Chickens are social birds, and you can see that their family structure has strict rules and hierarchy. From the moment of hatching, chicks are subject to ranking, and the same happens with new flock members. In other words, each flock member knows their place and fights to reach a better rank.
Interestingly, chickens often use aggressive methods to establish this order and ranking. Although you can expect a natural pecking order in your flock, it can sometimes turn into mistreatment and injury of individual chickens. That is why you need to know how do you stop chickens from pecking each other.
Why Chicken Peck Each Other?
Chickens follow specific behavior patterns in an established flock. For instance, you can notice them peck newcomers to show their dominance. That is expecting behavior called the pecking order.
It appears when new members or newly hatched chicks are introduced to the existing hierarchy. Unfortunately, this behavior can turn into chicken bullying and requires your reaction when it continues for a long time.
1. Pecking order
Each flock has an established pecking order, representing the natural hierarchy. It is an efficient and functional way for chickens to organize a stable community. Be aware that the position within the established hierarchy dictates the behavior types that fowl manifest.
Chickens need to be fearless to progress in the flock hierarchy, which can remind aggressive behavior when looking from the side. You should get used to poultry pecking their direct competition to reach a higher position and dominate others.
If you observe the flock dynamics, you can notice that chickens at the top of the hierarchy reach the food first, while weaker ones make do with leftovers. When low-level members try to disrupt that line, they get pecked.
Pecking behavior is typically low aggressive, short-lived, and stops after establishing a stable hierarchy inside the flock.
2. Chicken bullying
Since pecking among chickens is standard behavior, you should carefully observe the flock to determine when it crosses the line. Obvious signs are that some chicks never get enough food and water, lose weight, remain without feathers, and become lethargic. There are several reasons for over-pecking, including:
Chickens like routine, and any change leads to stress. The most significant stressors include:
- New flock members’ introduction
- The flock mate’s death
- Food change
- New accommodation
Chickens often cope with stress by lying quietly for several days. However, overstressed fowl can start behaving outside their usual way and become aggressive toward weaker flock members.
4. Flock size
The hierarchical order in a flock sometimes depends on individual attitude. When chickens’ number is too high, they can’t recognize all flock members and establish a stable hierarchy, resulting in aggression. Research shows that 30 chickens in the flock are optimal for preventing pecking.
Overcrowding is one of the leading causes of feather pecking and cannibalism. Ensuring adequate space for the flock is significant because competition among chickens grows in an overcrowded environment.
Besides, always provide your chickens with sufficient feeders and waterers to make access easier for weaker flock members.
High temperatures cause discomfort and frustration in chickens, increasing a tendency to pecking. That is why it is necessary to ensure the appropriate temperature in the coop according to the age and type of chickens in your flock.
The necessary temperature for newly hatched chicks is 95 F (35 C) during the first week. Then, you should gradually reduce it until reaching 70 F (21 C). The best way to determine the correct heat level is to measure it below the lamp.
Be careful, and never heat the whole chicken coop. Chickens require the ability to move closer or farther away from the heat source as needed.
During the molting period, chickens get new, fresh feathers. They appear vulnerable and smaller in that period, becoming an easy target for dominant flock members. Besides, the high hormone level additionally increases the tension.
Chickens are very active and love to roam and explore their surroundings. However, keeping them inside, particularly in winter, limits their movement possibilities. At times when chickens can’t or don’t want to come out due to bad weather, boredom becomes common, causing pecking.
9. Nutritional deficiencies
Providing your flock with quality nutrition and enough water is crucial. An inadequate diet and lack of water lead to frustration and aggressive behavior toward weaker flock members. Therefore, you should adjust the diet to the breed you have and the season and keep drinkers full.
10. Inadequate lighting
When chickens are exposed to too bright light for too long during the day, they often become irritated and aggressive. The result is an increased desire for food, hyperactivity, and violent pecking.
11. Lack of nesting boxes
Hens feel vulnerable when laying eggs and need a safe environment. Therefore, they start pecking each other when there are not enough nesting boxes in the coop. Older and more dominant hens often peck at the weaker and younger ones until they leave nests.
12. Illness and injuries
Fowl has a perfect sense of spotting weak and sick flock members even when there are no visible signs of illness. They start pecking and attacking such chickens, and you can notice them hide from others.
The situation is similar with injured flock members. Chickens naturally peck each other, but their interest significantly increases when weak and wounded members fail to react.
13. Environment changes
Chickens are creatures of habit, and changes in their environment immediately cause variations in their behavior. For instance, even replacing old feeders and waterers can lead to anxiety. You can imagine how stressful moving the flock to another coop can be.
Ways to Stop Chickens from Pecking Each Other
When you determine that the natural pecking order in your coop has turned into chicken mistreatment, it is necessary to take steps to eliminate it. The first thing to do is discover the reasons for this behavior and react timely and adequately. Some of the methods to solve the problem are:
1. Provide enough space for each chicken
Lack of personal space is one of the most significant frustrations for chickens since they don’t like to live in crowded rooms. Therefore, it is necessary to provide 4 sq ft (0.37 m2) of space in a coop and 8 sq ft (0.74 m2) of run space per a standard breed chicken.
One heavy breed chicken needs 8 sq ft (0.74 m2) of coop space and 15 sq ft (1.39 m2) of run space to feel comfortable.
2. Ventilate the coop regularly
Only a well-ventilated chicken coop provides a healthy space for your flock. Insufficient fresh air circulation causes high humidity, extreme temperature changes, and consequential illness for your fowl.
Good ventilation ensures a cool coop in the summer and allows chickens to hide from the heat. It also eliminates excess moisture inside the coop during the winter, making it warm enough for comfortable living.
3. Provide balanced nutrition
Providing your flock with a diet rich in vitamins, fiber, and protein is necessary. The food needs to fit their age and type, or you can expect them to start looking for other food sources to meet their needs. A lack of necessary food leads to pecking, so you should think about that on time.
4. Limit the chicks’ exposure to light
Chickens have their own established habits and require 16 hours of daylight and 8 hours of darkness at night for normal functioning. Any change in that rhythm affects their behavior, so it is necessary to introduce additional lighting during the winter.
On the other hand, they can’t stand the constant and too bright lighting. You should consider installing red or infrared bulbs up to 40 watts as the best option for the coop.
5. Provide enough nesting boxes
6. Organize a pleasant environment
As mentioned, any change in the routine is stressful for chickens and often leads to anxiety. Therefore, always leave the old and new feeders and waterers side by side for a while and remove the old ones over time.
The situation is the same when you move your flock to another coop. Leave old drinking bowls and feeders as something familiar to make chickens less upset by the change.
7. Allow regular bathing
Chickens love to bathe, so organizing space for this activity can successfully prevent pecking. Making a dust bath by mixing sand, wood ash, and soil in a container is the best solution for this purpose. Besides providing a lot of fun, these baths also help fowl to get rid of parasites, primarily mites.
Fowl peck each other since it is a part of their natural behavior. Regular pecking doesn’t require your attention, but you should react when it turns into the weaker chicks’ mistreatment. Otherwise, you can get a flock with too aggressive chickens on one side and severely injured ones on the other.