Mock Chick Fights

The chicks continue to grow. Unlike meat chickens, however, they grow at a glacially slow pace at times. This growing period is important to the chicks because they’re building strength, stamina, and skills. Part of this process involves mock fights.

The fights really are mock. If you watch them long enough, you see that the birds barely touch each other and they don’t actually use their talons. (I tried getting a picture for you, but would those hens cooperate? I think not!) What it looks like is that the two chicks fly up and touch beaks—a sort of a kiss. They use their wings as well, but not with nearly the same ferocity as used in a real fight. Unfortunately, while this skill will help with some animals (see Possum’s Surprise for details), it doesn’t do anything to help the chicken when it comes to hawks, weasels, raccoons, and other odd assorted animals. When the fight is over, it’s not uncommon to see the birds pile on top of each other somewhere in the run to rest for a while.

The mock fights do build strength and stamina. However, they serve the important purpose of helping to establish the pecking order and to also create a bond between hens. The pecking order is essential because only one hen can lead. The lead hen right now is Violet, but she could lose her place at any time to a worth adversary. As the chicks grow older, the mock fights will become real fights that could become a problem, except for the order established by the lead hen. She settles the disputes in the coop.

Bonding between hens is essential. It’s important though not to confuse chicken bonding with human bonding. Yes, laying hens are smarter than meat chickens, but they aren’t all that smart. You can teach them certain behaviors, but they work mainly on instinct. The lead hen can only lead because the rest of the hens are bonded to her and are willing to be led by the strongest and most knowledgeable hen in the coop. When you see hens outside the coop, the lead hen is normally there to establish the route they take and the other hens cluster around her. The act of bonding makes it less likely that a predator will get all of the hens—just the unfortunate hen that is attacked first.

The chicks are using their new found camaraderie to make a place for themselves in the coop. I noticed the other day that the other hens don’t try to get at all the food dishes any longer. The chicks have taken the smallest dish for themselves. The older hens will try to come around at times, but the chicks have started to gang up on the hens and chase them away from their food. At some point, it’s inevitable that there will be more real fights in the coop as the chicks establish themselves more fully in the pecking order.

I doubt that the Buff Orpingtons will attempt to gain much status. They’re gregarious birds that don’t appear to care about much except getting their fair share of the food. The new Americaunas will probably fight for some level of status with the existing Americaunas and the one remaining Buff Orpington. However, the Barred Plymouth Rock seems to show the kind of aggression needed to eventually take on Violet. I don’t see it happening until sometime next year though.

Watching your chicks carefully is important. You need to know that they’re adjusting to their new lives in the coop and that they’re healthy. Mock fights are an important part of the growing process and you shouldn’t try to stop it. Actually, some of them are hysterical. Two of the chicks engaged in a mock fight this morning, lost their footing, and rolled down to the bottom of the run. Just a bit dazed, they got up, fell into a heap, and then promptly fell asleep with the rest of the chicks around them. Let me know your thoughts on mock fights at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 10)

Sometimes chick behaviors can be a little more than interesting. Of course, you saw a few of those behaviors in the previous post, A Chick Update (Part 9).

This week was special in many ways. One of the Buff Orpington chicks has taken it into her head that she needs to sit on eggs. However, the egg she wants to sit on is the super jumbo sized eggs laid by the Buff Orpington hen. The super jumbo eggs are so large they actually peg my egg scale. My customers love them, but I have yet to figure out what this chick is thinking about because she’s truly not large enough to sit on anything quite that large—at least not comfortably. I had a good chuckle the first time I saw her doing it and must admit that the laughs haven’t ended. Well, if it helps her become a better hen, then more power to her. None of the other chicks has shown the slightest inclination to lay on any of the eggs laid by the hens.

The chicks can be even messier than the hens and the hens won’t lay eggs in a nest box fouled beyond a certain level. With that in mind, I’ve been replacing the hay in the nest boxes every week or week and a half.  I’ve also been scraping accumulate fecal matter off the horizontal surfaces each day. This past week  I decided that the coop needed a lot more than a touch-up. Unfortunately, that meant locking the hens out in the run while I did the cleaning. Chaos ensued while the hens staked out various territories and decided it might be fun to chase the chicks around for a while.

Even the best fun wears out after a while though and the hens soon decided that they absolutely must get into the coop at this particular moment. At first the pecking at the run door was light and somewhat sporadic. It soon grew much louder and more spirited. Eventually, the hens decided that the hen pecking at the door at that particular moment (only one can fit in front of the door) wasn’t doing a very good job. So they took turns knocking each other off the ramp, with a new hen pecking frantically at the door. All this happened in about 45 minutes mind you, so I really wasn’t taking very long to clean the coop, but you could never have convinced the hens of it.

When the coop was finally cleaned, the hens came strutting in—fuming. They gave me a piece of their mind. A few jumped in the nest boxes and began to pick at the new hay. Violet chose to provide me with the full onslaught of her upset by screaming at me (in chicken no less). Rose decided to peck my boots. Let’s say that the hens were definitely not impressed with my cleaning job—it fell well below par.

At this point, the chicks began to look inside the run door, but they seemed most determined not to come in. They seemed confused, “Is this the right place?” After a few seconds one of the chicks screamed and ran back down the ramp, followed by the others. They refused to go into the coop until it was time to put them up for the night.

Chickens are suspicious of everything. It’s a natural behavior that keeps them alive in the wild because everyone loves a good chicken dinner. However, in the coop, the behavior often leaves me belly laughing. If you get chickens for no other purpose than to get a good laugh, you really could do worse. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 9)

The chicks are continuing to grow. They’re definitely working their way into coop life. Of course, the hens will continue to intimidate them until they’re full sized, but it all comes down to keeping the pecking order straight. As the new chicks become larger and more capable, some of them will work their way up the social ladder and eventually become leaders in the coop. It’s fascinating to watch them grow and change. They still peep like young chicks, which is one of the reasons I think the hens don’t actually spend a lot of time harassing them. Nature provides cues that younger animals need special care. It’s most definitely that way with hens. I imagine there will be some additional confrontation in the coop when the chicks become full-fledged pullets. In the meantime, the hens do continue to teach their charges the appropriate behavior of chickens.

At a certain point in their development, chicks will start to manifest more hen-like behaviors. This week I noticed that the chicks are now starting to hang out with each other outside. They’ll simply roost together during the daylight hours and watch that silly man working in the heat of the day in the garden. I actually do find them staring at me. I tried to get a good picture of the roosting behavior, but every time I started getting close enough, they’d jump down because they just knew I was going to feed them.

As they grow older, the chicks start chumming around on the roost.
Chicks Viewing the World from a Roosting Spot

Sometimes the chicks will sit out there for hours just watching the world pass by. They murmur at each other and I often wonder what they’re saying. If you listen long enough, you do find that chickens most definitely have a vocabulary.

There was a change in the chick lineup this week and it probably happens in most coops at some point. One of the Barred Plymouth Rock chicks never really got along with the others. It would try to attack the older hens and it didn’t pal around with the other chicks. I could never get it to sit in my hand. Let’s just say that it wasn’t very social. I had planned on spending time with it improving its social skills. Unfortunately, the chick had other ideas. It ran between my legs to get out of the coop this week. Nothing would convince it to come back inside and every attempt to catch it was unsuccessful. This meant that the chick would spend the night outdoors. Someone had a chicken dinner that night—I never saw the chick again. Interestingly enough, I didn’t get any eggs the next day. The chickens seemed to realize that someone was missing.

People fail to understand that chickens, like every other animal, have personalities. Those traits define how the chicken acts within the flock. For example, I’ve had to get rid of some chickens in the past because they started eating eggs (see Feeding for Healthy Chickens for details). You can modify some behaviors, but not others. An antisocial hen will cause constant problems in the flock and that’s what was happening with this Barred Rock. After she left, the coop suddenly quieted down. Because of their personality traits, you need to treat the chickens in the flock differently. Some chickens really do want to be held, others petted, others talked to, and some just want to be left alone. Knowing your hens makes a huge difference in providing appropriate care.

The chicks are also making progress in their management training. At the end of the day I can now put their final bit of food in the coop. Going into the run, I can clap my hands and they run inside to enjoy their meal—at which point, I close the run door. Eventually, they’ll start to come when I cluck at them. It takes time to train the hens, but the older hens do come when I call them. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 8)

A lot has happened with the chicks since last week’s A Chick Update (Part 7) report. Of course, they continue to grow. They’re also arguing a bit more, but that’s the way of siblings everywhere. Sometimes the arguments are quite funny though. One chick tried to get what it thought was a worm or another goodie from another chick, only to discover the goodie was just a piece of straw. She then blamed the other chick for misleading her (or that seems to have been the point of the second peck). I sometimes watch them for a while just to see what they’ll do next. It’s difficult, at times, to figure out what they’re doing. Of course, I’m sure they think the same thing of me.

This week was the first week the chicks were able to go out of the coop and into the run. Things went pretty much as I thought they would. At first the chicks hid in the corner furthest away from the door leading to the run, but they warmed up to the idea of being outside quite quickly. It wasn’t very long and they were outside running about, sometimes chasing each other from one end of the run to the other. Mostly they tried to emulate the hens though and pecked at the dirt appreciatively.


The eight chicks are now old enough to go into the run outside the coop.
Chicks Having Fun in the Run

What I didn’t realize is that the chicks soon discovered one of the hen tunnels. Yes, I thought I was pretty smart filling in all those tunnels and waiting until it had rained a few times to ensure that the dirt would be packed down, but the chicks had an entirely different idea. It wasn’t long before they opened the tunnel enough to get out from the run. The hens were too large to fit, so they squawked as the chicks enjoyed their freedom. Only, the freedom wasn’t quite so welcome after a while and the chicks started to scream quite loudly. It seems they couldn’t figure out how to get back into the run.

Upon hearing all the turmoil, I decide to check things out. What I saw were the six hens, who should have been able to fly out of the run and enjoy a walk wherever they wanted, stuck inside the run because they had become too fat to fly that high. Outside the run were the chicks, running about madly, trying to find a way back into the run. Yes, it was the old story of the grass being greener on the other side of the fence with me stuck trying to figure out a workable solution.

I waited for the chicks to calm down. I knew that if I approached them at the time I discovered the breakout, they’d simply run in some other direction. Three of the chicks just let me pick them up when I carefully approached them. Not surprisingly, it was the Buff Orpingtons who made the gesture.  I carefully opened the coop door and called to the remaining chicks. Two of the Americaunas just walked inside, looking quite pleased with themselves. This left three chicks outside.

At this point, I broke out the fishing net. I hope my neighbors weren’t watching (and if they were, they got a really good laugh). Imagine a guy running around chasing chicks in the high grass and woods with fishing net in hand trying to catch the chicks underneath. The ground is completely uneven, there are hidden holes, and the chicks have a tendency to disappear under leaves at the worst possible moment. It took fully an hour to catch the two Barred Plymouth Rocks (a most obstinate bird) and the remaining Americauna.

The next morning I spent additional time making sure the tunnel was quite sealed. This time the chicks stayed inside the run. I’ve been out there first thing every morning since looking for additional avenues of escape because the chicks certainly are trying hard to find one. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 7)

If you’ve been keeping up with this series of posts, you know from A Chick Update (Part 6) that the chickens are now in the coop with the older hens and that the hens are doing everything possible to teach them how to be better chickens. A funny thing started happening this past week. The chicks are starting to recognize that the hens sit in a certain manner in the nest box. Of course, like children everywhere, the chicks have decided to emulate the behavior. So, they get up into the nest box, fluff out their feathers, and proceed to sit with the greatest of care. Unfortunately, all of them are sitting in the same nest box for the most part, which was amusing enough when they were smaller, but is absolutely hysterical now because one or two of the chicks usually end up falling out. The chicks will eventually get the idea.

These young hens are experimenting with the nest box, but they're all trying to use the same one.
Young Hens Experimenting with the Nest Box

Today is a sort of graduation day for the chicks as well. As of tomorrow, the chicks will have spent two weeks with the hens in the coop. Not only are the hens getting a bit irritable, but the chicks need to start growing beyond the coop as well. As of tomorrow, the chicks will have the opportunity to go out into the run and get some sunshine, along with a little freedom from the hens. However, I can’t just let them crawl out under the run fence as the hens have been doing for the last while (just so you know, chickens are excellent at tunneling under fences), so I’ve cleared all the brush and made sure that the fence will keep the chicks inside—at least for now. The hens can still get out by flying over the top of the fence. That was my original idea anyway to keep predators at bay.

I’m sure the chicks will be absolutely terrified when I open the run door. Once they get past the usual surprise though, they’ll go outside and run about. They still peep, but it’s not hard to hear them yelling, “I’m free! I’m free!” or the equivalent in chicken anyway.

Trying to get them back into the coop will be interesting. The last time I had chicks, getting them back into the coop consisted of chasing them back up the ramp at the end of the day. Nothing would prompt the chicks to go back inside. The hens may try to help me out, which would be nice. I’ve noticed that they herd the chicks about in the coop. If not, I’ll be out there again with my fishing net to catch any chicks that won’t go into the coop no matter how nicely I ask. After about two weeks, the chicks will get the idea that when I call from inside the coop, it really is time to come in for the day. Everything takes time.

As the chicks continue to grow, they’ll also gain more knowledge of what it means to be a chicken. It’s interesting to think about chickens going to a school of sorts, but that’s how things end up working out. Let me know your thoughts about all things chicken at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 6)

The chicks are now in the coop. Moving them was akin to watching a keystone cops movie—anyone who has tried to catch chickens knows precisely what I mean. The cage I built is nice because it gives the chickens plenty of space to run. However, getting the chickens out of there when it’s time for them to go is another story. I’ve found over the years that using the end of the brooder insert to corral them does help significantly. Even so, you’ve got to be really fast to grab the chicken, yet really gentle to avoid hurting them.

All the chicks did calm down once I had them in my hand. Picking them up regularly as they grew did help significantly. I’m not entirely sure why they make such a big deal out of being picked up, but having them settle right down is nice. I got them over to the coop one at a time.

Of course, one chick always has to make my life interesting. She deftly flew out of the top of the coop when I tried to get her. So, I had a chick running around the garage examining absolutely everything. I was prepared and closed the garage door. The chick is now frantically running about and the garage door noise didn’t help matters. In this case, I used a landing net, the rubber type, used for fishing. It has a long reach and the rubber net lets me catch the chick without hurting her. I’ve used the net a number of times to catch chickens and never hurt any of them.

The chicks ran into a corner when I put them inside the coop. They looked straight into the corner, probably figuring that if they couldn’t see the big hens, the big hens couldn’t see them. My new approach of placing a hen with a tendency to be broody in with the chicks worked well. She didn’t precisely defend them all the time, but she kept the other hens, especially Violet, from getting too bossy. Both Hyacinth and Daisy took turns watching over the chicks—mothering them sometimes, teaching them at others. Unlike my first experience adding chicks to the coop, this experience is going exceptionally well.

Saturday will mark the one week point for the chicks. I’ll keep the chicks and hens shut up together for two weeks so that they can get used to each other and establish a pecking order. So far I haven’t seen a single instance where a chick has been pecked to the point of bleeding or even lost any feathers. This morning I went in to see several of the chicks trying out the lower nest boxes (they still can’t fly to the upper nest boxes). Even though it will be August or September before they start laying, I like the idea of them getting the feel of things sooner than later.

As a point of interest, the hens will definitely teach the chicks how to behave in the coop. I have changed the feeding schedule so that the chicks are sure to get their fill each day. I also stand in the coop during the first feeding of the day and keep the hens and chicks separated. Otherwise, the chicks have learned that the hens eat first and they eat second. They’re also learning to leave the hens alone when they’re sitting in the nest box. Like all young things, the chicks have a lot to learn and I’m sure now that the hens will teach them (rather than hurt them).

Every time I embark on a new project, I learn something interesting. So far, this chick raising experience has taught me the need to introduce the chicks to the coop earlier, to provide them with a surrogate mother, and to ensure I pick them up as often as is possible. Of course, I’ve known of the need to be fast with a fishing net for quite some time now. Let me know your thoughts about introducing new chicks to a coop using this method at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 5)

In the continuing saga of the developing chicks (see A Chick Update (Part 4) you last saw the chicks exploring a world without walls. Of course, they felt instantly overwhelmed by all the new space at their disposal. When the full grown chickens appeared on the scene, the chicks were quite beside themselves. Such is the world of chicks. Everything is new and frightening. I keep emphasizing that chicks are suspicious of everything because people seem surprised at some of their reactions.

The chicks are having more of the full grown chickens visit with them (I started out with a Buff Orpington named Hyacinth). In fact, I’m letting the chickens sit with the chicks in their cage, one at a time. I keep looking for ways of easing this whole issue of establishing a pecking order.

Of course, establishing a pecking order brings me to another topic. Up until now, the amount of fighting between the chicks has been minimal, probably because they’re too small to care and because they were grouping together to keep warm and fight off the hoards of perceived enemies. This week I started seeing a little more fighting amongst the chicks. They’re starting to establish a pecking order between themselves. My need to help them through this transition is becoming more important.

Breeds come into play at this point. The Buff Orpingtons are called gentle giants for a reason. First, you can already see that there is a small size difference between the buffs and their fellow chicks. The size different will increase. The Buff Orpingtons (which can come in at about 9 pounds processed weight) will never get as big as a meat chicken (which can easily exceed 12 pounds processed weight), but they will get a little larger than most of the hens in the coop (with an average processed weight of 6 pounds). They also tend to lay relatively large eggs, assuming you can keep them from getting broody. In the fight for dominance though, they just don’t seem to get the idea. The three buffs will end up at the bottom of the pecking order. Then again, in the coop I’ve noticed that even though the buffs are at the bottom of the pecking order (basically because they don’t care), no one really messes with them much either.

In watching the chicks, it’s starting to look like the Barred Plymouth Rock chicks will be the most aggressive. They aren’t completely overwhelming the three Americaunas, but they do seem intent on having their way at the food dish and the watering pan. I’ll have to see how things work out. At this point, I haven’t introduced the chicks to the queen of the coop, a Black Australorp named Violet. She’s loud, she’s bossy, she keeps the other hens in line. I’ll definitely save her visit until last.

I’m still trying to decide on that magic moment to move the chicks from the cage to the coop.  I’ll want to do it soon, before they get too big.  They’ll stay in a cage in the coop for about a week and then I’ll try letting them out.  I’m thinking that if I introduce them to the coop when they’re younger, perhaps the other hens will be easier on them. Let me know your thoughts on raising chickens at [email protected].


A Chick Update (Part 4)

This was a week of big changes for the chicks (see A Chick Update (Part 3) for details). The brooder box boards came down and they discovered that their cage is much larger than they thought. Their reaction was to huddle in the corner. Of course, chickens are highly suspicious of anything new. Suddenly, there are no comforting sides to their cage—everything is open. Having an open cage worried the chicks to no end. If you have chicks, you have to think about how scary changes can be for them and encourage them in the right direction, but not get frustrated when it takes time for them to accept the change. Everyone and everything requires time to accept change. I handled the situation by talking softly to them, but I also put their food at the other end of the cage. If they wanted to eat, they’d have to explore their cage to do it. A few hours later I came back into the garage and the chicks where now running back and forth, wings akimbo, chasing each other frantically. It was if they were saying, “I’m free! I’m free!”

Eight chicks of different types at five weeks.
Layer Hens After Five Weeks

The chicks are continuing to get bigger and gain in strength. Most of them can now fly short distances, so I needed to add the top to their cage this week. The top is simply recycled corrugated roof panels from a friend’s roof. They replaced their roof and these particular panels were still in good shape, so there was absolutely no reason to send them off to the landfill. I used other panels as sheathing for my chicken coop. So, now the chicks have a roof over their heads. They don’t like it when I have to move the panels about and will cheep quite loudly at me, telling me how they dislike the noise. I’ve set the panels up so that I provide the minimum of disturbance each day when I feed and water them.

The cage is now covered with a corrugated tin cover and completely open for the chicks.
Opened Cage Using Corrugated Tin Cover

Eventually, the chicks will need to become integrated with my flock—they can’t stay in that cage forever. There is a reason that we talk about pecking orders in life. Chickens can be quite mean toward each other. In fact, during my first integration, one of the new chicks was actually pecked to death by the other hens in the coop. The experience has taught me that I need to introduce new chicks slowly and carefully. This week, I opened the garage door. The hens are free to roam about my property during the day. Being curious and suspicious, they peeked around the end of the garage at the chicks in their cage. After a while, they started spending time in the garage, viewing the chicks. The idea is to get the hens used to seeing the chicks.

I’ve read any number of texts on flock integration and there just doesn’t seem to be any non-confrontational way to do it. The hens must establish a pecking order, deciding who is the boss. However, this time I’ve thought about the idea of placing the hens, one at a time, in with the chicks. When I first place the chicks in the coop, they’ll be in a cage. The integration process will be slow. Unfortunately, despite these precautions, a day of reckoning will come and I’ll have to let the chicks work their way into the flock as a whole. During their first week in the coop, hens and chicks alike will stay together. My goal is to integrate the new chicks with the least amount of trauma.

This week also saw the chicks eating regular laying mash—the same food that the full-sized birds get. The chicks are taking their time adjusting to the new food, which is what I expected. As with all changes, it’s essential to take things slow and understand that all things require time to adjust to change. Let me know your thoughts about chickens and their growing process at [email protected].