Interested in learning how to stop chickens from pecking each other? You’ve come to the right place.
If you have chickens, there’s a good chance you’ve noticed their not-so-nice feather-pecking tendencies from time to time.
The extent of the bullying and feather pecking can vary. While some flock owners only have to deal with a bit of feather pulling here or there, others have full-blown massacres on their hands as hens begin to kill each other without mercy. If you’ve begun to notice damage to feathers, injured chickens in your flock, or a dramatic reduction in egg laying – you will want to take action immediately.
Fortunately, there are several easy ways you can determine the causes of pecking and stop chickens from picking on each other. Read on for some tips.
How to Stop Chickens From Picking On Each Other: 10 Helpful Tips
1. Understand the Pecking Order
Each flock has its own unique natural pecking order that determines the relationships and social hierarchy within a flock. The most assertive, most dominant hen will naturally be at the top of the pecking order. In some unique circumstances, the dominant hen actually takes on rooster-like behaviors. This is common in flocks that are lacking a rooster.
When left undisturbed, the pecking order usually remains unchanged. However, when the pecking order is undergoing some kind of transformation, you may notice excessive bullying behavior in your flock. If a hen wishes to rise to the top, she will act more aggressively with the other flock members as she challenges the more dominant birds.
From the outside, this behavior might seem negative, but it’s entirely natural. If you think it’s a pecking order shift that’s causing your hens to pick on each other and cause serious damage to feathers, don’t worry. There’s not much you need to do (or should do) to intervene. Just let the shuffle run its course.
2. Evaluate the Potential Causes of Bullying
Besides changes to the pecking order, there are four main causes of bullying in a flock: stress, sickness, overcrowding, and boredom.
Take a careful look at your flock to help you determine which of these issues might be causing the bullying behavior and damage to feathers among your girls. In most cases, they can easily be identified and addressed as they occur.
Stress is one of the most common causes of bullying, and unfortunately, it can also be one of the most difficult to pinpoint and eliminate. As with people, there are all kinds of things that can cause chickens to stress and lead to feather pecking. From poor weather to predator threats and everything in between, it can be tough to narrow down the list of culprits.
However, do what you can to keep your chickens happy and healthy. We’ll talk more in the next point about how to boost the health of your flock, but it’s also important to make them feel safe. Make sure your coop and run are secure and comfortable and you’ll likely notice fewer bullying incidents as a result.
3. Boost Flock Health
Think about the last time you had a cold. You probably weren’t very friendly, were you?
That’s why it’s so important to keep your backyard flock healthy when you’re trying to prevent bullying. If your chickens aren’t healthy, they aren’t going to be very amicable toward each other. Not only that but chickens intuitively know when one of their own is ill.
Therefore, you will want to make sure you keep your free-range chickens as healthy as possible. Make sure they are vaccinated (if necessary) and kept up to date with dewormers (even if you are using natural methods to keep parasites at bay). Keep the coop clean to prevent mites and lice, too, which will help prevent bullying in the flock.
As a side note – sometimes, chickens will bully each other when they notice that one has any severe damage, like bloody or raw areas showing on its skin. You can often prevent these sorts of situations by making sure your chickens have dust baths (which will limit the occurrence of external parasites) but if you happen to notice red or raw spots on your chickens’ skin, apply a liquid bandage like Blu-Kote to remove the temptation to peck and pick for the others.
4. Provide Entertainment
Boredom is one of the most common causes of aggression in a flock. You might notice that this becomes an issue if your chickens have been stuck inside all winter or if you keep your chickens in a confined setting. When chickens can’t get outdoors to do chicken things they are naturally going to become more aggressive toward each other.
If you can, introduce a few boredom busters to the coop. A bit of scratch grain, like our non-GMO blend, goes a long way, as do chicken toys like chicken swings and hanging heads of lettuce.
It is also a good idea to make sure your chickens have access to enough hours per day of bright light. Sometimes free-range chickens engage in more feather picking when they are deprived of natural sunlight. While you don’t need to introduce excessive light or a heat source to the chicken coop, an ample supply of light (red light is best) can be helpful.
You may also want to add some relaxing herbs, like these, to your nesting boxes. This may help calm down broody hens and make egg laying a bit less stressful for everyone!
5. Introduce New Birds at the Right Time
If you plan on adding new chickens to the coop, don’t do so willy nilly. Ideally, all of your flock mates should be around the same age – when they grow up together, the pecking order will be established more naturally and you shouldn’t have to worry about bullying later on.
However, if you must introduce new chickens later on, do so with caution. One way to introduce new birds is to put them in the coop at night, when all the flock mates are sleepy and on the roost. Although the birds will notice each other in the morning, they’ll be much less likely to be aggressive. Although you can expect some shenanigans as the pecking order gets sorted out.
Make sure there is plenty of space in your chicken coop, too. You need at least 10 square feet per bird along with ample opportunities for dust bathing, nest boxes, and adequate feeder space. This (especially extra nesting boxes) can prevent aggressive pecking later on – and avoid dead birds in the future!
Another tip – if you are introducing chickens that look dramatically different than those in your existing flock (for example, if you are adding a White Leghorn to a flock of New Hampshire) you may want to introduce more than one of that breed. Chickens will often engage in feather pecking when there are others who look different, and there’s safety in numbers.
If you want the absolute best outcome, you might want to read this article we wrote: How Do I Add A New Chicken To My Flock?
6. Isolate (or Distract) the Bully
Sometimes, you may have no other choice than to isolate the bully who is being aggressive. This will be easiest if you’ve been able to pinpoint the main perpetrator in your flock – sometimes, that’s easier said than done. If you aren’t sure which chicken is to blame, hold off. Otherwise, you can remove the “mean” chicken and put her in a separate location. While she’s gone, the pecking order should re-establish itself, and she’ll likely be a bit calmer upon her return.
Another thing you can do is to distract the bully. You can squirt her with a hose, toss pebbles in her direction, or any other safe techniques when she starts up with her nonsense. Of course, you’ll have to actually witness the bullying behavior for this to be effective, so that can be limiting in and of itself.
7. Prevent and Eliminate Overcrowding
If you’ve ever ridden a subway in New York City, you probably know how stressful it can be to be packed shoulder to shoulder with other people. The same goes for chickens that are jammed tight into a coop. Make sure your chickens have some wiggle room, which will help them feel a bit more comfortable and less likely to fight with each other.
Often, adding some additional feed (this herbal chicken feed for layers is a great option!) or making sure there is adequate space in your housing systems is all it takes to improve the appearance of feathers and enhance your chickens’ overall well-being after a period of feather pecking.
You’ll also want to be sure there are enough feeders and waterers for all your birds. If they have to fight for food and water, they will not only peck at each other but they may also not get proper nutrients.
8. Maintain the Right Hen-to-Rooster Ratio
Most of the tips in this article have to do with bully hens, but it’s certainly not uncommon for roosters to be aggressive, too. Most of the time, an aggressive rooster can be attributed to a poor hen-per-rooster ratio.
You should aim for no more than one rooster for every five hens. That way, you won’t have roosters fighting over hens and the hens won’t feel targeted by the rooster as he goes about his “courting” behaviors.
9. Chicken Glasses?
One unique solution to stop chickens from picking on each other is to use chicken glasses, also known as pinless peepers. Although some chicken keepers claim that this technology is nothing more than a gimmick, others swear by it.
Chicken glasses prevent chickens from seeing what is directly in front of them. While wearing the glasses, a hen can see to the sides, but she can’t see facing forward, which can help prevent aggressive chickens from pecking behavior and picking at the feathers of other chickens.
10. Remain Attentive
The best tip for stopping chickens from feather picking is to remain attentive and vigilant at all times.
It can be tough to identify what’s causing the aggression in your flock – as well as who is inflicting it – but following these steps and paying attention to the members of the flock can be hugely beneficial as you try to keep your flock safe and happy.
How to Help Chickens Injured From Bullying
How do you know when too much pecking becomes a problem? If your chickens have been injured from this, chances are, it’s time to intervene.
Once you’ve followed some of the tips above and removed the bully, you may need to isolate the injured bird from your flock. An “over-pecked” chicken may have injuries that attract and entice other chickens to peck. This can lead to greater injuries over time.
For minor injuries, remove the injured bird and spray the wound with Blu-Kote or a similar type of animal-specific liquid bandage. Return the chicken to the flock as soon as possible, ideally once you’ve been able to stop the bleeding and cover up the wound. You don’t want to keep your chicken away from the rest of the flock for too long, as this can lead to greater bullying later on.
However, for more extensive injuries, you may need to call in a vet for help.
Do a quick Google search for the topic, and you’ll find all kinds of “home remedies” designed to stop chickens from bullying each other. Some people swear by things like vinegar – but if you’re wondering if vinegar will help keep your chickens from pecking at each other, you may want to keep moving. Others will recommend more intensive, risky procedures like beak trimming, but usually, this is not necessary.
Ultimately, the only way to stop chickens from feather-pecking each other is to figure out the root cause behind the behavior and actively work to stop it. While a bit of feather loss here and there is nothing to worry about, you should take more precautions if you have noticed victims of cannibalism and excessive feather pecking.
Over time, you should be able to put an end to this nasty behavior – just be vigilant!
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Maat van Uitert is a backyard chicken and sustainable living expert. She is also the author of Chickens: Naturally Raising A Sustainable Flock, which was a best seller in it’s Amazon category. Maat has been featured on NBC, CBS, AOL Finance, Community Chickens, the Huffington Post, Chickens magazine, Backyard Poultry, and Countryside Magazine. She lives on her farm in Southeast Missouri with her husband, two children, and about a million chickens and ducks. You can follow Maat on Facebook here and Instagram here.