Why Do Hens Pick On Chicks?

Why Do Hens Pick On Chicks?

Got new chicks….only to have your hens pick on them? There’s an easy explanation why – and you don’t have to worry.

 

Did you know that “pecking order” came from chickens? True story. Chickens love to peck. 

 

 

They usually like to peck at the ground to see what kind of treats they can dig up, but every once in a while while owning chickens, you might notice your older chickens pecking at the baby chicks that you’ve just introduced to the flock. 

 

One question I’m asked a bunch is “Why do older chickens bully (‘peck on,’ if you will) younger chickens, and in particular baby chicks?” 

 

Main Takeaways:

  • Hens bully chicks because they’re sorting out the pecking order
  • If chicks are not being hurt, then let them stay in the coop. The hens will eventually stop
  • If the chicks ARE being hurt, then isolate them immediately, and put them back with the hens when the chicks are older (12 – 16 weeks)
  • If the chicks can’t get to food or water, remove them ASAP
  • You can also introduce slowly, and give them all mealworms or other treats when they’re playing together. This will help everyone associate being together with the treats, and distract the hens from potentially bullying the chicks.

It’s All About The Pecking Order

The main reason why older chickens can sometimes bully baby chicks is simply because of a pecking order issue. Suddenly, there are new chickens in the coop, and the older chickens want to establish themselves at the top of that pecking order.  (You can learn how to safely introduce chickens here).

 

The pecking order is literally who gets first dibs at food that is distributed to a flock. Sometimes, establishing this order results in clashes. Now, in most cases, this isn’t a problem. 

 

Older chicks, and especially hens, are not going to actually hurt the babies; they’re just trying to figure out who this newcomer is, what they’re about, and to establish their own dominance over them. 

 

It becomes an issue if you start to see the baby chicks get consistently picked on to the point of where there are open sores on them and they’re bleeding. 

 

So it’s usually establishing who is at the top and who is at the bottom of the food chain and what their social standing is. 

 

It’s the same thing as if you put humans in any situation: we are going to want to sort out who is the leader and who’s not the leader and where everybody stands. That’s essentially what’s going on when the older hens bully the younger chicks. 

 

Peeping Chicks

If you just hear the baby chicks are cheeping loudly, nine times out of ten, the older chickens aren’t even touching them. The youngsters are just not sure what to do about the older chickens. 

Stress-Related Bullying

Sometimes in cases of extreme stress, the older chickens will pick on the younger chicks simply because they’re stressed out. Issues of stress come from things like if the coop is too small, if there’s not enough food, if there are too many roosters; that kind of thing can contribute to too much stress. 

 

The older chickens will then bully the younger chicks simply because they didn’t have an outlet. They have that built-up aggression and the younger chicks are simply that outlet. 

 

In most cases, specifically with pet chickens, that’s not even really an issue. 

 

Roosters

The thing to watch out for, though, is if you have roosters around your chicks. The roosters, especially if you have more than one, will try to compete over the chicks. That can just go south really quickly. If you see your rooster going after your baby chicks, I would definitely separate the two and figure out some other solution. 

 

Summing Up

If you have enough food and water for everybody, there’s plenty of space, and you see the older hens going after the younger chicks, it’s almost undoubtedly an issue of them just trying to figure out the social order. 

 

To sum up the reason that the older hens will pick on younger chicks isn’t necessarily that they’re bullying them, it’s more they’re trying to figure out where the baby chicks stay in the social order and just to establish their dominance.  

 

 

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

Best Bedding For Chick Brooders

The controversy around bedding for chickens and baby chicks always makes me giggle. 

 

Mostly because, to me, there are clear winners in the quest to keep your baby chicks’ pens clean. 

 

In this video, I break down pros and cons of some of the most common types of bedding and provide my own recommendations for them. 

 

 

The six types of bedding discussed are as follows:

  1. Shavings (small flake, large flake, saw dust). I personally use large flake shavings.
  2. Newsprint
  3. Paper towels
  4. Sand
  5. Straw
  6. Hay

 

While it may appear to be a random listing of bedding, to me, there is a clear order, where my strongest recommendations are at the top, and as we go down the list, we get into types that are less ideal as bedding for baby chicks. 

 

Shavings (Small Flake, Large Flake, Sawdust)

We use shavings because they’re cheap and they are easy to find. They’re also easy to clean, and they keep everything clean. 

 

You have some options: 

  • Big flake (they literally just have big flakes in them.)
  • Small flake shavings
  • Sawdust

I prefer big flake shavings because it’s really hard for the chicks to actually swallow them. Because they’re curious by nature, you’ll see chicks try and eat the shavings. 

 

They’re not going to be successful in 99.9% of cases because obviously it’s just too big. 

 

However, with smaller flake shavings and particularly sawdust, there’s a chance that they could swallow the wood shavings.

 

It’s dangerous because they’re eating something that’s not food, and it’s taking up space in their digestive system where actual food could be. 

 

Small flakes and shavings also can cause choking, or it can cause obstructions in their digestive system

 

The type of wood in the shavings is also something to consider. Pine shavings are best, because cedar shavings give off fumes that can harm the chicks. So stick with pine and you can’t go wrong. 

 

Newsprint, Paper Towels, & Cloth Towels

Something else that’s pretty popular to use is newspaper and/or towels. These are both okay, and I’ll use them in a pinch. However, the newspaper is not very absorbent.

 

For example, if they spill their water, you’re going to have a mess. And the last thing that you want is for baby chicks to get wet – because once they get wet, they get cold. And then once they get cold, they stop eating.

 

Newsprint also has ink on it, which might harm your chicks. We don’t know exactly what’s in these newsprint inks!

 

I’ve used towels before and they’re okay. But they’re not very absorbent for smells. If your chicks poop on towels (and they will), it can smell a lot more than shavings because there’s nothing to mask the smell.

 

Sand

Sand is another bedding that’s become more popular in the past few years. Sand is not my favorite for a few different reasons. 

 

The particles are pretty small, so the chicks are going to try and eat it. Additionally, you don’t really know what’s on it. Chemicals? Loads of bacteria? You get the point.

 

It also doesn’t absorb very well. Your chickens will be pooping on the sand, which means it’ll smell in the rain.

 

A lot of people like sand because it’s easy to clean. While it is a little bit like kitty litter, it doesn’t absorb the smell very well, and it gets mushy and gross.

 

Personally, I don’t use it and to the people who follow me, I don’t really recommend it for baby chicks.

 

Hay and Straw

I’ve used hay and straw in the past. Hay is not quite as good as straw. Straw tends to be more absorbent, and it is easier to get. It’s little more sterile than hay. 

 

Hay could have bugs in it. It could have seeds from who knows what weeds, which can poison your chicks.

 

They’re pretty good substitutes for shavings when you can’t get shavings. They’re not super absorbent, and they don’t really mask the smell. 

 

With straw and especially hay, I’ve found you have to clean it two or three times a day to keep the scent down. As your chicks get older, and they start eating more, and their poop starts to get stinkier, a brooder with hay or straw can turn into a gross mess very quickly. So that’s another reason why I just prefer shavings. 

 

I hope this helps you decide which bedding for chickens is best for you!

Can Chickens Eat Strawberries?

Can Chickens Eat Strawberries?

 

Main Takeaways:

  • Yes, chickens can eat strawberries
  • For chicks, make sure the strawberries are very ripe and soft.
  • Make sure to squash the berries or chop them very finely
  • This shouldn’t replace regular chick starter! It’s a treat only
  • Stay away from jams, jellies, or anything with preservatives
  • If you buy berries from the store, wash them very well.
  • Consider buying berries from local sources that don’t use pesticides.

 

More reading:

Can chicks eat bananas?

Medicated vs. Unmedicated chick starter

Herbal treats for backyard chickens

When Can Chicks Move Into Their Coop?

When Can Chicks Move Into Their Coop?

Main Takeaways:

  • In general, chicks can go into the coop when they’re fully feathered, and close to the same size as hens (about 10 – 12 weeks)
  • I’ve had success introducing sooner, but they need to be big enough to defend themselves
  • If you have multiple roosters, it’s best to wait until 12 – 16 weeks, in case the roosters get hormonal
  • If you have hens that are big bullies, it’s best to wait until 12 – 16 weeks
  • Make sure you have multiple feed and water stations so you can be sure the chicks are able to eat and drink

 

More Reading:

How to introduce new chickens to an existing flock

What temperatures are safe for chicks?

Best Outside Temperature For Chicks

Best Outside Temperature For Chicks

Main Takeaways:

  • It should be at least 70-75 degrees and SUNNY before you let chicks outside
  • You can start letting them outside in very safe areas as soon as 48 hours after hatching
  • Never, ever let them outside if there’s a chance of rain, you will leave, if there’s dogs, or if the temperature will drop below 70 degrees
  • Temperatures over 95 degrees should be avoided, especially in direct sunlight
  • Direct sun and shade is ok in temperatures 70 – 80 degrees, keep chicks in shade if it’s over 80 degrees
  • Provide plenty of water and food
  • Keep them in a contained area, no larger than a few feet.
  • Keep a consistent eye on them
  • Lots of chicks LOVE going outside and it’s good for their development

 

Additional reading:

DIY Chicken tractor

Building a predator-proof coop

Should Your Baby Chicks Free Range?

Should Your Baby Chicks Free Range?

 

Main takeaways:

  • Only you can decide if your chicks should free range
  • I don’t recommend it because they’re little, and are more likely to get eaten
  • I don’t recommend letting them free range for their entire diet.
  • If you do want them to go outside, it’s best if they’re at least partially feathered (summer) or fully feathered (winter).
  • Still lock your chickens up at night so they don’t get attacked.

 

More reading:

Best chicken feeders

Should your chickens free range?