These are just random notes that I have added to my garden and chicken journal about things I have noticed about chickens.
Adding a rooster
I added a Rhode Island Red rooster to a coop that contained 4 Rhode Island Red hens so I could raise chicks this Spring. The hens had been some of the most consistent layers I have ever owned, laying almost on egg per day. When the rooster was added, egg production dropped to half or less of what it was before. Chickens do not like any disruption of their life, and adding a rooster in with a bunch of hens is a big disruption. Things settled down after a couple weeks and laying returned to normal.
Buff Orpingt0ns had been my favorite breed. They are good producers of nice brown eggs, the hens have a very gentle disposition, and they are fairly broody. Their bad traits (that I have noticed, anyway) are that the roosters are very aggressive, to the point of being dangerous; I have had several cases of cannibalism over the years; the broodiness is only marginally there.
I am now leaning toward the Rhode Island Red as my favorite breed. I have found that the RIR roosters are as gentle as the hens. To make the rooster situation even better, one of my RIR roosters has a rather quiet crow (I really hope that this is a genetic trait that will be passed on to his chicks). They are somewhat better egg layers than the Buff Orpingtons.
The downside is that while a Buff Orpington will occasionally set on her eggs, Rhode Island Reds have pretty much had that bred out of them. I will need to come up with another way to raise chicks. The incubator works well, but I don’t like being dependent on an electrical devise for something like this. Hen-raised chicks just seem to do better than those hatched in an incubator and then left without a mother hen to guide them as they grow.
I may have to go back to using a bantam hen. I would rather not though, since they are very high strung and difficult to work with. They also are very serious scratchers, and will dig holes around the edge of their pen and then escape.
Cannibalism is perhaps caused by malnutrition. I read a book about minerals in human and animal nutrition. The author – a vet and a doctor, too – said that acc. to his research, mineral-deficient people and animals will seek out whatever they need to manifest health according to the will of their genes and that it is not normal for animals to cannibalize each other. Maybe some varieties of chicken have exceptional nutritional requirements, but nevertheless it is never “normal”. This author stated that human tribes who practice cannibalism have some deep deficiency of certain minerals.
My only experience with hostility is several of my Buff Orpington roosters attacking a troublesome fellow rooster, as I told you about elsewhere. It was a one-time thing and they never bothered him again. He had never bothered the other roosters, so maybe this was some kind of internal pecking-order thing – you know, you are having too much time with the hens. The excess hormone that would cause a rooster to go after hens more than they would normally be entitled to would also cause them to chase people, maybe, and the other boys straightened that sitution out. Grist for the mill!
I give my chickens, male & female, summer and winter, a mineral and vitamin supplement. They don’t “molt”. Why would molting be considered normal, I always wondered. Everybody I know talks about “molting” of the hens as if this is something that is supposed to happen. Nor do they stop laying until they are about 3-4 years old, tho their output goes down as they age. Those hens (of mine) who didn’t get slurped up by a fox usually lived to be 5 years old.
I have heard that mineral deficiencies are the cause of cannibalism, but I’m not buying it. From what I have seen, it is a learned behavior. In my experience, it starts with an injured bird – often a hen than has lost her back feathers from overly aggressive roosters. Once blood is drawn, the others will peck at the wound and that will continue until the hen is killed. The chickens will then progress to full cannibalism. It is disturbing, to put it mildly. Once a flock has started this practice, I have found no way to stop it short of confining them all to individual cages, and even then they continue to peck at those in the cage next to them. I eventually ended up killing the entire flock and starting over.
On the other hand, when I keep the roosters away so that then hens don’t lose their back feathers, there is none of this. Some sort of dietary deficiency may have some small affect on this, but I firmly believe that it is behavioral. I have not made any dietary changes. I have seen this only in Buff Orpingtons, and I am also convinced that allowing them more space than some folks call for also helps prevent it. I am not yet ready to state that the Buff Orpingtons are any more likely to cannibalize than other breeds. I don’t have enough experience with it to say that. What I do know though, is that it is definitely a behavioral issue.
The keys to preventing cannibalism in chickens are:
• Keep the roosters away from the hens unless you need fertile eggs.
• Make sure they have plenty of space.
• Immediately remove any chicken that has a bleeding wound.
Horrible story, Stephen. I think that overall stress might be an issue. My Orpington hens (don’t have any left) sometimes were serviced too much by the roosters and did indeed lose back feathers that way, but no “injuries”. I have never had a hen of mine of any variety in 10 years with any injury or illness, though one or two just up and died young without symptoms.
My Orps. never got pecked by the roosters or other hens. Never. The lost feathers from too much “attention” grew back. I never isolated the hens from the roosters. Maybe that bunch of hens were just healthy as can be. Maybe I gave them good living conditions – as you say, plenty of room. Free ranging over the whole farm. Great diet in the winter, wide variety. In the summer – lots o’ insects & little vermin. A good life and dare I say, a good death. Praise God.
The more I work with chickens, the more similarities to human society I observe – and that’s not a good thing.