Chicken problems


It is normal for a flock of birds, even a small one to establish a "pecking order" which is why we have the term!

When a group of birds are put together, even small babies, they will face up to each other for a quick squabble, with the inferior bird quickly backing off. The order once established means no further squabbles are needed, with only the occasional quick "peck" to remind subordinates of their place.

The dominant bird will discipline numbers 2 and 3. Number 2 will chastise 3 and 4 and so on. If one of the birds becomes ill or is perhaps removed from the flock, then the order will need to be re-established which is a stressful time for all concerned. Stress can lead to illness, and often to drop in egg numbers, and with Marans will result in weakened shell colour, so try and give your Marans (or in fact any bird) as stress free a life as you can arrange.

When a single new bird is introduced into an established flock it will need to fight its way up from the bottom if it is smaller and weaker than the others. And don't forget the bottom ranking bird may have month/years of frustrated pecking pent up within them, and if they are of that nature they may exact extreme retribution on the new smaller flock member.

With any breed/strain/line of birds certain characteristics can be specifically selected for, so with the old Cock Fighting Breeds aggression and dogged determination were high on the list. With modern hybrids they will be selected on numbers of eggs laid in the first 18 mths, and if this comes with a tendency to aggression and pecking it will be tolerated, and the birds will be beak trimmed to lessen the effects, and in extreme cases the birds will be fitted with beak bits, bumpers, or spectacles to allow them to feed, but not kill their siblings.

Tolerance and an amenable disposition has been one of the main characteristics I have selected for over the years, and I find I can run my birds with pretty well anything, small, large, or different types of fowl - even different species with a minimum of problems.( I once had a lonely buck rabbit running with the flock for several years, and although he regularly tried to mate with both the hens and the cockerels, he was only given the occasional warning peck - the happy ending to his story was that I managed to re-home him with someone who had does and he went on to father several litters)

If you are introducing new birds and experience problems then do not remove the bullied hen, but try removing the bully for a couple of days, and when she is re-introduced you may find it has stopped. If more than one are the problem then remove those.

When selling point of lay or even bigger birds I expect people to take at least two, as I find it helps them settle in their new home, and as least they have someone to be friends with.

I feel that folk either anthamopathise animals to the extent that like badger in Wind in the Willows they imagine a kindly old chap in a dressing gown and smoking a pipe, rather than someone who will dig out a nest of young rabbits and eat them alive, and who will, if allowed the chance eat your poultry. Or alternatively they give them credit for no emotions or feeling whatsoever.

Birds can feel emotions. Just see how your flock behaves after it has been decimated by a fox. And see the hens welcome back the cockerel if he has been away for a few days. Or watch a pullet or hen just about to come into lay discussing nesting sites with the cockerel and watching as he tries it out for size and safety.

So when new birds are to be added to an existing flock make sure there are at least two sources of water and as far away as possible from each other, and two feeding stations. It is wise for the first few days to scatter some wheat or mixed corn around also, as it gives them all something to do, and allows the newbies some feed.

Always introduce new birds in the evening after the others have gone to roost, and place them individually on the perches in between the existing flock members. Birds have a keen sense of smell, and a night rubbing shoulders will transfer the "flock" scent and should help the new girls blend in.

Another trick you can try is misting all the entire flock - existing members and newcomers - with water in a hand held sprayer with has had a few drops of essential oil such as Tea Tree or Mint added. This helps dampen the senses of the residents, and makes the flock all smell similar, plus mites and lice don't like either of these, so it can have a double benefit.

People will say - well after a couple of squabbles it all settled down so I didn't worry - and then find one of their new charges at the point of expiration and very thin. My reply is - well if someone gave you a good drubbing after you moved into his house uninvited, and his plate of chips was on the table, uneaten, would you go across and help yourself. No - because you know he will only beat you up again, and you still won't get any chips. Better to stand in the corner, and hope things improve.

So with that in mind check on the weight and health of the new birds for a week or two after they arrive, and if they lose condition then you can take further action. The easiest way of doing this is picking them up after they have gone to bed at night. - And here can be another sign that all is not well - If your new girls go to bed very early, or don't want to enter the hen house this may be a signal that all is not well

To prevent all of this there are several other things you can try if the above suggestions haven't worked.

Introduce something for the others to do. Good free range is often the best answer, but if this is impossible, then hang up a cabbage of other treat like a sweetcorn on a string, just a little out of reach so they almost have to jump to get it.

Take out the feeders and scatter the feed in the clean bedding so they must all search to find each grain, the bullies will be too intent on getting their share to pick on anyone else.

If it still doesn't improve try tying a cardboard luggage label to the legs of the offenders, and hopefully they should spend more time trying to remove that than attacking the newcomers.

In most cases none of these problems arise, especially if the newcomers are introduced as I have suggested, and after a couple of days all should be calm again.

FEATHER PECKING  more info coming soon

AGGRESIVE COCKERELS - the current fashion is to refer to all male birds as cockerels, strictly speaking a cockerel is a young male bird in its first year, after that it is technically a cock, but we will stick with the more usual terminology.

The males of any breed can be aggressive, though some are more prone than others. Marans in general tend to be calm round humans, but will fight with other males they have not been reared with and kept with continually, and this may result in the death of one or the other. There is little you can do about this other than make sure there are a lot of cockerels in together at the same time, and that there is plenty of room and cover for one or the other fighters to escape to.

Aggresion show by male birds around humans can be most unpleasant, and it is best to check with the breeder as to the temperament of their line of birds. Many folk will say they like a fiesty cockerel as he will protect his hens. My opinion is that a cockerel is no match for any real predator, such as a dog, or fox or mink, and though he may die first unless you are on hand to save the situation the rest of the flock will still be vunerable

So having chosen a cockerel from both a Breed and a line which is bred for its docility there may still be an individual which is more aggresive than its brothers.
There are several things to watch when being around male birds.

Firstly we regard eggs as "hen fruit" to be harvested at will for whatever purpose we deem fit. Your cockerel will regard eggs as potential children (I do not mean to anthropomorphize the bird here, but it is only natural that this is so - he has courted and mated his female, they will have chosen and tried out the nest area, often the male will sit for an hour or so in a prospective nest to check its safety.
He will notice his female leave the flock to visit the nest, and when she has laid she will loudly announce the fact, and if it is a dangerous journey to rejoin the group, he will normally run to escort her back to the flock.)

So when you go along, enter the hen house and take all the eggs he will view you with suspicion and possibly hatred. To avoid this try and arrange your hen house so the eggs are collected from the outside, and preferrably where he will not necessarily see you visiting. Then when the eggs (his children) are missing he may not connect the two events.

It is said you should never allow a cockerel to mate a bird whilst you are there, but immediately knock him off, as this is what the dominant bird of the flock would do. I personally have never found this necessary, but then I have selected my strain for the calm temperament of the males.

Should a cockerel challenge never back down, instead you should immediately chase and catch it. Then use the following procedure

Take the cockerel by the legs and tuck him close to your body holding his wings securely so he cannot flap. Then with one finger to his beak, gently but firmly bent his head downward. After a short period of time, release his head, and each time he attempts to look up, hold his head down again. You should find that within minutes he will not raise his head and should behave to you with respect.

This is one way to deal with a cockerel that has taken to attacking you, though this will only make him respect you, and not necessarily other humans. If you have young children around take special care in selecting a cockerel of calm temperament, as they can be very frightening to small children.

This is from Secrets of Successful Poultry Keeping -1929
"The most popular and incidently most useless is the filling of eggs with some nauseous mixture........, it is much trouble and rarely succeeds. Filing the hen's beak is again seldom effective.......
There is however a cure, and a remarkably simple one. In each nest-box place eight or ten eggs marked with a cross and as often as they are eaten replace them with others. It is the old story of the child and the sweets. In a few days it will be found that the birds have had their fill of eggs and none are missing. Leave the eggs in the nests for a couple weeks when may be safely removed and no further trouble will ensue.
The cure may be considered an expensive one, but it is by no means so expensive as is the loss of the eggs day after day: and during the breeding season the unfertile eggs from the incubators come in handy for this purpose.

And from the
Encyclopeadia of Poultry JT Brown  
Egg eating is a vicious habit, and .. is probable that the habit is frequently acquired in the first instance in consequence of bird producing shelless eggs, or dropping an egg from the perch when roosting; in either case, the hen or hens will naturally investigate as regards the character of the contents, and having once tasted an egg they want more-with disastrous results as regards the profitable aspect of egg production. Many poultry keepers, encourage this practice by giving their fowls broken egg shells, and having eaten primarily for the lime the birds experiment with whole eggs, and discover a pleasant food in addition to what they originally sought. If the poultryman always allows his fowls free access to a good supply of broken oyster-shell and fresh green food, although it will not of course prevent accidents, such as have been referred to, the free use of such food and material will largely prevent the predisposition of the birds to this or other vicious habits; and an additional precaution exists in the provision of a good range andsome incentive to constant activity. A busy hen is seldom vicious.

Lewis Wright's Book of Poultry (circa 1872)
Hens not infrequently acquire the pernicious habit of eating their eggs, sometimes perhaps from accidental breakages. Often such a habit may be cured by filling carefully emptied egg-shells with nauseous compounds, of a yellowish colour, like strong mustard, or carbolated vaseline. We have seen a hen eat the whole of a single mustard-filled egg without ruffling a feather; but generally if the plan is persevered with, and such prepared eggs regularly left in the nest and about the yard, the habit will be conquered. There is, however, a more certain plan, which we owe to the experience of American farmers, who often suffer far more largely in this way, owing to long close confinement during the winter. There is a very large agreement amongst these experienced breeders that the best, most certain, and in fact almost invariable cure for egg-eating is to give a free supply of either eggs or egg-shells for a few days! Some of them regularly save up their egg-shells for such contingencies, showing how common the trouble is under the conditions; others get them from trhe restaurants. At first the hens just go for them! And they are given the shells freely, for breakfast, dinner, supper. But soon the appetite palls; by the end of the second day they care little, and on the third, fresh eggs may be rolled about among them with impunity.The editor of one of the Ameican poultry journals states: "We have tried this plan for some years, and have never known it fail. We save up our egg-shells, and have a stock on hand for any pen of fowls that shows a tendency towards the egg-eating habit. This remedy has never failed us." Then a farmer writes: "Go to the bakery and get a basket of fresh egg-shells; give them to the hens as fresh as you can, and throw them in whole; don't dry them, or break them up, but give as fresh and whole as you can get them. Give them all they will eat, and throw in some more, and keep them before them all the time for a few days, and your hens will stop eating their eggs."Others report that they have given the entire eggs, using unfertile ones tested out of the incubators. " At first the hens would trample all over each other to get at the broken eggs, but before they got through, they wouldn't touch an egg." There is a whole pile of testimony to the success of this cure.

Another way of meeting the vice is to employ nests so constructed that the egg rolls away out of the hen's reach as soon as laid. The nest is inclined so that the egg rolls down it on to some straw. We found ourselves that hens refused to lay in a nest made exactly like this; but by making it of carpet, which sagged a little in the middle, and cementing a nest-egg or half a nest egg half-way on the carpet they would do so. Making the nests dark, as by placing them away from the wall and making the hens enter them by this dark passage from behind, the front towards the house being closed up, greatly prevents, and often checks egg-eating. But when it once occurs, the weight of American testimony inclines us to the egg or egg-shell cure.

I have sold up and am travelling If you want to see where I am and what I am doing now follow the link below, which opens in a new window


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Purchasers Comments....

Big thankyou for the eighteen eggs that arrived safely and all intact. My eyes nearly popped out when I saw just how big and chunky they were.......easily the biggest i've ever received.........and what a colour, definite wow factor and so looking forward to hatching.Many many thanks.

......A huge thank you for the 100% fertile hatching eggs, 11from 12 hatched, they are very large and very strong chicks! Thank you for all your advice, it is appreciated

...Just to let you know i have hatched 7 lovely chicks including 1 from your 2 best eggs and 10 out of the 14 eggs ...so very pleased ..... they were worth the wait, they are massive!

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