Aggressive birds

Tackling aggressive feather pecking in chickens

source: Katie Thear
Country Smallholding December 2003 p11

One poultry keeper has had problems of aggressive pecking in a small mixed flock, with Silkies, Leghorns, and Rhode Island Reds. The victims are Silkies and a Leghorn. Aggressive pecking can cause death, and lead to cannibalism, so should be controlled. Hens can also copy each other, so early intervention is important. Keepers should watch their birds to work out which are aggressors, and isolate them in a location where the other birds can still see them. If the aggressors are kept out of sight, the others may attack them when they are put back in the flock. Temporary isolation may work on its own, but other factors may also have to be assessed.

Smaller birds in mixed flocks are more likely to be targets, especially if they are of different ages and colours, with different sorts of feathers. Keeping birds together from when they are very young can help, if keepers really want a mixed flock. Birds also need space to wander around, eat and drink, since overcrowding at drinkers, feeders, nest boxes, and in their free space, is linked to aggression. Birds that suffer dietary deficiencies may also be more prone to pecking, as can birds exposed to excess light. Making a chicken house a little darker may help, though if it is too dark, this could hit egg production. Ventilation and access to clean, cold water are important, since birds that suffer from too much heat may peck. Birds may also peck themselves if they have parasites, such as lice, and this could encourage other birds to peck them. Birds in moult may also become targets. There are also some breeds that are a little wilder than others, though this is less true for many modern breeds, bred especially for docility.