As more and more people embrace the ideals of self-sufficiency and living sustainably, the notion of raising your own chickens has gone from novelty to normalcy. There are a number of reasons why raising backyard chickens has grown in popularity, such as for their eggs, to use as a food source, to have as pets, or even just to do as a hobby.
The easiest way to stop chickens from fighting is to keep them from getting bored, make sure they have enough to eat, and to avoid overcrowding the chickens. Those are the main factors that contribute to chickens fighting in the first place.
While occasional squabbles are nothing out of the ordinary, constant fighting can lead to one or more of your birds sustaining an injury, and worse, egg production can plummet and the overall well-being of the entire flock can suffer.
How to Stop Chickens from Fighting
According to recent figures, an estimated 13 million people raised their own chickens in 2019, and with recent events, it is entirely possible that number has since grown. Getting started in the backyard chicken game is fairly straightforward which is why so many people are joining the homegrown poultry craze.
But as many beginners (and even seasoned veterans) are no doubt finding out, a common problem that everyone will have to deal with at some point is fighting among chickens.
When things escalate beyond ordinary spats, stress levels for birds and humans alike can rise to the point where immediate action must be taken before the consequences become serious.
Here are 11 easy methods to stop chickens from fighting.
Understanding the Reasons Why Chickens Fight
The first step toward stopping chickens from fighting is understanding why they exhibit this behavior in the first place. Chickens do not fight with malicious intent or with the specific purpose of hurting each other, but rather, as the result of natural-born instincts.
Here are some things to consider:
- For starters, chickens are social animals that need structure in order to thrive and this comes by way of the pecking order
- How individual chickens rank in terms of stature within the flock can be determined by various factors including their age, size, demeanor, and even color
- Fighting and pecking among chickens can be the result of environmental circumstances like overcrowding, stress, and even boredom (more on these later)
Understanding the root causes of fighting among chickens is half the battle in figuring out how to stop them from hurting each other and adopt strategies that are effective and humane.
Know Your Breeds and Their Temperaments
When it comes to chickens, there are a number of different breeds and they each have their own unique temperaments. Knowing the personality of your birds and whether they are predisposed to aggressive behavior is an important step toward minimizing the amount of fighting in your flock.
Here are some popular chicken breeds and their temperaments:
- Ameraucana – calm and nonaggressive
- Barred Plymouth Rock – easily handled and docile
- Cochin – friendly and adaptable as pets
- Delaware – inquisitive but potentially aggressive
- Leghorn – friendly but can be skittish at times
- Rhode Island Red – sometimes docile but known to have an aggressive streak
- Wyandotte – docile with good motherly instincts
It is important to note that these characteristics are generalizations and there are always exceptions. (source)
However, by knowing your breeds you can avoid mixing birds that are likely to be incompatible, and if you are still in the planning stages of starting a new flock, this information is even more valuable.
Here’s a great video with info about the different types of chicken breeds:
Avoid Overcrowding Your Chickens
One of the most common causes of fighting among chickens is overcrowding (source). Depriving them of adequate space to roam around and maintain a proper distance from each other and cramming your birds into tight quarters is bound to result in skirmishes as they will be fighting for territory, dust bathing spots, food, water, and so on.
Here are a few tips for creating ideal accommodations for your flock:
- Inside the coop, 4 square feet per chicken is ideal
- Outside the coop (e.g., in the run), 8 to 10 square feet per chicken is adequate
- Free-ranging is another option if space permits
If the current amount of space is inadequate and you are dealing with chickens that are constantly fighting, then your choices are simple: either increase the square footage of the flock’s accommodations or reduce the number of chickens in the flock.
Make Sure Your Chickens Have Enough to Eat
One common reason why chickens fight is that there is not enough food to go around (source). Competing over limited food resources will more often than not result in fighting. Fortunately, this situation is easily and quickly resolved by:
- Laying out a sufficient number of food bowls for the flock, along the lines of 2 to 3 for every 6 chickens
- Allocating the proper amount of food per bird – a good place to start is roughly ¼ pound of food per adult hen
- Providing a nutritious diet of mash, crumbles, and pellets (and for good measure, allowing your chickens to scavenge for insects)
- Keeping ample amounts of water available at all times
While there is no magic solution to preventing fighting from ever occurring, keeping your chickens well-fed will go a long way to keeping them content and maintaining peace.
Bored Chickens Often Fight
One factor that contributes to fights breaking out among chickens is simple boredom.
With nothing to occupy their minds, the birds’ attention will turn to each other, and outbreaks of aggression are commonplace, particularly during the winter months in locales where weather conditions prevent normal free-ranging activities.
There are a few measures you can take that will help alleviate poultry boredom, including:
- Attach a melon or cabbage to a length of rope to create a chicken tetherball that they will enjoy pecking at
- Lay out some zucchinis, cucumbers, or other treats as tasty snacks
- Spread out hay or straw on the ground and encourage your chickens to go out and dig and scratch
Basically, any diversions you can create to occupy the minds of your chickens and provide them with some forms of entertainment can have a dramatic effect on reducing the amount of fighting among them.
Introducing a Rooster can Keep Hens in Line
If your flock consists of hens and you are dealing with constant fighting among them as aggressive birds try to establish their dominance over the others, then you may want to consider introducing a rooster to the brood to keep them in check and lay down a clear pecking order.
There are a couple of important things to keep in mind, however:
- The recommended ratio of hens to roosters is 10 to 1, so the number of roosters you should introduce to your flock depends on the number of hens that are in it
- Roosters are instinctively aggressive (which is why they are able to establish a pecking order among chickens), so keep an eye on their behavior toward people and other animals
- Certain cities and counties restrict backyard roosters (e.g., whether you can have any and how many) so be sure to check with local ordinances
With their instinctive behaviors that establish their dominance over other chickens, roosters are natural-born leaders that can establish order in a flock of hens, but as with any newcomer, they must be properly introduced.
Here’s another video with some tips on how to stop chicken bullying:
Isolate an Aggressive Rooster or Hen
An effective way to deal with a rooster or hen that persistently bullies other chickens is to isolate the offender.
But rather than putting it into solitary confinement locked away from the rest of the flock, the best way to alter the behavior of an aggressive chicken is to situate an isolation pen in such a way that the bird can still see his or her colleagues going about their normal business (e.g., feeding, free-ranging).
This poultry version of a time-out can alter negative behavior by showing an aggressive rooster or hen that life goes on as normal with or without them and that any future occurrence of fighting will result in another isolation session.
Help Low Ranking Chickens Gain Confidence
There may be instances where a low-ranking chicken is constantly being bullied by a dominant bird and prevented from eating food or drinking water or repeatedly subjected to violent pecking.
These circumstances can wreak havoc on the well-being of chickens on the low end of the pecking order and even jeopardize their health (especially if they have been de-feathered or wounded).
Here’s what you can do to help a low-ranking chicken (typically a hen) recover from bullying while boosting its confidence and morale:
- Several times per day, separate the low-ranking chicken from the rest of the flock and allow her to feed and drink water on her own for about 15 minutes
- Doing so will teach the chicken that you are there to protect her
- Gradually work the chicken back into regular feedings with the rest of the flock while you visibly stand guard nearby
- Over time, the low-ranking chicken will gain confidence and hold her own within the flock
While flock bullies must be dealt with sternly, working up the confidence of low-ranking chickens can help control fighting within the flock.
Chickens Need Dust Baths
Another key to keeping the peace within a flock of chickens is to promote cleanliness. Because they live outdoors, chickens are susceptible to parasites like mites and lice.
Chickens clean themselves by bathing in dirt and one of their natural behaviors is to dig a hole outside, loosen the soil, jump in, and cover themselves all over with dirt (hence the term, dust bath).
If you want to help your chickens maintain their cleaning habits, you can build a dirt bin to make it easier and more inviting to dust bathe while keeping your property free of unwanted holes.
- Start with a bin or box measuring 24” long, 15” wide, and 12” deep
- Fill the container with a mixture of equal parts sand, wood ash, and natural soil
- Adding 1-2 cups of food-grade diatomaceous earth can help eliminate parasites
Not only are dirty chickens smelly, but if they have parasites on them, they can be irritable as well and this could lead to increased fighting. So encouraging them to bathe themselves in dust will not only keep them clean but can also help stop them from fighting.
Be Mindful of How You Introduce New Chickens to Your Flock
The social structure of chickens is based on establishing a pecking order within a flock and this is put on full display whenever new chickens are introduced to an existing group of poultry.
It is very common for the members of a flock, especially the dominant ones, to check out newcomers and attempt to establish superiority over them, and often times, this is achieved through pecking and fighting.
Adding new chickens to your backyard flock?
Here are a few things to keep in mind:
- When introducing new chickens, try to add several at a time as this will spread out any aggression among multiple birds as opposed to a single chicken receiving the brunt of it
- Chickens instinctively bully smaller birds as they are perceived to be weaker, so adding new birds of a similar size as your existing flock will enable them to stand their ground and assimilate faster, with less fighting involved
- Fencing off the newcomers from the existing flock so that they are physically separated but can still see and size each other up can help the introduction of new chickens go smoother and more peacefully
There are certainly no guarantees in the chicken-raising game, but by introducing new birds to your flock in a thoughtful manner, you can improve the odds that fighting will be kept to a minimum.
Let the Chickens Establish Their Pecking Order Naturally
There are many instances where the fighting that is occurring within a flock is no more than the birds establishing their pecking order. And often times, it comes down to a couple of roosters vying for the top spot by being aggressive toward the others to demonstrate its dominance.
As difficult as this may seem, sometimes the best way to deal with this type of situation is to let the chips fall where they may so to speak.
In other words, let the roosters establish the flock’s pecking order naturally but keep a close eye on things in case things escalate and there is far more at stake than just determining a winner and a loser.
Here are the key things to watch out for:
- The best scenario in a rooster fight is that there is a clear victor and a clear loser and that this is established in a quick fashion (e.g., 20 minutes or less)
- If the surrendering rooster gives up the fight and attempts to flee, and the victor is content to allow the fight to end as well, then the resulting pecking order may establish order
- If, however, the victor chases after a surrendering rooster and aggressively tries to continue the fight, then the two birds will need to be separated as the fight would likely only end with severe injury or death
- In the case of two equally matched foes, continued fighting even after the birds get tired is a strong indication that both participants are willing to fight to the death and they will need to be separated in such an instance
It is important to note that pecking orders among fighting chickens (especially roosters) do not always happen naturally. While you should not jump in to stop every fight as soon as they erupt, it is important to monitor things in case they take a wrong turn.
Despite the best intentions, many people raising backyard chickens have had to deal with fighting among their birds. Unless you are some sort of a poultry whisperer this is one of the realities of having your own chickens.
Fortunately, there are a number of effective measures you can take that will stop chickens from fighting and keep the peace in your coop.