It’s very common for chickens to peck at each other a little – but why do they do this? And how can you prevent it from becoming a problem?
Why Do Chickens Peck at Each Other?
Chickens are very social creatures. Pecking is a normal, healthy and important communication channel within your flock, and most pecking will be gentle, with hens rarely disturbing each other’s feathers. This is how the proverbial “pecking order” is established; the hens work out who’s who in the hierarchy of the flock.
Pecking can become a problem, however, if it’s not molting season and you find hens with missing feathers from the back, base of tail, wings, sides, legs, and even the head. It is not generally considered to be a result of aggression, but rather of over enthusiasm or even self-plucking.
Self-plucking can occur due to:
- Lice or mite infestation
- Lack of dietary protein
Often the problematic pecking comes from other chickens…
Curiosity on the part of your hens can cause overenthusiastic pecking and this can draw blood. Chickens peck at impaired, injured, or dead birds. This is due to both curiosity and the flock’s social order. Bleeding, however, may send the flock into a frenzy as chickens are cannibalistic by nature as well as great imitators. They are drawn to blood (and the color red) and will certainly eat their own kind. Injury to just one bird can set off a chain reaction and bad habits may be formed throughout your flock.
Bullying can also be a major flock problem. Roosters, in particular, can wreak havoc if in competition with each other, or if they are aggressive towards hens.
Some chicken breeds are naturally more aggressive, especially:
- Rhode Island Red (Roosters)
10 Tips to Stop Chickens Pecking Each Other
Tip#1– Mitigate the risk of injury to your chickens – ensure there is no loose or sharp wire or other harmful items in the coop, run, or yard.
Tip# 2-Provide plenty of space and enough nesting boxes and perches – these need to be easily accessible. Eliminate excessive light at night-time by dimming lights or turning them off. Provide enrichment to prevent boredom, including free-ranging space to forage, chicken swings in the coop, a pecking block, and a dust bath.
Tip# 3-Feed a healthy and appropriate diet and fresh water in adequate amounts.
Tip# 4-Consider your flock size. The social hierarchy relies on chickens being able to recognize each other – and in a larger flock, this becomes more difficult. A small flock usually sees a tolerance between all members develop. The pecking order in a large flock of more than 30 breaks down as there are too many members for a stable social hierarchy.
Tip# 5-Quickly separate any bird that is injured, unwell, a serious bully, cannibalistic, or a victim of cannibalistic behavior. Also, remove deceased birds promptly so your chickens do not develop a taste for each other. Never feed your birds uncooked poultry meat.
Tip# 6-Consider the compatibility of the breeds you introduce to your flock. Some are more aggressive, while others are very submissive. Submissive breeds, especially if they are smaller, are more prone to be bullied.
Tip#7-You should not commingle birds of differing sizes, colors, ages or breeds unless they were raised together.
Tip# 8-Consider physical traits. For example, curiosity can cause a bare-legged hen to peck at a feather-legged flock mate, or for a non-crested hen to peck at a crested bird.
Tip# 9-Avoid sudden changes within the flock and to its environment, as stress can result in pecking.
Tip# 10-Some chicken raisers have found success by fitting their chickens with rose-tinted eye wear to prevent cannibalistic behavior – this prevents the birds from being able to see blood or raw flesh on other chickens.
How To Stop Baby Chicks from Pecking each other
Baby chicks must be deterred from pecking at each other in the brooder. They will often peck due to hunger, as they have not yet learned what is food and what is not. This means they’ll go for anything of interest to them – including each other’s eyes, beaks, toes, etc. They may also peck at each other due to:
- Personality – but a lot of offending chicks grow to be adept foragers
Deter this behavior in chicks by:
Provide points of interest for them to peck at – a small mirror, cardboard along the wall of the brooder with dots and other patterns drawn on it or invest in commercial chick toys.
- Separate bullies from the other chicks.
By considering the makeup of your flock, how you accommodate it, and by observing your chickens carefully, you can prevent these troublesome behaviors for a happier, healthier family of backyard chickens.