Brooder

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    Yes, Blu-kote this morning and Rooster-Booster applied to his legs tonight while he was on the roost, I'm building a separate small coop for him tomorrow and will reintroduce him once he is all healed up. But if it starts again I will have to just keep him separate from the others, he's a stunning bird. I wonder if him being a feathered leg bird help lead the hens on. His leg feathers where sparse in first place; in any event, thanks for your help.
     
  5. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    He sounds like a good enough rooster. The hens sound like they come from intensively/ artificially reared stock. You can breed mental/behavioral/instinctual faults into animals by preventing them from acting on normal instincts for enough generations, but these faults are hard to breed out, because so many of them are so detrimental. Easier to cull and replace with stock that have more natural instincts or better suited domestic traits.

    In my experience, a male "breaking up" hen fights is just a domestic trait we've bred into them, and it's not present in the wild. I don't tolerate that from my roosters; a stud male is worth nothing if he's harming stud females, just like a chick killer hen is worth nothing to me. The hen fights exist to determine which is suitable to be dominant. A male stopping them from sorting out the pecking order serves no real purpose. The hens have their own hierarchy, independent of the males, and instinct drives them to make sure each hen is socially graded on her level of quality.

    A rooster never naturally has to fight hens to reach the dominant rooster status, because this is a gender specific and exclusive hierarchy. It's the same with hens and the dominant hen status. (Unless you have a rooster who also tries to hold top hen spot, as some people do).

    When I've seen a male interfere in female fights, it's always been a negative trait which may seem to solve a petty fight in the short term, but actually tends to create more violence down the track between the two combatants, which have been prevented from resolving their status dispute in the first place. They will keep trying until they reach a resolution. A third party breaking up a dominance battle between two members of the opposite sex solves nothing between them, it just postpones it; the level of violence is often likelier to escalate as a result. I'm sure there is the exception to every rule though. But personally, I won't keep hens or roosters who can't resolve their issues as quickly and harmlessly as possible, the first time they contend over it. Keeping intolerant animals begets its own issues because they breed more of the same, and I don't have the time of day for that.

    Hens compete with hens, roosters compete with roosters, neither of them is dominant over the other gender. Not naturally, anyway. In domesticity we get extremes of such behavior, with hens beating/killing roos and roos beating/killing hens, thanks to humans having disintegrated the basic family unit and raised them in artificial environments so the once-standard social instincts vary widely. Dominance battles between hens never naturally involve a male. That'd be like a hen interfering in a battle between roosters. It defeats the whole purpose, which is for the hens or roosters fighting to ascertain which of them is the fittest to pass on their genes. Such fights aren't usually fatal, even in the wild. In mentally healthy and instinctively sound animals, such fights are brief and often permanently resolved, for the rest of their lives, in a matter of seconds, with no harm done, whether the combatants are male or female.

    If a wild male harms a female, he stands an increased chance of failing to pass on his genes. Female-abusive males tend to wipe themselves out of the genepool, just like chick-killing hens do. There is no natural instinct for a male chicken to attack a female. That's why he's not standing up for himself, even when attacked. Domestic chickens, especially those from intensive farming backgrounds, are often cannibalistic and many others don't have any corresponding instinctual behavior to deal with such an aberrant mentality, because it's unnatural.

    Some people say all chickens turn cannibalistic when protein deficient or bored, but this isn't true; in many the old instincts are still semi-intact and if put in such a situation, they will starve to death without trying to consume another chicken. It's a matter of behavioral inheritance.

    For his own good, I'd separate him, let him heal, and perhaps consider getting rid of any hens who are overly keen on featherpicking/cannibalism. Or just separate those hens in the first place, and not bother separating him. Such traits tend to breed true. If it's not something you can easily train out of them, and you don't want to train it out of each generation in turn, it may be wisest to cull the perpetrators. But there are probably a whole bunch of solutions to your dilemma, so best wishes with finding what's right for you.
     
    Last edited: Oct 6, 2013
  6. Jrose

    Jrose Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This is very interesting. I introduced a rooster for the first time to my 5 girls. The rooster would break up squabbles between the hens. I thought that was super neat. About a week or two after getting him I started seeing the "bottom of the pecking order" hen being terrorized. It's been a few weeks, and three select hens will just tear around the yard (3/4 acre, btw) chasing this little hen, screaming and tearing at her feathers. They harass her inside the pen, inside the coop, and while free ranging. They get aggressive when she tries to eat, even when she's isolated herself on the other end of the property. They will sprint across the orchard just to chase her off the moth she just found!

    Now a few days ago I read some article on rooster behavior and how not to enable human aggression. I started acting like "top male", putting my roo in his place, letting the hens eat first and making him stay back, chasing him and grabbing at him when he charges me or the dogs, etc etc. He immediately (same day I implemented the changes) fell back in line, lets the girls go first, feeds them, doesn't get in between me and the girls, and doesn't react when they pick fights with eachother or when I pick them up. He used to lunge at me when I picked the hens up, now he just watches complacently. And today for the first time in a few weeks I saw my little ravaged hen happily mingling with the rest of the girls. She was eating out of my hand along side them and they weren't trying to rip her to pieces for it!

    I wonder if your observation is the reason behind my flock's weird pecking order issues!
     
  7. chooks4life

    chooks4life Overrun With Chickens

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    That's very interesting, Jrose. Good to hear you've found something that works on your situation; that sounds like it was pretty desperate for a bit. It can often be impossible to retrieve a situation from such viciousness without culling. Most people don't seem to easily fix it. I'll be keen to hear how it goes in future, if you give an update sometime. Best wishes with that.

    Some folks believe their rooster solves problems by attacking any females that fight, but I've noticed that these folks often seem to have vicious hen issues and bullying, like what you mentioned. I've seen animals permanently lose social acceptance among their own kind due to external interference with their hierarchy disputes. When you keep an almost identical male to female ratio like I do (freeranging them in a mixed flock, and breeding year round) having quick and harmless resolution of conflicts is vital, so I have a zero tolerance policy for bullies and animals displaying negative traits which could impact flock production and wellbeing. So I've culled negative traits out rather harshly but the results have been worth it. Most of it's heritable, it seems.

    All the best and I hope your rooster and hens stay on the right track.
     
  8. NickW1

    NickW1 Out Of The Brooder

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    I know it’s been awhile since I started this thread; however I think it’s important to let everyone know of the results so that others may learn from my mistakes. In any event, first I tried blue-kote which truth be told seemed to actually make the problem worse, next I tried rooster-booster’s anti cannibalism paste, it did help some but fresh wounds still appeared on his legs. Lastly, I placed him in his own coop and yard separate from the rest of the flock so that he could heal and his leg feathers grow back. About two weeks after I put him in the coop I saw him reach down and pick a feather out of his leg!!! He didn’t eat it he just picked it out! I don’t know if he himself started this first and the girls caught on and that’s how things escalated or the girls started it first and he caught on, or the feathers irritated him when they started growing in and he started pulling them out. Anyway, after another month in isolation it was clear that he was still picking his own leg feathers out, I had no choice but to cull him, pity he was a beautiful bird. In hindsight I should have just culled him right off when I saw him pick that first feather out, or stop that first fight between the hens; in any event, live and learn. I’ll know better next time.

    I now have a Wyandotte rooster who is very much the Alpha Rooster. When I introduced him to the flock I spread some scratch around to keep everyone busy while the new guy was placed in the coop. Right away one of the Buff’s that use to be one of the main culprits in picking out the Marans leg feathers came over and gave him a hard peck on the head, boy was that a mistake, he promptly beat the hell out of here to the point where I thought I was going to have to intervene, but I didn’t, I let it go and things settle down. Thanks for all the advice.

    Now all is bliss in the flock.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2013
  9. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    Thank you for the update. Sorry you had to cull your rooster, but it sure sounds like the right thing to do. Pretty only takes you so far, crazy shouldn't breed!
     

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