Why are My Chickens Pecking Each Other? 7 Important Reasons

WHY ARE MY CHICKENS PECKING EACH OTHER

Chickens will peck each other for a variety of reasons, some of which need to be addressed in order to avoid serious injuries. Establishing a pecking order in a flock of chickens is an innate and completely normal behavior. Chickens will also peck each other if they are bored or are under stress.

If you find that your chickens are pecking at each other more than usual, especially if they are drawing blood, then there could be a trigger for this that needs to be identified and removed.

7 Reasons Chickens Will Peck at Each Other and How to Stop Them

1 TRYING TO ESTABLISH PECKING ORDER
2 BOREDOM
3 OVERCROWDING
4 LACK OF FOOD OR WATER
5 BROODINESS
6 ILLNESS OR INJURY
7 TOO MUCH LIGHT
TOP REASONS CHICKENS WILL PECK AT EACH OTHER

1. Trying to Establish a Pecking Order

All groups of chickens will create a social order within the flock. Chickens bully, peck and “stand off” with each other to work their way to the top. It is usually the stronger, larger, more aggressive chicken that will become the alpha chicken. If you have a rooster, he will be the alpha chicken.

There will always be an alpha chicken that is at the top of the “pecking order.” This chicken is easy to identify. It is the one that will eat and drink first and will be the one roosting on the highest roost in your chicken coop.

Roosters and Establishing a Pecking Order

If you have roosters, there is more than one pecking order going on within the flock at the same time. Roosters will compete with each other, hens will compete with each other and roosters and hens will compete too.

Too many roosters within a flock can cause a very difficult time trying to establish a pecking order, especially if you are introducing a new rooster to an already established flock. It is recommended to only have 1 rooster for every 10 hens.

ROOSTER AND HEN MATING
TOO MANY ROOSTER CAN NOT ONLY STRESS THE HEN FROM BEING MATED WITH SO FREQUENTLY, BUT THE ROOSTERS WILL FIGHT OVER THE HENS.

Any fewer than this can create fighting among the roosters and stress for the hens being mated with so frequently.

Once a pecking order is established it will remain this way unless there is a change within the flock. Changes that can trigger a reorganization of the pecking order could be an illness, injury, death or introduction of a new flock member.

Baby Chicks Establishing a Pecking Order

If you are starting out with baby chicks, they will begin to really work on establishing the pecking order around 6 weeks of age. It is so funny to see these young chicks stand tall, puff out their chests and “stand off” with another chick.

It is inevitable that with a flock of chickens there will be bullying and pecking going on in order for them to figure out where everyone stands within the flock. Let them work it out. They usually can do this on their own.

When Should You Intervene With Chickens Trying to Establish a Pecking Order?

The only time you should intervene is if you see blood or have a sick or injured chicken. Chickens know when a one of their flock members is sick or ill and it is very common for them to peck them to death. This is innate behavior. A sick or injured bird creates a predator threat to the rest of the flock.

For more information on how to quarantine and treat an injured bird within your flock, read my article How to Fix a Broken Chicken Leg With 4 Dollar Store Items.

2. Boredom

Bored chickens will start to peck at each other and even pluck their own feathers out. Fall and winter months is when boredom usually peaks because the weather begins to get cold and rainy. Chickens stay inside the coop more during this time and can get bored if not provided with entertainment.

Simple boredom busters for backyard chickens involve routinely changing their surroundings, keeping the flock occupied and moving around so they are less likely to develop behavioral issues.

What Are Some Simple Boredom Busters for Backyard Chickens?
Skewer of Fruits and Vegetables for Chicken Entertainment
HANG A FRUIT AND VEGGIE SKEWER FOR YOUR CHICKENS TO HAVE FUN PECKING AT. THIS CAN KEEP THEM BUSY AND ACTIVE FOR SOME TIME.

Boredom Busters for Chickens

BOREDOM BUSTERS FOR
BACKYARD CHICKENS
HANG A FRUIT &
VEGETABLE SKEWER
ADD SOME NEW BRANCHES
IN THE COOP
HANG A SHATTERPROOF
MIRROR IN THE COOP
ADD A NEW DUST
BATHING AREA
SPEND MORE TIME
WITH THEM
FEED THEM CHICKEN
FODDER
FEED THEM
MEALWORMS
FEED THEM SOME
HOMEMADE YOGURT
MAKE A HAY PATHWAY
OVER SNOW
PUT A CHRISTMAS
TREE IN COOP
GIVE THEM A CARVED
PUMPKIN
HANG A CHICKEN SWING
IN THE COOP
FILL A PLASTIC BOTTLE WITH
HOLES WITH TREATS
THROW SOME CRICKETS
OUT FOR THEM

3. Overcrowding

Chickens that lack sufficient space have a difficult time or cannot carry out normal “chicken behavior,” such as pecking and scratching the ground, foraging, dust bathing and perching. This can lead to pecking of flock mates and could also lead to cannibalism.

Overcrowding can also occur if you don’t have a sufficient amount of feeders and waterers for the amount of chickens. This often triggers a competition for the food and the dominant chickens will stop others from eating and drinking.

During preening, a chicken will peck and squeeze its preen gland, located at the base of its tail, to release an oily substance that will help in the cleaning of its feathers. This oil is a thick and transparent substance containing vitamin D that helps to waterproof and give its feathers a beautiful sheen.

This is why you see preening chickens “nibbling” at the base of their tail and then preening all of its feathers. It is spreading the oily substance throughout all of its feathers. Chickens that do not have enough space to take a dust bath and clean themselves will also begin to peck at its flock mates preening gland.

How Much Space do Chickens Need?

Your chickens should have enough room to run about freely in their coop, run or field. They should have space to run, peck and scratch the ground, forage for food, dust bathe and perch up off of the ground. Chickens need a minimum of 10 square feet per chicken in the run and 2 square feet inside a coop.

#CHICKENSMINIMUM SQ FT
IN RUN
MINIMUM SQ FT
IN COOP
220 SQ FT or 5′ X 4′4 SQ FT or 2′ x’2′
440 SQ FT or 10′ X 4′8 SQ FT or 2′ x 4′
660 SQ FT or 10′ X 6′12 SQ FT or 3′ x 4′
880 SQ FT or 10′ X 8′16 SQ FT or 4′ x 4′
10100 SQ FT or 10′ X 10′20 SQ FT or 4′ x 5′
MINIMUM AMOUNT OF SQUARE FOOTAGE REQUIRED FOR CHICKENS

How Many Feeders and Waterers do I Need for My Chickens?

As a general rule of thumb, it is best to provide at least one feeder and waterer per 12 chickens. Any less than this and it can create pecking and fighting as they will compete for food. If you have overly dominant chickens, it will help by having more than one.

# CHICKENS# FEEDERS AND
WATERERS NEEDED
1-121 -2
242-3
363-4
484-5
605-6
NUMBER OF FEEDERS AND WATERERS NEEDED TO DECREASE PECKING

4. Lack of Food and Water

If not provided with enough food and water, chickens will fight with each for it. Dominant chickens will get the food first and the others are pecked away. This is why it is important to always provide not only enough food and water, but enough space for your flock to eat and drink at the same time.

How Much Food and Water do My Chicken Need a Day?

The amount of food and water that you will need to give depends upon the size of your flock. Here is a good reference chart:

#CHICKENSHOW MUCH FEED/DAYHOW MUCH WATER/DAY
AVERAGE DAY/HOT DAY
11/4 LB1 PINT (2 CUPS)/ 2 PINTS (4 CUPS)
41 LB1/2 GALLON / 1 GALLON
61 1/2 LBS3/4 GALLON/ 1.5 GALLONS
82 LBS1 GALLON/ 2 GALLONS
123 LBS1.5 GALLONS/ 3 GALLONS
AMOUNT OF FEED AND WATER PER DAY A CHICKEN NEEDS

5. Broodiness

BROODY-HEN-COMB-IS-FLOPPY-SCABS-PALE-
THIS BROODY HEN HAS BEEN PECKED AT BY HER FLOCK MATES. YOU CAN SEE THE PECK MARKS ON HER COMB.

A broody chicken stops being social with other members in her flock and frequently will only come out of her nesting box for less than 10 minutes a day to eat, drink and poop. When a broody hen comes out of her nest, she often will have her feathers ruffled up, walk partially squatting and have a quick rhythmic clucking noise.

Flock members may see a broody hen as an intruder or may even see her as weak or a threat to the rest of the flock. It is innate chicken behavior to get rid of the weak or ill.

What do You Do if a Broody Hen is Being Bullied?

WHAT IS CHICKEN JAIL. Why are my chickens pecking each other?

Sometimes you may find that you have a bully hen or rooster in the group and they will not stop picking on a broody hen. It is easiest to stop this aggressive behavior if you catch it early on. Bully chickens need to be isolated or put in “chicken jail” for a few days to stop this negative behavior.

A little time in chicken jail will often will bring the bully hen down a few ranks in its pecking order. I like to isolate for 24 hours and then give the bully chicken a chance to change its behavior. If they continue to bully, it needs another 24 hours in isolation. Keep doing this until the behavior stops. Some people just eat aggressive chickens, but this is your choice.

For step by step instructions on how to handle broody or aggressive chickens with chicken jail, read my article What is Chicken Jail? 2 Effective Ways to Use It.

6. Illness or Injury

BROKEN CHICKEN LEG-INJURY
CHICKEN WITH A BROKEN LEG

Sick chickens don’t show signs of illness or weakness until they are really bad. They instinctively know they will be picked on and outcasted if they show they are weak. This is why you often see a sick or ill chicken hiding or laying low. It’s “survival of the fittest!”

Quarantining a Sick or Injured Chicken

If you have a sick or injured chicken, this is when it is important to step in to avoid it from being pecked to death. I have a quarantine cage that I keep handy and place my sick or injured chickens in this until they are strong enough to stand their own to at least rank somewhere in the pecking order.

QUARANTINE FOR INJURED CHICKEN
IT IS BEST TO QUARANTINE A SICK OR INJURED CHICKEN SO THEY DO NOT GET PICKED ON.

If you can, keep the quarantine cage inside your chicken run so the sick or injured chicken is not totally removed from the rest of the flock. This will make it a little easier reintroducing her back into the flock when she is feeling better. Either way, be ready for some pecking and feather pulling going on until they can readjust their pecking order once again.

If you have a chicken that has a broken leg, in some circumstances you can repair it at home and it doesn’t have to cost you “an arm and a leg!” Read my article, How to Fix a Broken Chicken Leg With 4 Dollar Store Items.

7. Too Much Light

Heating and Lighting for coop
CHICKENS NEED AT LEAST 8 HOURS OF DARKNESS IN ORDER TO SLEEP AND SUPPORT THEIR IMMUNE SYSTEM.

Chickens that are exposed to too much lighting can become hostile and aggressively peck at each other. Like humans, chickens need their rest and chickens sleep when the lights are out.

Hens will lay an egg, once every 26 hours. Light stimulates the reproductive cycle of laying hens. This is why when the days start getting shorter, in the fall and winter months, hens naturally cut back or stop laying completely.

Some flock owners provide artificial lighting to stimulate their hens to lay eggs throughout the year and while this may bring more eggs, it also can cause chickens to get aggressive with each other.

It is important for chickens to get at least 8 full hours of darkness so they can get the well needed sleep to recharge their body. Chickens that do not get a full 8 hours of darkness to support their immune system are often more sickly and prone to health conditions.

How do I stop my chickens from pecking each other?

The first step is to identify what is causing your chickens to fight or peck at each other. Remove the trigger. Make sure your chickens have sufficient amount of space, feeders and waterers and that you do not have too many roosters in the flock. Temporarily isolate bully, sick or injured chickens.

WHY DO CHICKENS PECK EACH OTHER TO DEATH?
CHICKENS ARE ATTRACTED TO THE COLOR RED AND WILL PECK EACH OTHER TO DEATH IF THEY SEE BLOOD.

Why do chickens peck each other to death?

Chickens are attracted to the color red and if they see blood it will send the flock into a mania. They will absolutely go crazy and peck a flock mate to death if they draw blood. This very likely is innate behavior. Long ago, when chickens were in the wild, a wounded chicken was putting the rest of the flock at risk of being attacked by a predator. Chickens ate the wounded flock mate to get rid of the threat.

CONCLUSION: Why Are My Chickens Pecking Each Other? 7 Important Reasons

Chickens will peck each other for a variety of reasons, many of which are natural chicken behavior. Most of the time you do not have to intervene, just let them work it out. Sometimes there are triggers that can cause unnecessary pecking and bullying within the flock and if you remove the trigger, you will remove the negative behavior.

1TRYING TO ESTABLISH PECKING ORDER
2BOREDOM
3OVERCROWDING
4LACK OF FOOD OR WATER
5BROODINESS
6ILLNESS OR INJURY
7TOO MUCH LIGHT
TOP REASONS CHICKENS WILL PECK AT EACH OTHER