Chicken Bullying: How to Stop Them Pecking Each Other

Todays’ article tackles one of the least endearing qualities of our beloved hens – bullying.

It is more than establishing the ‘pecking order’- it is systematically picking on one or two hens for no apparent reason.

Bullying can be limited to feather plucking or it can escalate into full blown warfare with the receiving hen being severely injured or possibly killed.

In this article we will cover what the usual causes of bullying are, how to stop them pecking each other and finally what to do when you need to intervene.

The Pecking Order

Chicken Bullying Behavior

This is just a brief rehash of the pecking order to refresh your memory. If you want to get more in depth information please see our article on the pecking order.

The pecking order is a complex relationship structure within the flock. A birds’ place within the flock is determined by several things – age, ambition, personality etc.

A hen who wishes to rise to the top will be assertive with her flock mates ensuring dominance over them first. When she is integrated to the flock she will initially be at the bottom, but she will challenge the more timid hens and rise through the ranks accordingly.

When viewed from the outside, this behavior can seem like bullying, but this particular behavior has gainful purpose and is usually short-lived. It will stop when one of the antagonists gives way.

Bullying is a sustained behavior which really has no purpose other than to intimidate or harm another hen.

Let’s look at some of the usual causes of bullying now.

Usual Causes of Bullying

Chicken Flock Behavior

There are four main causes for bullying to erupt:

  • Stress
  • Boredom
  • Sickness
  • Overcrowding

Stress

Chickens love routine and anything that changes their routine can lead to stress. The major stressors are new members in the flock, death of a flock mate, change of feed, new accommodations and a host of other minor things.

Usually they deal with stress by going off lay for a few days, being quieter than usual, but on occasion the stress can trigger one hen to act out of character and become aggressive to a flock mate(s).

Boredom

Winter-time is the usual time for boredom aggression. They can’t/won’t go out in the weather and they have little to do, so feather picking starts.

If it stayed as a minor thing with occasional picking that would be acceptable, but it can escalate into a frenzy of picking by several hens.

The victim is usually terrified to go anywhere near the bully girl(s) and may hide for most of the day. She will likely be frightened to go into the coop at night also.

They may keep her from eating and drinking so it is important to have more than one feeding station available so that she can eat in peace.

Also make sure to read our chicken winter boredom busters to avoid this type of problem.

Sickness

Chickens know intuitively when one of their own is sick. In the wild a sick chicken would be driven from the flock as she becomes a liability for the rest of the chickens.

This can happen in our domestic hens too. They will pluck at her, driving her away from the flock.

Overcrowding

Probably the number one cause of bullying. Many chicken folks are guilty of impulse buying or over hatching thinking one or two more birds won’t hurt.

In good weather with free ranging that may hold true, but in winter – not so much.

Remember, each large bird requires 4sq. ft/bird in the coop and 8sq.ft/bird in the run. If there is tight quarters it’s a given that mischief will break out.

Think about how you would like spending the winter with your family in one room all the time. As much as you may love your family – nerves will get frayed and tempers may flare.

Read how much room do chickens need for more help.

Now we know what the usual causes of bullying are, let’s look at how to prevent it.

How to Stop ‘Bully’ Hens

Chicken Flock Behavior

If you notice some minor anti-social stuff going on, try to figure out why it’s happening.

Have there been recent stressors for them? Is there anything you can do to change or help them?

Winter boredom can be partially alleviated with fun things for them to do – cabbage tetherball, treats such as melon, zucchini or cucumber to peck at, flock blocks or handfuls of scratch for them to eat.

Can you entice them to go out each day even for a brief spell? Sometimes a shoveled area with straw or hay thrown down is enough to get them outside for a bit.

I will often throw some fresh straw and scratch into the coop and let them do their thing – it gives them something to take their minds away from anti-social habits.

If you suspect one of the ladies may be unwell, give her a good check over. If you feel the need, you can isolate her in ‘sick bay’, but in doing so you may make her problems worse.

Re-integrating her could become a real problem for you and her. I will do everything I can to avoid separating her from the flock because it can cause issues further down the road. Obviously if she is being severely picked on she will need to be isolated for her own safety.

If you are planning on chicks in early spring, she may have to go in with them for a successful integration.

The only real solution to overcrowding is either to thin the flock or expand the room they have somehow. If it’s possible to move some of the hens to separate quarters that would be ideal. I would move the hens that are lower on the pecking order so they can have a break from the bully girls.

This will also re-set the pecking order in both camps, so for a brief period you may see some squabbling as they get settled in their new positions. It is not ideal, but may save some of the lower hens from a miserable winter.

Extra Steps to Stop ‘Bully’ Hens

Bully Hen Diversion Techniques


We have already mentioned some diversion therapies above, but what happens if you see the bullying happening in front of you?

I have used a water pistol in the past. A well- aimed squirt to the offender as she pecks at her flock-mate can stop her in her tracks. This repeated over time will stop the behavior, but you will need to spend a lot of time with them to observe and deal with these behaviors.

Another trick that has been used successfully is the ‘pebble can’. Get an old tin can, fill it about 1/3 full with pebbles and tape shut. Make sure it is well taped!

When you witness bad behavior, shake the can vigorously. The hens will all stop what they are doing to see what the hideous noise is!

This gives the victim time to move and also stops the bully hen by distracting her. I haven’t used this one so I can’t say how successful it is, but it sounds like a good idea.

Upping your game


So Ms. Bossy has not taken the hint – what now?

There is a product out there called ‘pinless peepers’. They are something like sunshades for chickens… with a subtle difference; they cannot see what is in front of them!

These ‘glasses’ stop the chicken from seeing what is directly in front of her. She can see to the sides, can do the normal things chickens do except pick feathers!

Many folks have used them and have been delighted at the results. You can buy a pack of six for around $15.00.

Some companies recommend that you use a special pair of pliers to apply them, but others state that soaking them in warm water or leaving them in the sun for a while makes them malleable enough to apply.

The peepers fit into each nare of the beak and are held in place by the beak.

Last Resort: Jail!


The ultimate punishment – chicken jail! If your aggressive hen will not be reformed gently, she needs to do some hard time.

A separate cage away from the ladies but somewhere they can see each other is perfect. How much time will depend on the offender – some take the hint and can be returned to the flock after a couple of days, but others may be determined to not be reformed.

This exercise resets the pecking order. Life goes on without her in the flock and everyone adjusts accordingly, so when she is returned to them she has to start all over again from the bottom up.

The average ‘jail sentence’ is 3-7 days but some will need more time in the ‘clink’.

Every once in a great while, I hear of a hen that refused to be reformed and ended up being given away. This really is the last chance for her – perhaps being in a new flock intimidates them enough to make them behave; I don’t know I have never had to do this.

Summary

We have given you some options here to stop your feathered bully from plucking her flock mates naked!

As we mentioned space is all important. Provide enough space, darkened hiding spots, boxes etc. so the victim can find a peaceful place to sit. Also ensure there are sufficient feeding and drinking stations for the ladies.

The pinless peepers certainly sound effective, are painless and seem to be relatively easy to apply – they may be a great solution for you.

We hope that your girls will live in peace and harmony together and you won’t have to resort to any of these tactics, but at least you now have some ideas of what is available should you need it.

Have you ever had a bully hen – how did you manage her? We would love to hear about your solutions in the comments section below…

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Comments

  1. Tony says

    I have an old goose that absolutely will not tolerate hens pecking each other.
    He runs at the aggressor and pins them down if they don’t stop. Makes this chore easy for me!

  2. Tom Hill says

    Something you did not mention was the stew pot. My grandparents raised chickens and on occasion had bullies. If isolation didn’t work the first time the bully went into the pot! Problem solved! It was one of the realities of farm life where animals were raised for food rather than as pets.

  3. Ray says

    I had a huge problem I had one hen that was extremely aggressive. (6 Rhode Island Reds) constant fighting in the coop (designed for 12) Put colored ty wraps on their feet (couldn’t tell them apart) watched and found the guilty party. Isolated her for a while, went to the MSPCA and adopted a Rooster. when I re introduced her she went right after the rooster and he put her in her place. haven’t had any bullying since.

  4. Gary Ladman says

    Is it ok to purchase chicks in different weeks (not all breeds available at once) and if so, what would be the maximum spacing (in weeks) that would be acceptable? We are looking at a 3 week differential between the first purchase and the last…good or bad?
    Do chicks have a pecking order?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      Hi Gary,

      It will depend on the breed type, as well as the individual personality of the hens. I would recommend no more than 3 weeks difference in age. You should be OK providing you don’t get a particularly mean hen!

      Claire

    • Liz says

      I bought chicks about that much time apart and the two youngest still get pecked at around the face when all they are trying to do is perch at night or share in the activity of scratching. It’s very frusterating and I hate the sound they make when they get bit! I added another perch but they still insist on squishing together

  5. Kelly says

    Excellent article!!
    I do have a bit of a bully hen – but I only have TWO chickens. The aggressor is the “mom” of the victim. Mom is approximately 3 years old and baby is 14 months (came from a fertile egg purchased when broodiness set in). The bullying is random and looks like it is “for no reason.” These girls are loved, have plenty of space – mostly free ranging, the “victim” is quite a bit larger than the bully – but the bully has skills!. I currently have them separated as the bullying escalated to feathers being lost and the bully is jumping on the back of the victim. Am so concerned that the situation will not resolve, and I will have to re-home my beloved older girl – it’s heart breaking.
    Any suggestions as to how to stop the bullying when there are only two chickens?
    Do I need to add a chicken? Do I keep them separated forever? (Not very easy!)
    I am going to try the water pistol – but if there are any other ideas PLEASE let me know!!Thank you so much!

    • Ali says

      Hi Kelly I know it’s been a while but how are your hens getting on now. Ilike yourself I had two hens. one passed two months ago.
      I’m trying to find her a friend, she is very aggressive and won’t accept any hen it’s heartbreaking to watch her attacking them.
      I have had three hens from the farm at separate times they all had to go back as they are petrified of her.
      I’ve integrated two hens to her in the passed and all was well.

      • Sam says

        We have got some worms from the garden and put them in the run, it has distracted the bully and made a little ten minute free-for-all where they have been tako g worms from each other and frolicking about – seems to give them all equal confidence to confront each other and made the 3 more cohesive as a flock 😊

  6. Pauline says

    My hens have gotten along since day one until this past week. Two hens have decided to bully my polish top hat. I have no idea why. As soon as day breaks, they go after her. She is becoming fearful and trying to hide in corners of the run but they go after her. I have isolated her during the day and put her back at night but as soon as they see her, the bullying begins. I’ll try separating the bullies instead. The run is huge so it’s not a space issue and everyone is healthy. Not sure what triggered this behavior. Any thoughts?

      • Michele says

        I have 3 hens that gang up one. It is also not a space issue. We put the victim in her own coop for the past 2 months beside the 3. She wants to be with them and bc of that hasn’t layed any eggs. EVeryday I only let her out and she stays right by them and eventually they will try to get at each other. When I let them free range they all go after her again. She stays away from them when they are all out but also loves to go back in the big coop when they’re out. Out of ideas. I really want her to start laying again since she’s in her prime and just want her to be stress free. I tried putting apple cider vinegar in her water but that doesn’t work either.

  7. Wendy says

    Could anyone please tell me how to stop a silky rooster and a frizzle rooster from fighting? I swear they will kill each other if given the chance. I tried letting them go for a few minutes but they just won’t stop no matter what. Any advise would be appreciated. Thankyou

    • Painted-ChicksnDucks says

      Roosters can & do kill each other. We know.
      How many hens do you have?
      More than likely they are fighting over hens!
      We have learned that we need 10-12 hens per Rooster! (or more).
      If you don’t have that many hens, & want to keep both rooster, we Strongly recommend dividing your flock into 2 separate houses.
      Now one rooster goes his way with his flock, & the other the other way. All are free range.
      It is not easy. If either one is feisty towards you or any person, it is time to move that rooster on. Most Deffinitely Time.!!!!!!!!
      from
      Painted-Chicks’nDucks

  8. Helen says

    Once pecking starts for whatever reason, is there a successful cure. I get through pots of Sudocrem. Chickens will peck at anything red so my latest idea, not tried and tested yet, is to stir some brown food colouring into the Sudocrem.

    I will post results but any suggestions are welcome.

  9. Amy Blaisdell says

    Hey there, I am new to this chicken thing. We have 7 chickens all a variety, purchased at the same time (2/17). We have a Rhode island red now recently in the last three weeks has been pecking at the others until they bleed/pull out feathers. We have isolated her which seems to help, but once introduced back she goes back at them. We placed them all out in the coop run and she ran from the opposite corner and continued to peck until bleeding. Please help, my husband is over her….

    • Cakefarm says

      We are having the exact same problem with our RI red. The “chicken glasses” / blinders have been, unsurprisingly, useless with her; that breed is known to be a poorly socialized one.

      The bigger problem here is that we have an Americana who was at the bottom of the pecking order initially but who appears to mimic the red; as soon as we isolate the red, the Americans takes over.

      We currently have the red isolated in a kennel in the coop and leave the Americana in the coop when we let the rest of the flock out. Will report back after this week of time-out. If all else fails, I have a great coq au vin recipe that goes great with an ornery red.

  10. Petreena Spence says

    Hi,
    I have 6 girls & these last few weeks 5 of them take it in turns pecking the one hen. I have purchased the “glasses” & obviously the pecking /bulling has stopped but all 5 of them have stopped laying. Will they start to lay again ?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      I would give them a little more time, but if they still do not lay try removing the glasses and see if the pecking persists. How much room do they have? Have you tried giving them something to distract them? Hanging compact disc, etc?

      Claire

      • PETREENA SPENCE says

        Hi Clare,
        They have plenty of room. They have a mirror, ladder & extra perches. I hang cabbage ‘s up for them along with 3 feeding stations & 2 water stations.
        I will leave them a while long & see what happens.
        Thank you for your advice.

    • cakefarm says

      Leave the glasses on. Ours quit laying for a bit but have all returned to normal.

      The obsessive feather picking stopped for all but the biggest bully. We’d removed blinders from those at the bottom of the pecking order but that just allowed the one at the top of the blinderless pecking order to bully the others in her order, effectively creating two pecking orders. If I had to do it again, I’d identify the bully and start with blinders on her.

  11. melanie Tighe says

    I have had a massive rat problem at my house over the past 3-4 months. I have had intervention and now have rat baits all over the place which are beginning to work but in this time, my 3 chickens (all regular 1 egg a day girls) have gone off the lay. Everyday or 2 I get one egg. I have just had a better enclosure made to try to keep them safe from harassment but now one of the girls is being bullied and in two days is nearly bald. There is enough space for them all and I can’t work out which of the other girls is the bully. Can you give me any tips (apart from the above info relating to boredom, which is useful). I can see to separate the bullied one, would probably open her up to more bullying in the long run. Also any advice on how to get them back on the lay?

  12. Ali Marshall says

    I’m house sitting & one of the hens had been badly plucked before I got here, she had spiky new growth but yesterday I found her dead & this morning there is absolutely nothing left. Remind me not to die in a chicken coop.

  13. AnnCol says

    Hi,
    We’e had four Rhode Island Reds for just over a year. They have a large run with trees, bushes, a chicken swing, regular greens, grit, tennis balls…pecking started when our bully hen got broody and it’s now epidemic. All four hens are pecked to some degree and it’s severe – the worst affected is entirely plucked underneath, the head of the pack has a bald area where her tail feathers begin. We have tried everything. Pinless peepers, deterrent spray, toys. Not aware of any stress they’ve experienced. The strange thing is, we hardly if ever see it happening although we have used a spray of water on occasion. They’re still laying and otherwise seem very happy but it’s terrible to see. We’ve considered giving up and dispatching but that seems unfair when they’re otherwise happy and laying. Any advice will be gratefully received!

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      You can try cage isolations where they cannot reach eachother but have to live with eachother. One of them though is most likely causing the issue, can you identify that one specific and keep her in caged isolation?

    • cakefarm says

      Rhode Island Reds are great layers but notoriously aggressive. In our most recent flock (of 6), I thought I’d solve that problem by getting just 1 RI red, hoping she’d integrate. Nope. She’s the biggest bully in the flock. It’s especially pronounced because the other breeds are sweet (black star, buff Orpington, and cinnamon queens, which are the product of RI Red roosters and RI White hens). This is the last red I’ll own – the cinnamons lay just as often and have that sweet buff temperament.

    • Sheri says

      Ive tried everything that has been recommended here for my RI red bully and now jail as last resort. If this doesn’t work she’s dinner. She has terrorized the majority of the flock for no reason and no rehabilitation technique has worked yet. It’s really frustrating

  14. Jo Teel says

    Is there an essential oil that would repel the chickens that are doing the pecking if you spray it on the victims?

    • Keith says

      Blue Kote spray I used when my Orpingtons head was a bald bloody mess. It turned her blue so supposedly the chickens won’t instinctively peck at the red. They still treat her like a red haired step child.

  15. Keith says

    I am one year into chickens now. Inherited a big red and a little hen both four by now. The red got sick and passed so we bought two buff Orpingtons not adults yet. Made the mistake of just adding to the enclosure with coop. The younger nearly died the first day from head trauma. Fortunately I took her out treated and she’s fine now. Her big sis is locked in the coop. The 4 yr old has a laying box attached on top and free run of the enclosed area. I returned the young bird last night to her sis and now she is being chased away from food and water. Will these birds ever learn to live together? I’m almost ready to just let em out of enclosure and fend for themselves.

    • Keith says

      My Orpingtons have started to lay now and I have tried opening the coop to the run, thus allowing the four year old access to the coop and now healthy orpington sisters. The old bird immediately attacks any bird in the coop, upstairs or down, no reason, plenty of food, water, space, worms, lettuce.

      Today I put my dogs crate in the run and will be isolating the old bully. The Orpington are too big to be locked in the coop. They need the run. They are the sweetest birds, I just love them.

      The mean old chicken bully can stay in chicken jail.

  16. Mikella Walker says

    Hello! I am embarrassed to tell anyone that I am losing sleep over a a 6 month ameraucana chicken but I know y’all get it. Soooo, I have 3, 6 mos old hens that have been raised together since chicks. A week and a half ago, my 5 year old son closed the coop door on one of their legs. She is getting stronger and putting more weight on her leg but is still limping but is still very mobile. Yesterday evening, I caught her and another going at it, puffing up their feathers and pecking each other violently. At first, I thought the bully was the healthy chicken but the instigator seems to be the injured hen. I have now separated her from the other two but when I try to introduce them to see if they are past their issues, she goes back at it. We have to leave for Europe in two weeks and this needs to be remedied quickly! Any advise?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      How long is the pecking taking place? The pecking order will commence, if it doesn’t lead to serious injury I will let them sort it out.

  17. Lily says

    Hello, I have a Orpington names chewey. She is by far the sweetest chicken I own. She follows me around and comes on command but she absolutely hates our chicks. We cannot let them be together or she attacks them. I am not sure what to do. They sleep in the same coop, but with a wooden divider. She even attacks them while free ranging. She has always been top of the pecking order but this has been going on for weeks! What can I do ? Thanks , lily.

  18. Melissa says

    Hi there, so I had 8 originally (cinnamon queens they were my babies had them from 8 weeks old) that all came from the same woman. I lost 5 in a week due to different wildlife predators, one to a stray dog on our property, one to a fox, chicken just disappeared no sign of where it went, then 3 over the next 2 days to evil raccoons. The coons have been caught and the chickens were out in our outer house till we were able to get their housing resituated. So I was able to get 3 more to add to my 3, the 3 originals are about15 weeks the new girls are like 17-18 weeks. Now 1 of the original 3 is bullying the others. Like pecking and jumped on ones back earlier. I had a talk with her, like seriously a ‘were all family now’ kind of talk. Today is Sunday and we’ve only had the new ones since Friday. I know it is both a new flock mate/losing flock, especially that many to predators in 4 days time. But I’m not sure how to get her to stop. I’m thinking maybe a bit of isolation to let the other girls get comfy in their new space. They are hiding g under the stairs and will only come eat if that bully one is busy scratching and like over there away from them completely. Does isolation sound like maybe it would be best to let them get used to their new home?

  19. Erica W says

    We have seven chickens. We came home and found one all bloody, so we separated her and cleaned her up. After a week we tried to reintroduce her to the coop, but she started attacking another chicken, and then three of them attacked her. We separated her again, tried again and the same thing happened. She is the smallest hen and clearly the weakest, but keeps trying to attack and then gets hurt. Not sure what to do with her. We live in a city and roosters aren’t allowed…

    • Claire says

      Have you tried the cage introduction method where you place her in a cage in the run where they have no choice but to accept her?

  20. Mary Adrian says

    Hi. I have 4 5 month old hens who have gotten along well since I got them at 6 weeks old. About a month ago the Buff Orpington started pecking the smallest Easter Egger. I thought it was the pecking order. Next thing I know she’s got bald spots and was bleeding. I put on blu-Kote and separated her for a couple of days. When I put her back the buff started in again. My other two get along well with all of them. So I let the injured one live with the other two in the 6×12 run and the buff lives in a 4×6 run. They can see each other but can’t interact. Will she ever leave the runt alone? Or will she always need to be separate? Thanks!

  21. Patti Turcotte says

    I have 6 chickens that are one year old all bought together. Today out of the blue they are bullying one.. the smallest. One Juno’s on her back then they all start pecking her.. feathers are flying! She is scared and pacing back and forth. I read the article and went out with s squirt gun. It seemed to help, but we shall see. When I separated them from her she immediately started eating and drinking. They obviously were keeping her in the hen house and not allowing her to eat. I feel so bad for her and I’m afraid to leave them alone with her😞

  22. Lisa says

    I have 3 chickens. When I go outside to feed them 2 of my chickens start chasing around the other chickens and pecking her. So now that chicken(the one who is getting bullied) is so afraid to even get near them.

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      This will subside over time, right now its pecking order to establish the order and who eats first or with whom.

  23. Angie McArthur says

    We have 11 hens and want to take 2 camping with us for 2 1/2 days. Would it disrupt the pecking order when we bring them back? One is our sweetest and oldest hen who now is at the top of the Pecking order and the other is her yearling who’s in the middle of the flock. Would it be better to take the 2 lowest hens or not at all?

    • The Happy Chicken Coop says

      I don’t think it would disrupt the pecking order given it’s a pretty short amount of time.

      Claire

  24. Jill Taylor says

    One chicken keeps chasing the others out of nest box. If they go to lay, she runs in the coop and chases them out.

  25. Cali says

    I am in the process of reintegrating a hen into my 5 hen flock of just sisters. She is one of the sisters, I had to remove her for a month as she got attacked by a predator, got her wing torn off, and needed surgery. I kept her in the run in s seperate crate for 2 weeks to help her see the flock again, then I removed the 2 more aggressive hens for a few days while she reestablished himself with the other nicer hens, still though, the aggressive hens are still picked on their sister. What can I do? I’m worried they will hurt her more severely. I added more food and water so they can’t scare her away from the only one. The aggressive hens basically chase her up into the coop and she stays there all day. What should I do????

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