Tips for contented chooks

Who's the boss in your henhouse? Jessamy Miller explains how to stop your hens from being bullied. 

Contented chooks.
Photo: Alamy

It has been found that keeping a rooster will significantly reduce bullying in the flock. Of course, poultry keepers in town can’t keep males, so simply rely on management instead. 

Spacious quarters with plenty of activities, such as pea straw to scratch, keeps hens contented. Hens become more punitive with each other when bored, overcrowded or where there is strong competition for resources. 

Offer plenty of feed and water and position it to be accessible to all the hens. Keep an eye on the flock’s behaviour while they are eating. At times, I have had to feed my hens in small piles with one extra so that as the top hen chased the bottom hen away from each feed pile, there was always another for her to move to! 

Provide one nestbox per three hens. Hens spend most of their time dispersed but come together to dust bath, so a generous bathing area will prevent undue competition.  

When perching, height equals dominance, so expect narky squabbles at twilight. If the whole flock can roost at the same height, fewer issues will arise. Even so, the lower ranked birds will be relegated to the least safe positions at either end of the perch where they are on guard duty. 

Chooks sleep with one eye open, resting the other, thereby allowing one half of the brain to nap. The lucky top birds get to enjoy a warm and uninterrupted night’s sleep in the middle.

Size matters

The pecking order is strongest in smaller flocks. Chooks can remember the face and social position of up to 100 birds, so in larger flocks, the order is less clear cut, which can lead to social tension and restricted access to resources. Rescue hens adopted from commercial farms may not understand the hierarchy within the backyard flock and take time to settle in and learn their place. 

Keeping backyard flocks to around 20 or fewer suits chooks best. 

For more of Jessamy Miller's feature about the pecking order in your henhouse, get our Early Spring 2022 issue (OG 135)!

OG 135 cover

 

By: Jessamy Miller

First published: August 2022

Related topics

Animals & Insects, All Gardens, Issue 135 -- August/September 2022, Getting started