Chickens Pecking Each Other To Death

“Hi Wendy, My chickens have been pecking each other along the sides of their bodies for several months. During that time several of the chickens have had wounds that bled. I was advised to used corn starch to dry the wounds. This morning I went into the coop and one of my chickens was dead. She had bloody areas all around her tail. I checked out the rest of the chickens and 5 of the 19 had bloody spots on them. I sat and observed them for a long time. They were all pecking at each other. I put cornstarch on the wounds.

My neighbor said to provide a lot of scratch grains and to throw several flakes of hay in the chicken yard. He said there wasn’t enough to keep them busy. The ground is bare but I am afraid to let them out of the chicken yard to eat grass because of all of the chicken hawks we have here.  I have very limited space so it would be difficult for me to have separate runs and pens, etc. I would appreciate any suggestions you could give me. Is this aggression due to boredom? Thank you so much for your help,” ~ Kathy

Hi Kathy,

I’m glad you wrote.

Let’s take this one thing at a time.

Pecking at each other is normal chicken behavior. It’s probably the most used form of communication amongst a flock.

Sometimes when a chicken is molting, it will have bald spots. Normal pecking will often result in a wound. The chickens doing the pecking don’t necessarily aim for the bald spot, it just happens.

When chickens draw blood, they go a little berserk. For some reason blood sends everyone into a frenzy and they attack the wounded animal. The more blood there is, the more they attack. There is a sort of cumulative effect.

Most often, this will end in mortality for the wounded animal as in your case, at least that’s what it sounds like to me.

We have lost a number of chickens this way.

To combat against this I take a couple of actions.

Because chickens body temperatures are higher than ours, their blood clots more easily, they combat infection better and they tend to heal faster than we do. If the wound is deep, a coagulant like corn starch is beneficial as it causes the blood to clot. Good job Kathy.

Sometimes I will have a chicken that just gets picked upon constantly. She’s most likely towards the bottom of the pecking order.

If she has wounds, I’ll be more likely to remove her from the flock and put her in our chicken infirmary (discussed in last week’s newsletter) until her wounds are completely healed. If she is molting, I’ll keep her until she is fully feathered again.

We touched on this last week but it bears repeating; when a chicken has been removed from the flock, it will lose it’s place in the pecking order and be treated as a newcomer.

Newcomers are treated terribly by the existing flock and have to prove themselves if they are to be anywhere but the bottom of the pecking order.

For this reason, it’s important that you always introduce, or reintroduce chickens to an existing flock in groups of 2 or more so that they get a break from the harassment once in awhile while the new pecking order is established.

It is also important that newbies are in top condition with no bald spots or wounds,

So let’s address a few reasons why your flock might be engaging in this behavior.

It’s true that when chickens are bored, they tend toward destructive behavior.

They remind me of my children that way. It doesn’t take long before at least two of them start to bicker if they don’t have anything productive to do with their time.

Your neighbor had some great suggestions for keeping your flock occupied.

Check out back issues for more suggestions on chicken entertainment.

Chickens also are more aggressive if they don’t have enough room.

If you keep your flock in an enclosed run during the day, give them at least 8-12 square feet per bird.

A confined flock should also have 5-8 square feet per bird inside the coop.

Larger is always better.

Finally, if your flock has not been molting, feather pecking can be a sign of a protein deficiency as feathers are made up mostly of protein.

In season, bugs and worms will provide all the protein your flock needs if there is ample supply. Out of season or in an environment with limited supply, you’ll have to supplement.

Chickens love milk.

Thirty birds can consume a gallon each day. Warm milk is a wonderful treat in the winter. Do not use powdered milk as it is without whey, a necessary element.

Share your cooked meat and/or poultry scraps. I do not recommend fish because of the extent of polluted waters.

Legumes are great, avoid raw soybean though because it has compounds that are poisonous to chickens.

Protein supplements are also available from your feed supplier.

Kathy, I hope this has been helpful and you won’t have to go through this experience again. Best wishes.