Chickens are social birds. In the wild, they form small flocks with a dozen or so members and a rooster. If you’ve ever watched a free-range flock, you’ve probably noticed that there are some strict rules in their family structure. Ranking starts from the moment chicks hatch or new members are introduced, and soon every member of the flock knows its place.
A chicken’s rank may be based on the size, color, age or personality of the individual, while a newly integrated chicken is often lower in the pecking order than those on home ground. Serious pecking is often a sign of high stress, boredom, sickness or overcrowding.
Although there will always be a natural pecking order in your flock, there are ways to prevent your birds from seriously hurting each other. One thing’s for sure – DO NOT debeak your chickens. Not only can this be painful, but it prevents them for properly foraging for small insects and can increase stress levels.
Instead, try one or a combination of these humane practices:
- Give your chickens all-day access to the outdoors and ensure the space is large enough for the number of chickens you have (we recommend 40 square feet per chicken).
- Add more feeders and waterers to reduce competition for food and water.
- Don’t restrict how much chickens eat and drink. Leave their waterers and feeders full and accessible throughout the day and night.
- Chickens are curious animals and can get bored if there’s nothing to do. Consider buying toys and snacks (e.g. fruit) for your flock so they stay entertained, especially on rainy/snowy days.
- Set up a radio and play music for your chickens. We’ve found classical music helps keep the chickens calm and sometimes even puts them to sleep!
- Check your chickens for lice, mites and worms to ensure their pecking is not related to an underlying health problem. It’s always a good idea to have a veterinarian contact to help identify and treat any issues that might arise in your flock.
There you have it! We hope these tips are useful in keeping a healthy, happy flock of free-range chickens.