Keeping backyard chickens is a great way to enjoy fresh eggs, but they do require plenty of care. One problem that some chicken owners run into involves pecking—namely, chickens pecking each other, even to the point of serious injury. This behavior can have a variety of reasons behind it, from everyday stresses to improper nutrition. Take note of some of the top reasons that chickens peck at each other.
In some cases, chickens will peck each other to establish who the “leader” of the flock is. Or, in other words, to establish a pecking order. This is pretty typical behavior, especially for chickens that have recently been placed together, but be sure to check that there are no bloody spots on any chickens if this does occur. Since they are attracted to the color red, chickens tend to continuously peck at a spot if it starts to bleed, so it is best to separate a chicken from the rest of the flock for a while if it has a bloody or red spot.
The most common cause of pecking is stress, and overcrowding is one of the most stressful situations a chicken can face. At a minimum, each chicken should have four square feet of space in a chicken tractor or six to ten square feet per bird in a coop. In general, the more space the chickens have, the happier they will be, which can cut down on pecking behavior.
While relatively uncommon, a pecking problem may be caused by a nutrient deficiency—particularly if a bird is deficient in salt or methionine. If you can’t find any other reason a bird might be pecking, you can try giving dietary supplements to your chickens.
Light and heat
If you notice your chickens are pecking each other on some of the hottest days of the summer, it could be a result of overheating. High levels of heat and light are known to increase pecking behavior, so make sure to supply your chickens with plenty of water and darken the coop so they have a darker, cooler place to rest in.
To debeak or not to debeak?
Some poultry experts recommend debeaking chickens to combat any serious pecking problems, but this is quite controversial. Trimming the pointy end of a chicken’s beak is painful to the bird and may keep it from preening and foraging normally. Plus, instead of addressing the real issue, which is the chicken’s stress level, this simply does away with the symptoms. For the happiest chickens, it is best to deal with the issue of pecking by using other methods besides debeaking.
Pecking is a fairly common problem faced by chicken owners and may be caused by a variety of factors. Luckily, by keeping your birds healthy and happy, it is possible to keep them from pecking each other too badly.