Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bad chickens

Chickens have a nasty habit of picking on each other; sometimes they do it as part of establishing a pecking order, sometimes they are just plain ornery.

One benefit of having the brooder in the sunroom is that I am close by and check the chicks regularly. So when I heard repeated loud 'cheeps' I went out to check and found a mob of chicks attacking one of the Cornish X. I pulled her (or him, it is too early to sex the Cornish visually) from the brooder and investigated the injury - an open wound about an inch long.

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Chickens can display varying forms of cannibalism from feather pulling to toe picking to egg eating and they do it for a variety of reasons including being too crowded, not enough feeders/waterers, too much light, too hot, too fat or just plain bored. Often these nasty habits start with a few birds and are picked up by the rest of the flock.

However, if there is blood involved, it moves beyond nasty habits and picking at each other and into flock survival. A flock of chickens is only as strong as its' weakest member, so a survival mechanism kicks in and the flock mentality changes. The blood must be disposed before predators find it.

Regardless, the chick is now separated from the others and will live in her own pen for a while until she heals. She is quite tame and spent some time sleeping in my lap this afternoon.

In the meanwhile I need to take what I can from this lesson. Perhaps she cut herself or had some poop stuck on her that another chick kindly removed for her, maybe the blood in her feather quills was colorful enough to be interesting to peck at, I don't know how it started but I can look at why.

Though this is an isolated incident, it could indicate an issue with management and while it is never fun to admit that you might have made a mistake, it is in the animal's best interest (and my own in the long run) to take a careful look at conditions that may have exacerbated the situation. I cleaned out the waterers again (as they scratch around, the chicks can fill the waterers with shavings), refilled all the feeders, rechecked the temperature, adjusted the heat lamps and added in a new hunk of sod (to give them something interesting to peck at). I will keep a close watch on the flock in the next few weeks before they head out to pasture to ensure that everyone is healthy and happy.

1 comment:

Jarom said...

Given the size of the breed and how fast they grow, my bet is on space as a cause to be picked on. The sun room isn't that big. The way I see it, you have two choices: 1) increase pen size; 2) cut off the last 1/4" of the top beak. The latter is what big places do to eliminate pecking and cram more chickens into a given space.

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