Why Do Chickens Fight?

Find out how to calm a restless flock when push comes to shove.

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Chicken Fight

Chicken Fight

When chickens are unhappy, fighting can be a problem in the coop.

Photo by: Photo by Mick Telkamp

Photo by Mick Telkamp

When chickens are unhappy, fighting can be a problem in the coop.

While we might like to think that chickens raised in a caring environment are always going to get along, anyone who has spent time with a flock of any size can confirm the sad truth. Chickens fight. In a coop with a rooster, the “boss” will usually settle disagreements between hens, but chickens don’t always get along and squabbles may range from shoving matches at dinnertime to all-out brawls that may leave the loser bloodied and missing a few feathers. 

In a well-maintained coop, a chicken fight now and then is normal, but when conditions escalate, the health of the flock can be threatened and egg production may plummet under stressful conditions.

Do you have a bully in the coop or are dust-ups becoming increasingly common? Chickens fight for a variety of reasons. Knowing why your birds are brawling make it easier to calm the flock and restore order among the ranks.

Establishing pecking order is normal behavior in any flock. It can be loud, occasionally bloody and tough to watch, but it is essential for long-term peace in the coop. As birds grow, age or just feel like they are ready to be in charge, chickens will tousle as dominance is established. Once chickens know where they stand in the pecking order, they will wait their turn at the water source, move down the rail when it’s time to roost and step aside when a bigger bird is ready for a dust bath. It may sound mean, but an established pecking order keeps the peace until a new chicken joins the flock or it's time for an older bird to give up her status. Unless injuries are severe, don’t intervene in this natural process.

Overcrowding is probably the most common cause for fighting in the coop, aside from establishing pecking order. On average, about 4 square feet per chicken inside the coop and another 8 or 10 in the run is enough space to keep chickens from feeling cramped. If accommodations are tight, consider expanding the coop or reducing flock size. In the meantime, consider occasional free-ranging to help alleviate flock stress until coop conditions can be resolved.

Competition for food. Whether it’s due to an empty feeder, or dirty water, chickens get a little cranky when they aren’t fed. Make sure feeders and your water source are kept full and clean and hanging feeders are positioned away from walls and corners so they may be accessed from all sides.

Boredom. No matter how good the flock may have it, boredom can be a problem in the best of conditions when chickens spend their time confined to a coop and run. If your coop is a tractor, move it frequently to provide fresh ground on which to scratch. In a stationary coop, make sure they have space to dust bathe and provide occasional entertainment by way of a pumpkin to peck, a hay bale to tear apart or hang a cabbage with twine for a rousing game of chicken tetherball. It helps.

Separating chickens in a backyard coop isn’t always practical, but may be necessary if an aggressive bird is slow to respond to changes in coop conditions. In most cases, identifying the cause of frustration and resolving the problem will calm a restless flock and reduce fighting among the ranks until it’s time to renegotiate the pecking order.

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