Have you ever watched your flock of chickens and wondered what is going on in their little chicken brains? You may have noticed that they are pecking at each other and wonder if this is normal behavior or if it needs to be corrected. Understanding what makes your chicks tick will help you to keep a healthier flock.
To stop baby chickens from pecking each other give them plenty of stimulation, give them more space, help them stay stress free, make sure they have clean food and water, and make sure to take care of any illnesses they may have.
To take a deeper look into the mind of your chickens so you can keep them from pecking each other too much, continue reading for helpful information.
Understanding Why Chickens Peck
As with any living creature, there are certain behaviors that simply come naturally. For chickens, pecking is one of those behaviors.
When most people think of a chicken they think of eating their favorite breakfast or indulging in some Friday night hot wings; that is probably about as far as they go with their thought.
Insatiable Desire to Explore
Most people don’t consider the fact that chickens are rather intelligent and ultra-curious creatures. They say that curiosity is what killed the cat but the came can probably be said about a chicken as well.
This curiosity is what drives a chicken to peck at things. Since they lack the use of arms and fingers to explore with they are left with their beaks.
Pecking for Social Rank
The term pecking order earned its name for good reason. Chickens establish themselves by pecking at one another which in turn creates ranks as a way of socially classifying each member of the flock.
When in nature or raised on a free-range farm you may notice that chickens generally form smaller cliques where there is a clear order of rank among each bird. The ranking process begins as soon as chicks are hatched.
This is all fine and well until something becomes unbalanced in their environment; that is when things can get more extreme than just regular pecking to set ranks.
Ranking can be determined by different factors such as:
- Age of the chicken
- Personality type
- How long the chicken has been in the flock, generally the newer members are lower on the pecking order
These are the most common things that affect where a chicken stands in the pecking order, understanding how chickens rank each other can help you as you maintain your flock and learn their behavior.
Common Causes of Pecking Behavior
Here we will go into further detail on the things that can cause chickens to display aggressive pecking behavior toward flockmates. By understanding these causes you can better care for your flock by reducing the chance of them happening.
Lack of Stimulation
As we mentioned earlier in the article, chickens are naturally curious creatures which means that they require stimulation to keep them entertained and happy. When a chicken becomes bored it can cause them to act out of character and target their flockmates.
Let’s face it, even the best of us get a little cranky or act abnormally if we don’t feel well. The same goes for chickens if they are sick or hurt. If an injury or illness goes unnoticed for too long it can cause the chicken to become aggressive toward others in the flock.
We all know how important it is to get the proper nutrients for our bodies. Chickens need a well-balanced diet to remain healthy and happy.
If a chicken becomes malnourished it can hinder its development and eventually lead to fatality if not corrected in time. A chicken that is malnourished will be a likely target for the chickens who are higher up in the pecking order.
If a flock of chickens becomes infested with a parasite or mites it can become a free-for-all as a chicken cannot resist pecking bugs and other unsavory things.
Not only will your chickens be pecking at each other, but they will also be pecking at themselves due to the aggravation caused by the offensive intruder.
If a chicken becomes stressed for one reason or another it can also cause excessive or aggressive pecking as a way to relieve the stress that they are experiencing.
Lack of Space
Everyone needs personal space, chickens included. Having said that, if you have a flock of chickens confined to a space that does not allow for some exploring and grazing you will find that your chickens will become disagreeable which can lead to the offensive pecking we are discussing in this article.
Here’s a good video with some tips, and lots more info below:
Preventing Pecking in Your Flock
To prevent or at least significantly reduce the instances of excessive or aggressive pecking in your flock try following the recommendations in this next section.
Keeping Your Chicks Entertained
For chickens, boredom can occur any time the conditions are not ideal however winter months tend to be the most difficult for them because they tend to be in the coop more often than not. All that time being cooped up can drive a poor chicken to behave inappropriately. (source)
Think of being confined in a small space with several people for a long period of time. After a while, you will start to get on one another’s nerves in which case arguing and bad behavior are bound to ensue. This is similar to how chickens feel when they do not have ample space or things to keep them occupied.
For times when your chicks need some extra stimulation try some of the following ideas to keep them from pecking on their coop mates:
Outdoor Oasis Above Ground
Have you ever seen a chicken in a tree? How about a whole flock of chickens in a tree? Well, believe it or not, when given the opportunity a chicken will hang out in a tree. It can be a rather odd sight to see a bunch of chickens in a tree as it’s not a common sight but there you have it.
Chickens love to perch and get above the ground so they can see what is going on around them.
To prevent your chickens from having full access to the free world yet still satisfy their urge to perch and explore your chickens will appreciate homemade perches made in their outdoor enclosure.
Outdoor perches are especially important in the winter months as it allows them to get fresh air and sunshine without being on the cold ground.
To make your perches you can use just about anything and you likely have it laying around your property already which makes it even sweeter!
Common items that people use to make outdoor perches are:
- Old ladders
- Scrap pieces of wood
- Tree branches
If you are fortunate enough to live in or near a wooded area, it can be fun to weave the ends of branches through your perches to create a more realistic tree experience for your chickens. When the branches get too dried up or yucky looking simply exchange them for some fresh branches.
If you want to get fancy, prefabricated gyms can be bought and installed in your coop to fit your situation. Either way, chickens are easily entertained once you understand their mentality so you don’t have to spend a proverbial arm and leg to accomplish this task.
Here are some examples of prefabricated items made to keep your chickens entertained:
- Perching Playset for Chickens
- Starter Perch for Chicks
- Swing with Bells
- Toy Set with Perch
- Wooden Swing Bridge
As much as a chicken loves to perch above their world, they also like to sit on items that are lower to the ground, so feel free to incorporate some tree stumps or other objects that allow them to remain on ground level when they feel like being social.
This is especially good when the ground is frozen, snowy, or muddy from yucky winter weather.
An added benefit of using old tree stumps as ground perches is that they will eventually begin to rot and what loves rotten wood? Bugs! And who loves bugs? Your chickens, so not only are you providing a comfy place to hang out you are giving them the added perk of a tasty snack and something to peck at other than their flock mates.
If you don’t have stumps any other random object will work, such as a wooden pallet or old crate. They won’t be picky, as long as they can get up off of the ground they’ll be happy.
Pile It High – And Watch it Fall
Indoors or out if you want to break up the boredom try dumping a pile of leaves or other organic materials in the middle of the coop and see what happens.
Your chickens will go crazy pecking and scratching, exploring, and looking for bugs. It won’t be long before that pile is completely pecked through and nothing but a memory.
If you don’t have enough leaves or other organic materials, bales of straw or hay are a great substitute. Either way, it will give them something to explore and keep their minds entertained and away from pecking each other.
A chicken can’t stand to leave a pile of anything, they must flatten it. If you really want to entice them try throwing in a few handfuls of corn or feed and see what happens.
Mirror Images Make the Best Friends
If you want to entertain your chickens and possibly yourself, go to the local thrift store and buy several old mirrors. Chickens, believe it or not, are rather vain; they love the sight of themselves and will preen and admire themselves for great lengths of time.
Placing mirrors throughout the coop will keep your precious preeners posing instead of pecking at her sisters.
Side note: If you have a rooster in the coop you may want to limit the mirrors as roosters don’t like competition and can sometimes become aggressive toward the mirror.
A Day at the Spa
Everyone needs to be pampered and your chickens are no different. To keep mites and other parasites at bay it can be helpful to provide an area where they can take a dry dust bath.
Plastic children’s pools work great for this and can allow several chickens to dust off at the same time. This is especially good in the winter months when your chickens cannot go outside for their traditional baths.
Straw Paths with Treats
To make sure your chicks are getting enough exercise in the winter months shovel paths around the yard and line them with straw.
Add a trail of treats to entice them to wander farther so they can work their legs and get their bodies moving. Sitting inside for too long is not good for anyone, especially a chicken who is supposed to be producing.
Quality Time Goes a Long Way
If you are going to raise animals whether for pleasure or production you need to have a relationship with those animals in one way or another. That is not to say that you must name them all, which is not recommended if you plan on eating them.
What it does mean is that the more time you spend with your animals, in this case, your chickens, the happier they will be. They will be more relaxed and grow accustomed to having you around.
Provide Occasional Treats
It’s important to not overfeed your chickens, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give them an occasional snack. If you want to drive your chickens crazy, try hanging a couple of heads of cabbage or lettuce in the coop for them to enjoy. Other treats can be provided as well throughout the day to keep them happy and busy.
A Healthy Chicken is a Happy Chicken
A major key to keeping your chickens happy and not pecking at each other is to make sure they are all healthy. To keep your chickens healthy it is important to do the following things:
- Keep a close eye on their nutrition. Make sure you are providing a well-balanced diet and feeding the recommended amount of food for each chicken. Keep an eye on your chickens while they eat to ensure no bullies are preventing lower-ranked chicks from eating. If you see this behavior be sure to separate so the other chicks can eat.
- Prevent and treat parasites. Nothing is more annoying than parasites and mites nibbling on your skin so if you want to keep your chicks from excessively pecking at each other and themselves be sure to use parasite and mite preventatives and treatments that are labeled safe for use on chickens. Keeping your coop clean and well ventilated is another way to help reduce the risk of parasites and mites from plaguing your flock.
- Reduce the factors that cause stress. To keep your chicks from pecking each other inappropriately be sure to keep them happy and stress-free by following the tips in this article. When your chicks are calm, cool, and collected they will be less likely to peck at each other because their minds are properly stimulated.
- Provide ample space – Inside and out. The key to a healthy chicken is to provide plenty of space for them to roam around. The more space you can give the better. More space means less opportunity for illness, parasites, and boredom which means less chance of pecking each other.
From Baby Chicks to Broody Hens The Needs Are The Same
Whether you are raising baby chicks or have a coop full of broody hens the needs are the same. Keeping your chickens happy and healthy is simple if you follow the tips in this article.
Plenty of space, proper nutrition, and mental stimulation will keep your flock happy, healthy, and productive. Have fun creating a coop that your chickens will never want to leave.