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A Bully In The Hen House

One of the "new girls".
Among chickens a pecking order is a natural occurrence. I have to admit that the first time I witnessed a performance among my hens for dominance it was slightly disturbing simply because it entailed far more aggression than I had imagined.

My family had four young leghorns at the time and we introduced four new hens to the flock. There was an immediate scuffle between each “groups” top bird. The winner then took on the next challenger and this lasted sporadically for about three days. Eventually a routine and a “pecking order” was established and life was easy.

Recently I decided to add a beautiful Americana and, one of my favorites, a barred rock to our established flock which currently consist of four leghorns. The leghorns did not take kindly to the new birds. For nearly two weeks they harassed the other hens but what I began to notice was that it was being instigated by one hen in particular. She would create a bit of a frenzy and would peck to the point of blood being drawn. It had gone from simply establishing a pecking order to bullying rather quickly. It was almost as though the top leghorn could not help herself. The second she encountered the new birds she would attack them viciously. The new birds were not eating properly, not getting enough water and it was frankly, out of control. I decided to remove them and try again at a later date.

I spoke to some people who owned hens and more than one mentioned the stew pot but my leghorn are at an age of peak production and as we all know there is not a ton of meat on a leghorn. My goal was to successfully blend the flock but the stew pot was sounding better and better, if truth be told. After a series of unsuccessful attempts it was becoming difficult to imagine all six hens co-existing somewhat peacefully.
The "bullies". 

After much research and conversation I found an option I thought would provide a solution. I allowed the new hens to heal for about two weeks. I then took an old dog crate and placed it directly next to the leghorns run. The new birds were now within sight of the established flock. For two weeks I allowed them to coexist in this manner. The idea was that I could eventually inter-mingle the new birds and the leghorns would be comfortable with their presence at that point. One night after the two weeks were up I placed the new birds in the coop. In the morning they all came out to scratch around and eat. The new birds were nervous and spooked easily but in truth the leghorns could care less. Even the bully of the group no longer paid any attention to them. There is on occasion a peck or a nip but it is a considerably different environment then my first few attempts. Live and learn.  

Tobias Whitaker blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. Click on the Mother Earth News logo at the bottom of the page for all of his post. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad found here


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