How to Stop Chickens From Pecking Each Other

Chickens peck at everything, that’s a given. But when they start pecking at each other, it’s a sign that something is wrong. Some chicken breeds are far more accepting of others, while some breeds have a tendency to bully the newer or weaker members of the flock. While an occasional peck between hens might seem like nothing, the issue can escalate quickly and leave you with injured hens.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to stop chickens from pecking each other. We’re going to look at the reason for chicken bullying, as well as solutions that keep every chicken in the flock happy and healthy.

All About The Pecking Order

aggressive chickens
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Before you learn how to stop chickens from pecking each other, you need to know about the pecking order. Within a flock, there is a hierarchy, and the levels within the hierarchy dictate the kinds of behaviors chickens may display.

The pecking order, as the hierarchy is called, helps chickens function as a flock. The more submissive or unhealthy the chicken, the lower on the pecking order they are. Chickens of the highest form are always at the top. Think of it as alphas, omegas, and betas in a wolf pack.

You can even observe the pecking order throughout the day. You will notice that chickens highest on the totem pole will always eat their fill first, while the ones on the lower tiers end up with the leftovers. Should a lower-level chicken act out of line, they might get pecked. Sometimes, because of their weakness, they get bullied.

Typical Pecking Order Behaviors

Some behaviors are natural within the pecking order; while these behaviors may seem cruel, it’s normal. It’s a function of nature, and you really can’t do anything about it. If a chicken wants to climb up the pecking order, they have to be bold and dominant. They may come off as aggressive and will prevent others from gaining access to food and water.

Furthermore, when chickens want to dominate, they peck at those who are direct competition. Usually, this kind of behavior stops once a hierarchy has been established. The flock will maintain the pecking order for as long as the members remain the same.

Chickens may come off as aggressive due to lack of resources and will prevent others from gaining access to food and water.

What is Chicken Bullying?

two hens
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In most cases, aggressive pecking stops once chickens know their place. When the behavior doesn’t cease, or you notice that some chickens are pecked more often than others, it could be chicken bullying. This has nothing to do with the hierarchy — it’s just chickens being mean to other chickens.

However, this bad behavior isn’t mere cruelty. There are many reasons why chickens bully the weaker ones. Once you know the reason why it’s happening within your flock, you can take steps to stop your chickens from pecking each other for good.

Figuring Out The Reason For The Bullying

Chicken bullying is often the result of several overlapping issues within the flock or environment. If you can pinpoint the common causes for chickens pecking each other, you can stop them from behaving this way.

Reasons for chicken bullying include:

  • Overcrowding
  • Nutritional deficiencies
  • Extreme heat
  • Too much light
  • Flock size
  • Injuries
  • Lack of nesting boxes
  • Changes to the environment

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Overcrowding

This is the main reason chickens start pecking at one another.  When there is a lack of resources, survival mode kicks in and the flock starts to get competitive. The more dominant members will target the weaker ones, trying to pick them off.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Chickens that aren’t eating or drinking enough tend to lash out. This, again, is because of limited resources. Chickens lacking certain nutrients may even start plucking at feathers.

Extreme Heat

Overheating in the chicken coop is another issue. Uncomfortable chickens will act out and hurt the other members of the flock out of frustration.

Too Much Light

Avoid using unnatural light sources to brighten up the coop in the evening. It can make chickens stressed and angry. Let the natural cycle of light do its job, and your chickens will be happier for it.

Flock Size

large flock of chickens
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When a flock is too big (over 30 chickens), it becomes hard for the chickens to establish a clear hierarchy. Because of that, the pecking order may never stop adjusting itself. Chickens in a massive flock will become stressed and aggressive, always ready to peck at their friends.

Injuries

Although it seems unfair, injured chickens will be subjected to bullying. While chickens peck at one another, they tend to become more eager when the other chicken doesn’t react or is unable to react because they’re hurt. This could lead to further problems.

Lacking of Nesting Boxes

Hens will peck at each other when there aren’t enough nesting boxes. Instinct kicks in when a hen goes to lay eggs. She wants to be as safe as possible. Therefore, when there aren’t enough nesting boxes for hens, the more dominant ones will peck those lower in the social hierarchy until they abandon their spot.

Changes to the Environment

Chickens are creatures of habit. When something in the environment changes, even something small and insignificant to humans, they will become anxious. If you recently moved the position of the feeders or the water, you might notice an increase in aggressive behavior, including more pecking and bullying.

How to Stop Chickens From Pecking Each Other

Now that you know the reasons why chickens peck each other, you may already have some idea about how to stop them. As the owner of the flock, your main job is to observe the chickens. You must become a chicken whisperer—of sorts. Keep the reasons for pecking and bullying in mind as you watch the chickens throughout the day.

Then, once you have pinpointed some of the issues, you can implement the following methods to stop chickens from pecking each other.

1. Give Every Chicken Their Space

One of the biggest frustrations a chicken can feel is a lack of personal space. It might seem crazy, but it’s true. Chickens do not like living in congested quarters. Therefore, you should make sure every chicken in the flock has their own allotted space in the coop, around 2-4 square feet of it, to be exact. Outside, you need 8-10 sq ft per chicken.

2. Add Some Nesting Boxes

hen in nesting box
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You need an adequate number of nesting boxes for your egg-laying chickens. Furthermore, place the nesting boxes so that they are away from light sources, both natural and artificial. During egg-laying, the cloaca becomes exposed, making it a target for pecking. In fact, the cloaca is such a desirable target that incidences of cannibalism rise during egg-laying.

Nesting boxes need to be plentiful and well-placed!

3. Keep Your Coops Well-Ventilated

chicken coop ventilation with windows
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A well-ventilated coop means happier, healthier chickens. Coops, despite being an absolute must for your flock, also pose a lot of potential health risks when there isn’t enough fresh air. Be it in the summer or winter, extreme temperature fluctuations and high humidity could mean illness or death.

Make sure the coop has enough ventilation in the summer and winter. The coop should be cool enough in the summer for them to hide from the heat and be comfortable. In the winter, you need to avoid excess moisture.

4. Bath Time is Essential

chicken takes a dusty bath
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Another way to stop chickens from pecking each other is to help them stay clean. In other words, dust baths. Chickens love to bathe, and it also keeps them feeling content.

You can make a dust bath easily. Get a container with the dimensions of 24 inches long, 15 inches wide, and 12 inches deep. Mix together soil, wood ash, and sand and pour it into the container.

Your chickens will hop in and have a blast. Not only that, but dust baths actively fight mites and other parasites that can drive chickens insane.

5. Separate Injured Chickens

Chickens, despite being friendly, love to peck others when they’re feeling down. Injuries, especially bloodied ones, are enticing to these omnivorous birds. That’s why you should separate wounded chickens from the rest of the flock. It gives them time to heal and keeps the others in line.

6. Prepare a Balanced Diet

When chickens aren’t getting enough nutrients, they seek out other sources that could potentially carry said nutrients. Thus, chicken cannibalism begins. Ensuring your chickens are getting adequate vitamins, nutrients, and protein is a must. You have to feed them the right chicken feed, as well as supplemental foods. Include fibrous greens and add electrolytes to the water to keep them satisfied. Also, don’t overlook the importance of grit.

7. Limit Exposure To Light Sources

chicken coop light
Photo credit: Depositphotos

These birds are regimented. Chickens need 8 hours of nighttime and 16 hours of daylight every day to function. If they experience a disproportionate amount of sunlight or night, they’re going to get angry. Winter months are particularly difficult for chickens, which is why you might feel tempted to install artificial lighting for them.

If you do, make sure that you aren’t using anything above 40 watts. Red or infra-red bulbs are the best, since they also act as a heat source.

8. Work on The Environment

When your chickens are bored, they’re going to look for trouble. Sometimes, that trouble involves harassing others in the flock. If you’re feeling crafty, you can make your own chicken toys, like chicken swings. Optionally, you can purchase chicken seed blocks. The block is a condensed chunk of seed, vitamins, amino acids, and other tasty things that will entice your chicken to peck the block instead of its friends.

9. Isolate or Remove Repeat Offenders

Sometimes, you need to isolate the chicken doing the bullying. Several days in isolation can sometimes reset the pecking order and nullify the situation. However, the bullying could happen again. If you find yourself isolating the same chicken over and over and nothing changes, it may be that you have to remove said chicken from the flock.

Try to rehome the chicken or seek other humane alternatives to removal.

One More Peck For Peace

You should now know how to stop chickens from pecking each other. There are many reasons why chickens peck at things, including other chickens. Sometimes, it is because the flock wants to establish a hierarchy; other times, it’s bullying. When chickens are bullying each other, you have to find out why. Most of the time, improving living conditions, providing better food, and keeping your chickens entertained will put a stop to it.

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