If you’ve ever had a pet that misbehaved, then you know how hard it can be to discipline them. And if your pets are chickens, then the challenge is even greater. Chances are good that they don’t speak English, and they probably have no idea what “no!” means either. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways of disciplining them, though. So whether your goal is to keep your flock from destroying the yard or just teach them not to peck when they’re being held in your arms, this article will help get things under control.
In this blog post, you will learn that there are many ways to discipline your chickens. These methods can be used on a small scale or a larger flock.
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Can You Discipline Chickens?
Chickens can be disciplined, but you need to understand their behavior and mindset to discipline a chicken effectively.
The most fundamental part of chicken interaction is the pecking order. The pecking order is a social hierarchy among chickens. It designates exactly where each chicken fits in the flock, and it determines which chickens get the best food, water, and nesting sites.
Highly ranked hens have first dibs on everything. In fact, if a lower-ranking hen tries to bug in while the alpha is eating or drinking, she’ll be punished with a quick peck to the back.
This is not only about the stronger bird enforcing his or her will. The most dominant chicken is also responsible for leading the flock and directing their actions. They keep a constant eye on the other birds and the surrounding area to maintain order and to spot potential threats.
From afar, chickens may look like an undisciplined flock of bird brains, running around here and there. But in reality, they’re highly organized – just not according to human ideals. Instead, they observe social norms based on their position in this flock hierarchy. And the stronger birds constantly discipline their weaker flock mates to maintain social peace.
If you want to discipline your chickens, you need to observe their behavior and try to become part of the flock hierarchy. But since you don’t speak chicken, it’s important to watch for other signs they’re submitting to discipline.
How to Stop Chickens from Pecking Me?
While most chickens will automatically consider you to be alpha chicken number one, some hens might get over-confident, and they’ll try to dethrone you. The most common behaviors include pecking your hands, legs, or back when you’re near the coop or run. In other words, she will do exactly what she would do to demonstrate power over a fellow chicken of lower rank.
If this happens to you, then react immediately. It’s best to discipline them right after this sign of aggression. Otherwise, they’ll get the idea that aggression toward you is acceptable because they know they can.
To discipline your aggressive hen, grab her, lift her upside down by the feet, and hold her there for a little while. When she calms down, you can put her back on the ground, and she’ll probably just walk away. If it happens again, repeat the method, soon she will know that she is not even close to being as powerful as you.
Some people suggest using a spray bottle or a water gun. And while that does work in the moment, because she gets startled, she won’t see you as the alpha. It is much better to discipline a chicken by showing firm dominance.
How to Tame an Aggressive Rooster
While an angry hen is fairly harmless, an aggressive rooster is out for blood. It’s their nature to fight for territory, so if you keep a rooster in a run with other chickens, they will claim it as their own. And when you enter the run, they may attack if they feel their space is being threatened.
You can discipline aggressive roosters without hurting them, and usually, he will eventually get the idea that attacking people isn’t a good way to live.
First, try and make yourself look big (stand straight with your head held high and your arms out to the side). This will make him think twice about attacking you. Carry a stick (not to hit the rooster, but more as something to block his attack) and confidently walk toward him. Make a bit of noise and wave your arms around like you’re going to hit him with it. He should back off at this point.
If he keeps coming after you, do not run away or back down! Running away will make him think that he won (which he sort of did), and he will think you are below him in the pecking order (which you sort of are at this point).
Instead, grab him gently but firmly (watch out for his spores and beak) and pick him up. Then hold him for a while. He will try to get out of your hands, and that’s why you need to be firm but gentle about it. After holding your rooster for a while, he should give up fighting and calm down.
If he continues to attack after you have picked him up a few times, try pinning the rooster to the ground until he calms down. This will, in most cases, teach the rooster that you are the alpha chicken, and he will leave you alone.
Most roosters can be tamed, but a few will never give up trying to win. In this case, it’s best to cul him. Aggressive roosters can be quite dangerous to children and smaller animals (like dogs), and it’s better not to breed them.
How Do You Stop Aggressive Behavior in a Chicken Flock?
It’s natural for chickens to peck at each other and maintain a social hierarchy. While their behavior may sometimes seem overly aggressive, chickens are actually extremely social animals that depend on their “flock.”
There is a hierarchy in your flock of chickens: typically, the rooster is on top, and the most dominant hen will be just below him. The second most dominant hen will be right below her in rank and so on. The chicken that is lowest in the pecking order will, from time to time, get picked on by the rest of the flock.
As long as this is limited to the occasional pecking and chasing away and the lower-ranking chicken doesn’t seem overly stressed or hurt, then there is not anything you can (or should) do. If you introduce a new chicken to your flock, there will also be some fighting, and you simply need to allow the pecking order to sort itself out. This sort of behavior is not cause for discipline. As mentioned, it is completely normal for chickens to have a hierarchy and to establish dominance among themselves.
But what happens when one or more of your chickens become overly aggressive? If it gets out of hand, the weaker chickens may suffer serious injury or even death.
You can occasionally discipline a chicken that shows aggressive behavior by spraying her with water or making a sudden loud noise. If you have the time and patience to be consistent, you may be able to distract her enough times until she stops a bad habit of bullying weaker chickens.
The object is to be consistent because chickens learn by repetition, and discipline must be immediate. You can discipline a chicken by spraying her with water or making loud noises, but if you are inconsistent and she doesn’t associate it with her bad behavior, then the discipline will not be effective.
However, in far most instances, the aggression is caused by external factors. For example, a change in the environment can cause aggression. If there has been a recent change in your flock’s environment (such as introducing new chickens or adding new perches to the coop), then you are likely to see some temporary behavior issues. Be sure that all of their needs are being met before you attempt to discipline an aggressive chicken.
A chicken may become aggressive if she feels threatened by another animal, person, or dog. The perceived (real or imagined) threat stresses her out, and she may react by bullying the weaker chicken in her flock. Additionally, if you have a predator in your area that has been scaring the chickens, then they too may become aggressive when feeling threatened.
Boredom and Overcrowding
Limited space can also cause aggression, so make sure that there is enough room for everyone and consider how much time you let them out in the yard. The more crowded your chicken environment, the more likely it is that you will see some hostile behavior break out.
Somewhat related, boredom can cause your chickens to act out. Chickens are curious creatures that love to explore and need lots of interesting distractions. If you keep them cooped up in a small space with very limited potential for activities, then they may choose a weaker chicken on which to focus their attention because there is little else for them to do.
If your current flock is becoming aggressive, consider providing more space and more time in your yard so that they can exercise and roam freely instead of feeling caged in or bored.
Finally, check the health of your flock. Any illness or injury can lead to pain and anxiety, potentially causing a suffering hen to be more aggressive and start picking on her peers. Conversely, a chicken that is weakened by illness or an injury is more likely to be bullied by the stronger members of her group.
If you notice that one of your hens seems off (such as not eating much), it’s important to watch her behavior closely, as she could be injured or sick. If you suspect an injury or illness, take her to the vet for treatment. Often this will solve your behavior problems and allow everyone to get back to normal.
Why Do Chickens Attack Injured Chickens?
Sometimes when a chicken is injured, the other chickens peck at the wound until it is torn open. Why do they attack?
One reason they attack is to force the sick chicken away from the flock. This is believed to be done to reduce the spread of sickness within the flock, such as a transmittable disease. While this is unlikely to be a conscious act, they are driven by instinct to survive.
Another reason they may be pecking an injured chicken is curiosity and a morbid taste for meat. Chickens are scavengers and have an instinctual need to clean up after a wound. This can be seen particularly in the wild, where they may peck at roadkill.
If a chicken has an open wound, her flock mates are tempted to peck at it out of curiosity (especially if there is not much else to do). This will open up the wound, and since chickens are not the brightest animals, they will consider it a source of tasty protein and are likely to continue pecking until long after the poor chicken is dead.
How you can prevent chickens from attacking injured chickens:
- Keep injured and sick chickens in an enclosed, secure area away from the rest of the flock so she has time to recover. However, separating a chicken from her flock mates can lead to challenges when you reintroduce her back in, so I recommend you keep her close to the flock but separated by a mesh fence.
- Check your chickens’ health regularly for any injuries or illnesses. It is important to check them regularly since they may be hiding their injury in order not to show weakness and become a victim of bullying.
Can You Discipline Chickens Who Are Destroying the Yard?
While we are on the subject of disciplining chickens, people often ask me if you can teach your chickens not to scratch, dust bathe, or eat new sprouts in your vegetable garden or flowers. Sadly, the answer is a resounding NO! This is their natural behavior, and it would be near impossible to teach them otherwise. In fact, you should avoid punishing or disciplining your chickens for these behaviors as they are normal chicken things.
Instead, you can take steps to prevent your chickens from getting access to these areas. Merely installing a deer fence or fencing mesh at least three feet in height will prevent most chickens from getting in. You can make this barrier higher for better protection by using a fence that’s at least six feet in height. Barriers of this height are nearly 100% effective against even the most determined of your girls.
If fencing is not an option, check out this article on four ways to keep chickens out of the garden without fencing.
Also, remember to give your chickens an area that is dry, dusty, and has no vegetation where they can dust bathe. Often, chickens are not primarily attempting to get into your vegetable garden for the vegetables. Instead, they are attracted by the dry earth that provides a nice dust bath.
If you want to raise chickens, it is important that you understand their behavior and motivations. They are not as simple creatures as most people think they are. You can’t stop them from doing what comes naturally – maintaining their pecking order, for example, or eating your vegetables if given a chance.
But with some knowledge of how these animals behave and a little effort on your part, you can discipline them to some degree in order to keep everyone happy (including yourself). And aggression towards you or other humans should never be tolerated.