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How To Stop Chickens From Pecking Each Other In 4 Steps

Rowan Burgess |

You’ve likely seen it before: a trail of feathers leading to the coop, screams from the roost, a small bird bleeding. When the pecking order has become a fighting order, you know you have a problem.

This is a dreadful situation in which you have no choice but to interfere. Chicken bullying can come out of nowhere and escalate to the point of cannibalism rapidly. This is a serious issue with consequences for both your business and the residents of the coop.

You work hard maintaining a peaceful farm and keeping your animals well-behaved. But occasionally your birds can act out of control. Read ahead to learn how to keep a calm coop all year long.

1. Understand Why Chickens Peck Each Other

To protect your chickens, the first step must be to understand them. Figuring out what prompted aggressive pecking behaviour will set you on the path to recovery. 

So, why exactly is your flock at odds with each other? Here are a few main causes of aggressive pecking:

  • Stress: Overcrowding and hot indoor coops during the colder months would make anyone upset, and chickens are no exception. An unhappy bird can be a violent one. Stress can also come from new additions suddenly joining the coop. When a hen gets overstressed there is also the risk of her plucking out her own feathers. 
  • Lack of Space: Without room to move around freely there is no place to run away when a quarrel has begun, which leaves more opportunity for cannibalism. Exercise is a necessary part of a chicken’s mental health.
  • Moulting: As chickens get their fresh feathers, they can appear smaller and more vulnerable and thus prone to pecks by larger birds. Seasonal changes are also times of elevated hormones which increases tensions.
  • Illness: Chickens have a good sense of how their brethren are feeling and when one seems weak, they all will pounce. Survival of the fittest is the axiom of the coop.
  • Poor Diet: Without proper protein in their diet, other chickens will look like a rather tantalizing option for dinner. A hungry chicken won’t stop pecking until it has had its fill, poultry or otherwise.
  • Unkempt Birds: A grimy chicken with rough feathers looks sluggish and easy to take down. If a few feathers are coming out then other hens see that as a chance to pluck the rest.

The ecosystem of your flock exists in a tenuous equilibrium. It can occasionally seem as if your birds commit cannibalism more than they live in harmony. But all is not lost — there are easy ways to establish order, and stop chickens from pecking each other.

2. Let The Birds Roam Free

Imagine spending all winter with your entire extended family without enough room to turn around. If you can envision yourself snapping at them in that scenario you can appreciate angry, pecking birds. 

A change of environment is often a great way to make your chickens happier. Providing free-range gives chickens the opportunity to flee when pursued by one another. Instead of quickly escalating to violence and pecking, free-range chickens can escape to safety in another part of their enclosure.  

A good rule of thumb is to give each bird 0.5 square metres of room in the coop and 0.75 square metres in the run. But if you have space, more room is always better. Take a holistic approach in providing space. A large hen sitting on her eggs will be territorial and require more room than a young bird. Remember, you have baby chicks as well as full-grown birds living together and everyone has different needs. 

It can be easier to give your hens free-range in the summer, so proper adjustments and renovations to your coop will set up long-term improvement. Affordable poultry netting is a fast and simple way to exponentially increase space for your flock. Even extending their room a few square meters can make a big difference in how much pecking you see. 

3. Keep Them Clean 

A hygienic chicken is a happy chicken. And a happy chicken doesn’t peck her flock mates! Preventing cannibalism can be as simple as creating a clean and sanitary environment for the flock to roost. 

Here are some easy and smart ways to upkeep an uncontaminated space. 

  • Installing chicken baths will keep away grime, mites, lice, and parasites. A chicken bath is perhaps a bit counter-intuitive at first. In fact, they bathe in a hole filled with dirt and sand! A mixture of ash, sand, soil, and herbs keeps a clean and fragrant hen. Adding charcoal is important due to its all-natural cleaning properties. Adding any aromatics from your garden like rosemary can mask the scent of poultry, keeping birds calm. 
  • Proper ventilation is paramount to a healthy lifestyle. If your coop does not have a constant breeze both across and out the roof, then the stale air will upset the birds. But make sure to keep the coop warm in the winter as well for the baby chicks. Poor ventilation can breed disease and exacerbate pre-existing conditions.
  • A good diet can make a big difference. Always give your chickens access to clean, fresh water. Make sure to change their water at least once a day to prevent any bacterial growth or mildew build-up. Chickens have an innate desire to peck for food, but if they are still hungry and the food is gone, they won’t stop pecking. In order to stop them from eating each other, be sure to feed them healthy meals. A hungry and undernourished chicken can’t be blamed for munching anything in sight. Make sure to always feed chicken protein along with grains to keep down cannibalistic tendencies. 
  • Remove victims and perpetrators. A dead or bleeding bird attracts unwanted attention. Make sure to fully clean away any traces of a dead chicken until the scent of blood and feathers is gone. The presence of blood sparks a communal lust for more amongst the flock. A violent, pecking chicken must also be removed from the rest of the flock, as the behaviour is often copied and could become endemic. So make sure to treat this problem early to avoid taking out your favourite bird.

Once you’ve adjusted their area and given the chickens a proper clean home, hopefully you can stop chickens from pecking each other. However, the pecking order is a strict social hierarchy and now and again direct interference can be the best option to control the fighting flock.

4. Try Sprays

At Dalton Engineering we understand turbulent chickens. That’s why we’ve manufactured patented compounds to treat testy chickens. With over 30 years in the farming industry, we know what works and what does not work to stop pecking. We have products for all your needs:

  • When you need a quick fix, turn to our anti-cannibalism spray. The special formula neutralises odours coming from poultry (pigs too!). When chickens stop smelling each other their excited condition dissipates, and it takes the edge off. The spray also creates a foul taste on the feathers, so other chickens lose the desire to keep pecking. Anti-cannibalism spray works immediately and should be kept on hand to quell a battle before the first feather is pecked out.
  • Our poultry wound spray instantly fights bacterial infections from hurt hens. This is a great option to treat beak wounds, pecked feathers, and claw damage. The poultry wound spray is a longer-term solution to keep healthy animals. An infection or constant blood loss will only increase tensions and pecking throughout your flock. Clean a peck wound now and save a chicken life down the road.

Contact Dalton Engineering for Complete Chicken Care

Beyond sprays, we provide everything you could need to raise poultry: feeders, ventilation, custom coop installation, hoppers, augers, and more. Look no further than Dalton for professional assistance by experts who know chickens!

Now that you know all your options you can keep the pecking order up to par. There is more than one way to stop a peck and keep every feather right where it should be. All that’s left to do is to go and save your chickens from themselves! 

To place an order or get more information about Dalton Engineering, call us on 01845 578325.