Sudden Aggression

Oldcastle

Hatching
Nov 26, 2021
4
2
4
Pacific NW
Location: Pacific NW

Breeds: Dorothy and Sophia are both Eastereggers. The other two are Austraulorps.

Enclosure: This Eglu with the 9' run all within a 20'x21' fenced and netted (over top) area.

I have a four hen, 2 1/2 year old, flock. Last week the alpha hen (Dorothy) suddenly became very aggressive with the number three hen (Sophia) one morning when we let them out of their run into the larger enclosure. None of the other girls pick on Sophia and Dorothy doesn’t pick on the other girls beyond pecking order stuff (though she is acknowledged as the alpha and they are even more weary of her now).

We had noticed over the summer Dorothy doing this strange behavior when they would go to bed where she would pick on Sophia, and then when Sophia would jump up on a roost in the run Dorothy would "burrow" (for lack of a better term) underneath Sophia's body and above her feet. Sometimes she would kind of pick on Sophia when they were going to bed too, and we'd bring her in and that would be the end of it. The next day everything would seem normal.

To preemptively address some questions we've seen in most blogs/writeups on this topic:

1- Sophia shows no sign of illness. In fact, we have another hen that has a heart issue and no one picks on her.
2 - They get treat blocks and have plenty of room to roam.
3 - We let them out in the yard and free range nearly every day.

We decided to put Dorothy in "chicken jail" for a week, so between last Friday and today Dorothy lived inside a crate in a home office. We'd let the girls free range a bit, and put them away and then let Dorothy free range alone. We had read this "resets" the pecking order, but sadly, that did not help. This afternoon we let the girls out to free range, and brought Dorothy out. Dorothy went straight for Sophia and relieved her of a couple feathers.

We've heard of "pinless peepers", but we're a little unconvinced they will help here for a few reasons:

1 - Sophia is absolutely terrified of Dorothy now. I don't know how we could get her to trust Dorothy.
2 - Their nesting box is just big enough for the four of them. I'm not sure they will avoid strife in such a tiny enclosure and I don't know if we could get Sophia to stay in the box to sleep.


We're leaning towards re-homing Dorothy, but that will break our hearts.They are all part of our family at this stage, and while Dorothy has her own little lone wolf personality most of the time, when she gets affectionate it is rather lovely. I just want her to have the best life she can have.

Thanks for any wisdom anyone can share.
 
Last edited:

azygous

Enabler
12 Years
Dec 11, 2009
26,026
40,108
1,232
Colorado Rockies
Conventional wisdom which focuses on the bully, in my view, is completely backwards. It's the bullying victim that really determines the bully's behavior. I learned this quite by accident. I wrote an article about it. https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/chicken-bully-chicken-victim-a-two-sided-issue.73923/

Everyone who keeps chickens is aware of "the pecking order". In reality, chickens have a social order only they understand. What it amounts to is each chicken relates to every other chicken in the flock in mostly a live and let live manner. Human social orders are similar.

The social order can be disrupted, though, when an individual is uncertain about their relationship with other individuals. This causes them to either overreact or under react to these relationships, and you then may get conflict. Aggression is often the result rather than the cause of the conflict.

Just as with humans there are many different personality types, so there are different types of temperaments in chickens. Sometimes, two different temperaments can collide and when it happens with humans, we call it a personality conflict. When it happens with chickens, we call it "bullying", but it's really no different from a human personality conflict. One temperament can aggravate the other.

When a timid chicken is forced into confrontation with an assertive chicken, it has the potential to aggravate the timidity of the timid chicken while aggravating the aggressive tendencies of the assertive chicken. In other words, they make each other worse, and it can set off a vicious circle where the result can be a chronic victim and a chronic bully.

Most chicken keepers, just as in our human society, focus on trying to change the behavior of the aggressor when it's really much more effective to take the victim and rehabilitate them. Very simply, when a victim learns self confidence and to stand up for themselves, a bully no longer has a willing victim because that is no longer the role the former victim sees herself in.

The rehab technique is explained in my article. I've never had it fail.
 

Oldcastle

Hatching
Nov 26, 2021
4
2
4
Pacific NW
Conventional wisdom which focuses on the bully, in my view, is completely backwards. It's the bullying victim that really determines the bully's behavior. I learned this quite by accident. I wrote an article about it. https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/chicken-bully-chicken-victim-a-two-sided-issue.73923/

Everyone who keeps chickens is aware of "the pecking order". In reality, chickens have a social order only they understand. What it amounts to is each chicken relates to every other chicken in the flock in mostly a live and let live manner. Human social orders are similar.

The social order can be disrupted, though, when an individual is uncertain about their relationship with other individuals. This causes them to either overreact or under react to these relationships, and you then may get conflict. Aggression is often the result rather than the cause of the conflict.

Just as with humans there are many different personality types, so there are different types of temperaments in chickens. Sometimes, two different temperaments can collide and when it happens with humans, we call it a personality conflict. When it happens with chickens, we call it "bullying", but it's really no different from a human personality conflict. One temperament can aggravate the other.

When a timid chicken is forced into confrontation with an assertive chicken, it has the potential to aggravate the timidity of the timid chicken while aggravating the aggressive tendencies of the assertive chicken. In other words, they make each other worse, and it can set off a vicious circle where the result can be a chronic victim and a chronic bully.

Most chicken keepers, just as in our human society, focus on trying to change the behavior of the aggressor when it's really much more effective to take the victim and rehabilitate them. Very simply, when a victim learns self confidence and to stand up for themselves, a bully no longer has a willing victim because that is no longer the role the former victim sees herself in.

The rehab technique is explained in my article. I've never had it fail.
Have you used this technique where the timid chicken was not being picked on by anyone in the flock except the aggressor?
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
9 Years
Nov 27, 2012
101,676
147,636
1,867
SW Michigan
My Coop
My Coop
29 1/2"x 21" x 19" nesting box
Is this where the roosts are?
Pics of your coop, nests, and run would help here.

Oh, and..... Welcome to BYC! @Oldcastle
Where in this world are you located?
Climate, and time of year, is almost always a factor.
Please add your general geographical location to your profile.
It's easy to do, and then it's always there!
1638014897421.png
 

CoconutCoffee

Songster
Oct 27, 2021
251
465
121
Eastern NC
Conventional wisdom which focuses on the bully, in my view, is completely backwards. It's the bullying victim that really determines the bully's behavior. I learned this quite by accident. I wrote an article about it. https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/chicken-bully-chicken-victim-a-two-sided-issue.73923/

Everyone who keeps chickens is aware of "the pecking order". In reality, chickens have a social order only they understand. What it amounts to is each chicken relates to every other chicken in the flock in mostly a live and let live manner. Human social orders are similar.

The social order can be disrupted, though, when an individual is uncertain about their relationship with other individuals. This causes them to either overreact or under react to these relationships, and you then may get conflict. Aggression is often the result rather than the cause of the conflict.

Just as with humans there are many different personality types, so there are different types of temperaments in chickens. Sometimes, two different temperaments can collide and when it happens with humans, we call it a personality conflict. When it happens with chickens, we call it "bullying", but it's really no different from a human personality conflict. One temperament can aggravate the other.

When a timid chicken is forced into confrontation with an assertive chicken, it has the potential to aggravate the timidity of the timid chicken while aggravating the aggressive tendencies of the assertive chicken. In other words, they make each other worse, and it can set off a vicious circle where the result can be a chronic victim and a chronic bully.

Most chicken keepers, just as in our human society, focus on trying to change the behavior of the aggressor when it's really much more effective to take the victim and rehabilitate them. Very simply, when a victim learns self confidence and to stand up for themselves, a bully no longer has a willing victim because that is no longer the role the former victim sees herself in.

The rehab technique is explained in my article. I've never had it fail.
Bookmarking the article for later. Sounds interesting. Now I have 25 chickens, most I ever have. So want to head off any potential issues.
 

Ridgerunner

Crossing the Road
12 Years
Feb 2, 2009
28,306
23,631
907
Southeast Louisiana
Welcome to the forum, glad you found us. Just wish it were under a little bit better circumstances.

@aart the way I read this it's a 9x3.5 coop and a 20x21 feet run with a single large nest box. I usually look at room issues first but the attacks also happen when they are free ranging. I don't see this as a space issue at all. I think Azygous is right, it's a personality issue. It may become a space issue also this winter if they are confined to what I think is the coop section by snow or weather but we don't know the location so we don't know climate. That's where knowing location could help. That's when it could become deadly if they don't have outside access every day.

@Oldcastle thanks for all that information, that helps a lot. It eliminates several potential causes. I don't have Azygous's patience to try much of a rehab, the most I've ever done is to try isolation. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't. You tried that.
We also have different personalities and goals, it's not just the chickens. I don't keep individual chickens, I keep a flock with changeable members. I try to solve for the peace of the flock. It sounds like your flock is fine with either Sophia or Dorothy out of the picture. Sometimes I've resolved issues by removing the victims, sometimes I remove the aggressor. Remove does not mean you have to kill or eat them, it can be permanently house them separately or rehome, either selling or giving away. If you are willing I don't see anything wrong with trying to rehab.

Good luck with this. Some parts of animal husbandry aren't always easy.
 

aart

Chicken Juggler!
Premium Feather Member
9 Years
Nov 27, 2012
101,676
147,636
1,867
SW Michigan
My Coop
My Coop
@aart the way I read this it's a 9x3.5 coop and a 20x21 feet run with a single large nest box.
Could be, why I asked for clarification. ;)
Wording didn't quite say that and we know there can be some confusion and colloquial differences in naming parts of poultry housing.
Enclosure size: They have a 9'x3.5' run with a 29 1/2"x 21" x 19" nesting box attached all within a 20'x21' fenced area with a net overtop.
 

Mrs. K

Free Ranging
12 Years
Nov 12, 2009
9,740
14,065
656
western South Dakota
When a timid chicken is forced into confrontation with an assertive chicken, it has the potential to aggravate the timidity of the timid chicken while aggravating the aggressive tendencies of the assertive chicken. In other words, they make each other worse, and it can set off a vicious circle where the result can be a chronic victim and a chronic bully.
I have often wondered about this. Sometimes the victim does bring this on. I have never had much problem with this, because of my space, and the clutter in my run.

We also have different personalities and goals, it's not just the chickens. I don't keep individual chickens, I keep a flock with changeable members. I try to solve for the peace of the flock.
I think this is very true too.

Mrs K
 

Oldcastle

Hatching
Nov 26, 2021
4
2
4
Pacific NW
@aart I've updated the post, but I'm in the Pacific NW. Regarding the enclosure I'll quote my edit:
Enclosure: This Eglu with the 9' run all within a 20'x21' fenced and netted (over top) area.
Each morning we let them out of their run into the larger fenced area and when they go to bed we lock the door. They usually get a few hours a day outside of the enclosure too.



@rayrose the two birds in conflict are Easter Eggers.



Remove does not mean you have to kill or eat them, it can be permanently house them separately or rehome, either selling or giving away. If you are willing I don't see anything wrong with trying to rehab.
@Ridgerunner I'll do anything to rehab. Is it possible a week wasn't enough time to rehab Dorothy (the aggressor)? I wonder if it is a combination of Dorothy being aggressive and Sophia being absolutely terrified and refusing to stick up for herself which results in a feedback loop.



My concern with the idea of removing Sophia is that she is only being attacked by Dorothy, so I'm unconvinced she is getting a break from anything and I don't know what would change once she is reintroduced to the flock with the aggressor.

I wish I knew what triggered this. Sophia was slightly behind the others in molting, but nothing else environmentally (season notwithstanding) that hasn't changed.
 

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