Hens pecking is just a way of being social.
Chickens in general have a very specific way of relating with each other. Free-range chickens specifically have sort of a hierarchy of beings within their flock that is referred to as the pecking order. This is achieved from the time the chicks are hatched to the time they are adults. Any addition or new member to the flock will be automatically placed at the bottom of the pecking order.
The Pecking order.
This can be simply termed as a hierarchy of beings. It dictates who is to eat food first and who is the leader of the flock. Most of the time, the rooster does not involve itself in pecking order fights unless they are more than one.
The pecking order is sort of a form of territory marking that is formed by the chicken within the flock. But mostly, it is the hens that involve themselves in these shenanigans.
Why must hens establish pecking order?
Hens are more involved in scratching and searching for their next insect or bug. The other thing that they may do is to fluff their wings or sand bathe. Basically, if a hen is not brooding chicks, it has nothing else to do. Introducing a foreigner to the flock will potentially keep the hen occupied. I say this in the funniest way possible.
Roosters are different because their job is to protect the flock. Pay close attention to your rooster the next time you go outside… It will be mostly looking up, preparing for its usual crow, or flapping its wings to show dominance, even to you! So, generally, it is the hens who tend to have a bad habit of pecking new chickens that are introduced into the flock.
Younger roosters, however, may involve themselves in pecking so as to establish their status in the pecking order.
In general, the following may be the cause of hens pecking all the time;
Stress is a common cause of multiple chicken problems. And, pecking other hens is one of them. Stress can be caused by a number of factors;
- Change in diet,
- Excess heat,
- Loud noise,
It may be very difficult to tell when your chicken is going through stress. The only signs that you might be able to distinguish to tell the difference are the panting due to excess heat and a reduction in laying.
- Nothing to do
Hens get bored at times. Leaving them in their coop throughout can lead to boredom. This is why free-range hens rarely involve themselves in the pecking. There is enough space to get and keep themselves busy. If you have a little space that your chickens can use to stretch their legs, let them out of their coop for at least half a day so that they can involve themselves in anything other than pecking.
Leaving them to roam around and scratch here and there will provide a good chance for them to get used to each other faster.
This is closely related to hens being bored and having nothing to do. Overcrowding is generally disadvantageous to chicken. Keeping lots of chickens in one coop at a time can be a cause for stress, the development of disease-causing organisms and even suffocation.
Pecking that is caused by overcrowding is basically a call to the farmer to say that the feed is not enough for all the chickens, hens to be specific. This is because, hens use most of their feed in egg formation and so, they must be able to get the most of it if any. A lack of enough feed will therefore cause increased aggressiveness and hence pecking.
Disadvantages of pecking hens.
- It causes wounds on the chicken’s bodies which may get infected.
- Wounds that may be formed on the chicken’s bodies promote cannibalism within the chicken.
- They may kill other smaller hens lower in the pecking order.
How to solve this problem.
This is the most important part of this article. How can you solve the problem of hens pecking each other humanely? I use the word humanely because there are some practices that may be termed as inhumane and a violation of animal rights to different cultures in the world. The best way to control the pecking habit is by;
- Give the hens more space.
Like i have outlined in detail above, giving your hens some time to roam around their coop will give them a chance to stop pecking. This will not solve the problem immediately but it will give the hens a chance to involve themselves in something else other than pecking.
- Get them alternative ways to relieve their ‘extra energy’ like perches, or vegetables.
There are many ways of doing this. An innovative way of providing ‘toys’ to your chickens is by hanging vegetables at strategic points in their coop. The extra energy that hens have is essentially supposed to be directed to either laying eggs or brooding. So, building a nesting box for them will be a good step towards taking their mind off pecking.
Perches are simply poles, sticks, or structures that are set up for the hens to be able to perch from time to time. Chicken in general loves to perch. This will also be a way to reduce the bad behavior of pecking.
- Dust them for parasites that may be causing increased aggression.
Have you ever had an itch that you could not reach? Parasites work the same way on chickens’ bodies. If they are unable to clean themselves using sand baths, then they will not be able to rid themselves of parasites like mites which are quite annoying.
This can lead to stress which directly promotes pecking hens. So, dust your hens with the required powder that kills parasites or provide appropriate sand baths for them to frequently dust themselves off.
- Increase the amount of feed or watering points.
Another reason why hens peck each other is while fighting for resources within the coop. Resources, in this case, are basically feed and water. If there is not enough feed, the hens will fight for whatever is available. This can cause spillages and wastage of feed which is a loss to the farmer.
- Separate them to avoid unnecessary deaths.
This is the last resort. Separation is to be done when all else fails. Try as much as possible, however, to discover the source of the problem before separating a hen that is being pecked. Then, you will be able to determine a suitable solution.