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Big hens pecking small hens

 
Andreas Poleo
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Hello, this is my first post on this forum, so I hope I don't commit any faux pas. I reside on a small farm in Norway, and it goes without saying that we're very inspired by permaculture - that's why I'm here.

We have 7 chickens: one rooster and the rest are hens. We originally had three hens and one rooster (all siblings, thus the same size), but wanted to expand, and were given three new hens and another rooster (for good genetics). The old rooster was then turned into coq au vin, and we started observing trouble in our chicken coop. Two of the new hens are a slightly smaller breed (Norwegian Jærhøns), and they get chased and picked on all the time. We were told to expect this in the beginning, but the problem prevailed and now we're getting frustrated that they won't just stop. The bigger chickens have a clear agenda of being nasty to the small ones - there are two feeders and plenty of room for them (they're inside only now, outside it's snowy and cold), so they could easily eat apart from each other or even in turns. Yet the big ones seek out the small ones without it being feeder related (or so it seems), and they're just being real bastards to be honest.

Having read about the problem, I have had suggestions that it could be a room issue, but they have lots of space and plenty of obstacles and such, even some veggies hanging around for them to pick at. Then there's the pecking order, but if that were the case the big ones would eat first, then allow the small ones to eat. Now they aren't even allowed on the floor of the coop. Today I tried another thing, which is to isolate them (plenty of people advise as to doing this at once when the new ones arrive). The old ones that are nasty are now in a confined area at the back of the coop (with the bare essentials) and I've put a feeder on each side of the fence so they can "eat together". I'm hoping this isn't just a shot in the dark.

Anyway, do you have any ideas? All suggestions would be greatly appreciated - it's really causing a headache that the birds can't just be friends. Their lives seem so plentiful - space to play around, a pit of sand to bathe in, lots of clean bedding (going for a deep litter situation), plenty of brooder boxes, organic feed in abundance, supplemented with fruit and veg of all sorts, yet they complain. It isn't only in diet that they have a lot in common with humans...
 
Miles Flansburg
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy Andreas, welcome to permies!
I do not have an answer for you but thought I would post to move this question back to the top.
 
C. Letellier
Posts: 221
Location: Greybull WY north central WY zone 4 bordering on 3
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No good answers for you. the answer from my grand parents era would have been beak and spur trimming on the problem birds. I know my parents didn't like that answer so our answer was simply to eat the problem birds till the problem went away.

One you might try that sometimes works with other animals but that I have never heard of being used with chickens is to move your old chickens somewhere else completely for a month or 2 so the new birds claim the areas as theirs. Then when the old birds come back they are now the interlopers in an established system and sometimes this is enough to rebalance things. It doesn't always work with other animals but is the best other answer I know to try.
 
Jeremey Weeks
Posts: 206
Location: Eastern Washington, 8 acres, h. zone 5b
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Does the pecking happen all the time, just during feeding? Is there a pattern?

You might try hanging up some melon, a beet, turnip or something by a string. It will give them something else to peck, fights boredom.

Sometimes, the small ones have to be separated until they're bigger.
 
Andreas Poleo
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Hi again, thanks for the feedback and warm welcome!

We've tried hanging up stuff for them to have a go at, but it doesn't seem to do much - the small ones are terrified of the big ones no matter what. The latest development is that after about three days isolated from the rest of the coop, today I let one of the abusers out into the main room again. The beginning was ambiguous at best, and I'm going to check on them again soon to see. It did seem however, that the abuser was slightly less confident without its friends.

The smaller chickens are smaller races sadly, so them getting bigger isn't an option. In other words it's looking bad for them if the isolation trick doesn't work and nothing else comes up.

Anybody heard about vinegar in their water? I've read about this, but it seems like wishful thinking - I can't for the life of me see what the mechanism would be, nor can the articles advocating it give any reasoning...

Clipping anything that's part of them is not happening, that much is certain. At that point I'd rather make a soup.

Anyway, I'll keep you posted as to how things go with our coop in the coop process, and thanks again for your time!
 
John Polk
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Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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Yeah. This sounds like normal 'pecking order' to me.

The isolation should help, as long as they can see each other. Hopefully, the two groups will learn that they can live together without being in constant battle mode. The bigger ones are seeing that they don't need to eliminate the newcomers in order to preserve their food supply. That should ease them out of 'survival mode'.

Pecking order is actually a good thing for overall flock health. Once the larger, original birds realize that they don't need to eliminate the n00bs, they should accept them, but at the bottom of the pecking order.

 
Angelika Maier
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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I think there is no solution but fence them in different parts, that's what we do. But then you must build a second night house too.
 
Gerald Gobb
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how large is the yerd that they are in?
you will find that when they are in a small area this will be more of a problem but once started the only way to stop it is to eat the pecking chicken the bast yard size is about .5 square yards per chicken .5 square meter.
 
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