Banish Bad Behaviour!! How-to Have Harmonious Hens!!!

Banish Bad Behaviour!!

In general, chickens are social animals, living in peace and harmony. When a new bird is introduced, this harmony is temporarily disturbed as the hens squabble to sort out their pecking order. The pecking order is the heirachy by which chickens live. The hens have a little squabble, and the hen that wins is the dominant hen. She gets access to the food and water first, and can put any hen who dares confront her back in her place with a sharp peck. On the other hand, the lowest ranking hen gets to go to the food last, and can be pecked at by any hen. Because of this system, hens live in peace, but when the balance is upset, peaceful Poppy can turn into ferocious Frostie.

In this article, I will cover a few points of bad behaviour and give some tips on how to deal with it.

 

Excess noise

It is usually the cockerel who makes the most noise, while crowing, this can only be avoided by not keeping a cockerel. Cantrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to keep a cockerel to get eggs. The cockerel is only needed to fertilize eggs. Sometimes, a hen will make lots of noise, when she has layed an egg. If this is her habitual egg laying noise, it is not possible to stop her from making the noise, but a few steps can be taken to reduce the amount of noise she makes. These include:

  • Reduce boredom (see below)
  • Reduce stress
  • Practise good husbandry

 

Boredom

Overcrowding and small pens can cause boredom, which often manifests itself as feather pecking in adults and foot pecking in chicks. Chickens are attracted to red, (which is why feeder bases are often red), so if blood is drawn cannibalism can be the result. You should always keep some genitian violet spray handy because this is antibiotic, and stains the wound purple, to stop the chickens from attacking the hen.

Boredom can be prevented or alleviated by;

  • Scattering grain over the ground to encourage them to forage ‘naturally’
  • Hanging up bunches of green leaves for them to peck at
  • purchasing, and hanging up blocks of seed

 

Fighting

This often happens when two cockerels come in contact with each other. This is why cockerels should be kept apart. This takes place over hens, territory, etc.

Fighting can also be found with hens, when a new hen is introduced, for example. This is done to establish the pecking order. Once this is established and all the hens know where they stand, peace will return.

Egg eating is addressed here. Corresponding section highlighted pink.


Egg Laying in Chickens


Even as a chick a hen has all the eggs she will ever lay in her ovaries, in an immature form called  rudimentary egg cells (yolks- to- be ).
How quickly this supply is used up depends on breed, feeding, housing and hygiene.
If you use an artificial light to keep your hens laying through the winter their store of rudimentary cells will be used up faster. In her first year, a hen lays the largest amount of eggs that she will ever lay in one year, although the total weight of the eggs she lays stays roughly in her first and second year because in her second year, although the individual number decreases, the size of the eggs increases.

The size of the hen barely affects that of her egg. Take Wyandottes and Dutch
bantams for an example. In the picture the egg above is that of a Wyandotte
while the one below is from a Dutch bantam and Wyandottes are many times
the size of a Dutch bantam.

Colour also varies greatly from white to dark brown with beige, cream, blueish,
Greenish and pinkish at various ends of the spectrum!
In the formation of the egg the pigment is added last.
A yolk is released from the ovary and the albumen (egg white) forms around it, covered with a membrane.
The egg rotates through the body, giving it its form and then the shell is formed.
Last but not least the pigment is added.

There is a time in the year when hens will take a break from laying. Some people switch to cheeper  food because  the hens arent laying, but that is the wrong thing to do. By taking a break, the hens are recharging their batteries, so if anything, they should be fed better food!

You must have an adequate nestbox, or the hens will go and find their own place to lay, sometimes in a bush, or in a hedge or, more frustratingly, under the shed! Nestboxes should have a ‘lip’ at the front to stop the litter spilling out. They should be about 30cm wide and 40cm long. they should have 40cm walls to give the hen privacy, because, hens like quiet, peaceful, dark places to lay.

If you collect eggs daily, your hens shouldn’t get a chance to taste an egg but if they do they will probably start pecking open freshly laid eggs. A dark nestbox helps to prevent this behavior. Once they acquire this habit they are unlikely to stop unless you interfere, you can (most of the time) stop this behaviour by making a hole in an egg, spilling its contents on the nest box floor and adding non-toxic foul tasting liquid like mustard and chilli pepper.

Reduce stress, dont have bright lights around the nestbox. Chickens may also eat eggs because they are not getting enough calcium, so it is worth providing a calcium supplement, in liquid form to add to water, or as oyster shell grit. If this doesn’t work you can make a double bottomed nest box with sloping floor where the egg rolls down a crack to the bottom floor where soft material breaks its fall, so that it is out of the chickens reach.

To find out more about eggs and their anatomy and science click here.