Seeing chickens pecking other members of a flock is a common occurrence in a poultry farm. You may sometimes wonder why this is happening. Is this a normal thing? What are the reasons chickens peck each other? How can you prevent this from happening? There are several reasons why chickens “bully” or peck each other. Some reasons are completely natural, while others signify bigger problems. Let's delve into this topic and discuss the top six reasons why your flock might be pecking at each other.
You’ve probably heard the term “pecking order,” and it is a real thing! Social hierarchy is natural in the animal world. This is seen within a flock of chickens where there is a dominant or alpha among its members, followed by others with descending levels of power. “Pecking order” is another term to describe this occurrence. The more dominant chickens can peck at each other to show power or bully other chickens that are lower in the hierarchy. The pecking order is determined by various factors including age, personality, and protective instincts. Newly introduced chickens usually start at the bottom of the hierarchy but can move their way up.
One solution to preventing chickens from pecking each other due to hierarchy is to provide a wider area for them to roam. A wide area allows more space for the “bullied” members of the flock to stay safe or get away from further pecking attacks. Another option is to isolate the peckers from the group for a short period of time. This allows the bullies to calm down and hopefully establish more harmony in the flock.
Chickens possess instinctive protective abilities and would do anything to keep the flock well and safe. A sick member can be pecked at or driven away to protect others. Hens have been observed to even peck at sick pullets (baby chicks), sometimes leading to the latter’s death.
If your chicken is hurt or sick, they need to be quarantined to avoid being pecked. More importantly, to prevent the spreading of diseases to the general population. Only return the sick individuals to the flock once they have fully recovered.
Chickens that lack protein in their diet tend to peck at or pluck the feathers of other members of the flock. Plucking is commonly seen among poultry yards that are fed with scratch and corn (typical examples of low protein feeds).
Maintaining a balanced diet is essential for your chickens to be healthy and thriving. Protein is especially important if you want to avoid your chickens pecking each other because of malnutrition. Use a high-quality feed rich with protein. Also, be sure there is plenty of food to go around. It may be a good idea to set up different feeding stations so chickens that are highest in the pecking order don’t keep all the food for themselves.
Chickens are very active animals and love to roam around. If they get bored, they may start picking or pecking at other chickens nearby. This can be especially prevalent during the cold or winter season when they are cooped up.
While sometimes Mother Nature can prevent it, adding diversionary activities to the flock’s routine minimizes, if not eliminates, anti-social pecking behavior. Some chicken farmers dump weeds, dried grass, and leaves on the ground for the flock to forage upon. Adding a handful of scratch or feed to the pile makes it a fun activity for the chickens and keeps them preoccupied which avoids them from pecking at each other.
The presence of ticks, lice, and other external parasites can lead to constant pecking or plucking. Chickens clean themselves by plucking and eating these parasites. Some members of the flock may also help in this hygienic activity by pecking or plucking each other.
The various external parasites among chickens vary and can be eradicated in different ways. You first have to identify the type of parasite(s) that are present in your fowl, then intervene accordingly. Some bugs like the northern fowl mite can easily be eradicated by the chicken taking a simple “dust bath”. Other pests like the red mite and bed bugs can only be removed by extensively cleaning the coop and roosting areas.
When chickens are stressed, they may peck at each other or pluck feathers. Changes in their behavior, appetite, and/or daily routines may also give a hint that they are stressed. Any changes from their norms often lead to increased stress levels. This may include an introduction to a new group, constant attacks from predators or higher ranked members of the pecking order, or an imbalanced diet.
Trying to decrease stress and keep a healthy, happy chicken usually boils down to the basics. They need plenty of chicken friends to hang out with, sufficient room to roam and play, and a nice healthy and balanced diet.
In conclusion, chickens that peck one another is a natural occurrence, and such activity is in their nature. However, if the pecking continues for a long time, it may lead to severe injuries, including death. This is why we must recognize what’s going on and do our best to provide an environment that discourages this pecking behavior. Start by identifying the possible cause and use our suggestions based on the reasons listed above.
In the meantime, if you see a chicken suffering from being pecked at, you may want to put a saddle or apron on your chicken to cover the bald spot or wounded area. This can help prevent further injury or damage and give it a chance to heal.
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