Chicken Fighting

Chicken fighting occurs most often when they are first introduced to each other, or if they don't have enough space.  Chickens establish a strict hierarchy that governs who enters the coop first, who gets the highest roost, who eats first, etc. 

Expect some hen pecking whenever the makeup of the flock changes.  As the new hierarchy is determined the behavior should stop. 

Any coop or run design that makes it impossible for birds on the low end of the pecking order to keep the necessary distance from the top birds can result in fighting.  Roost designs that don't allow for all birds to roost off the floor will also increase tension.  They have a very ordered "society" with strong instincts to govern their behavior.  Its usually only when artificial environments place them in a no win situation that a problem arises. 

Steps to take listed below.

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And then there are roosters..

Roosters naturally fight with other roosters for the hens.  Unfortunately many roosters see humans as rivals too.  So even if you only have one rooster he could still want to fight with you.  Free range roosters may also mount and chase hens too much for the hens health.  This behavior varies a lot with the breed, individual temperament and age of the bird.

Reducing Hen Fighting

Space

Provide 3 square feet of floor space per hen in the coop but larger is always better. 

Provide enough elevated perches or roosts for everyone.  They don't feel safe unless they can sleep above ground.  The top or alpha birds will be found on the highest roost.  If there is not enough roosting space (9-12 inches of roost/bird for full size birds)  then birds on the lower pecking order may be forced to sleep on the floor.  Birds that feel their lives are in danger are more likely to fight another bird for her safer spot.

Provide 1 nest box for 4 hens, 2 for 8 etc...  Hens are funny.  Even if you provide them with a ton of nest boxes, they will pick the best and use only them, quietly waiting in line until they are available.  No amount of placing the birds in the other available boxes seems to change their minds.  I haven't really seen nest box shortages as a chicken fighting trigger.

Shelter features that affect chicken fighting to a lesser extent are discussed on the Raising Chickens page.

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Food

Inadequate food can lead to chicken fighting:  Is the feeder large enough that everyone gets their fill?  The birds on the bottom of the pecking order often have to wait until the alpha's are done.  Hungry bottom rung birds will hen peck each other for the crumbs.  Instead of getting a bigger feeder, you can also just add a second feeder so all the birds can eat at the same time.

I like to use a feeder that holds enough for several days to a week.  That way I know the bottom rung birds are getting food.

Hens & Roosters

Some roosters may constantly pester hens if left to run with them.  Being chased on a daily basis is stressful.  They can lose their back feathers to the rooster who uses them to hold on.  The exposed skin is vulnerable to sun burn and insect bites.  If you want fertilized eggs, control and keep to a minimum the amount of time a hen is with this type of rooster.

Reducing Rooster Fighting

Light

Keep roosters in low light conditions.  They calm down almost immediately when the light level is lowered.  Our rooster house gets daylight from one large West facing window about 10 feet away.  There is a 5 foot tall wall between the rooster stall and the window so the light is reflected and not direct.  You can see in the stall just fine during the day but it isn't brightly lit.  If you turn on the stall light it takes about 5-10 minutes for them to start fighting.

Limit time spent free ranging.  In the pasture they have much more space to stay out of each others way.  So we can let them outside but only for 1 to 2 days at a time.  Their aggression steadily increases until they are more interested in fighting each other then foraging.  Then it is back in the stall for a week or more to cool down.

If you want a rooster, keep only one.  They are much calmer with the hens and you if they don't feel they have to constantly fight for the hens.

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Young Children

Young children should not share the same space with roosters that attack people.  Most of our roosters are calm and sensible and have never attacked anyone.  But, if you have one that does, keep the rooster contained in a run or stall and have only trained people enter the space.   See the Who's the Boss section on the right.  If you want children to take care of the chickens and you don't have a separate place for the rooster then maybe its time to make chicken stew.  To try and put this in perspective, roosters don't just scratch or bite.  They jump up in the air next to you and drive their 2-3 inch spurs into you.

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Who's the Boss?

Roosters that see humans as rivals are particularly difficult and dangerous.  Generally, this is more prevalent in the more high strung breeds.  For example leghorns tend to have this problem more than barred rocks, wyandottes or ameraucanas.  We also have an aggressive polish.

Roosters are incredibly tough and brutal when fighting.  The amount of injury they are willing to endure to be victorious is way beyond what people will inflict upon a rooster.  This behavior is manageable but not curable.  You'd have to beat up your rooster in a knock down drag out.  Even then he could decide one day that you've gotten soft and attack again.

What you can do: 

  • Don't wear red.  Notice the color of their combs?  Red means rooster.
  • Do wear tall boots that can stop a well aimed rooster spur.
  • Carry a light weight stick with you when entering the rooster house. 
  • Act like a dominant rooster ie. If the problem rooster approaches you, don't back up.  Walk aggressively toward him taping him with the stick if he is within reach.  If he is on a perch, tap him with the stick until he gets off.  Don't let him get behind you.  Always keep him in sight. 
  • Learn to read his body language.  If he is walking toward you sideways with wings lowered he is thinking about attacking you.  This is a threat that any other rooster would put down immediately.  He will probably attack unless you respond appropriately.
  • Trim his spurs:  This involves cutting off the tip of the spur to make them shorter and blunter.  Don't cut closer than 3/4 inch from the leg as you could cause bleeding that's difficult to stop.  Some people twist off the outside spur case.  This shortens the spur but it is left very sharp so I prefer trimming.
  • Cull him
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Figuring out the Cause

Chicken fighting and hen-pecking are a natural and normal behavior and will normally subside as flock hierarchy is established (not counting roosters).  If a couple birds in your flock will not stop, take some time to observe them.  When do they start fighting?  At night when they want to roost?  (Not enough roosts?)  In the morning when they are laying?  (Not enough nest boxes?)  Chickens don't get mad about something, and then fight a couple hours later.  They fight right when the stressor is effecting them.  Watch carefully and you'll probably figure it out.

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   Buying Birds/ Getting Started    

 How to Raise Chickens

         Nutrition          

         Diseases          

         Predators        

   Coops/Equipment   

   Stopping Fighting    

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     Picking a Breed     

   Buying Birds/ Getting Started    

 How to Raise Chickens

         Nutrition          

         Diseases          

         Predators        

   Coops/Equipment   

   Stopping Fighting