Handling a Bully in your Chicken Flock

May 15, 2018



Chickens are the original Mean Girls.  You can't raise them for too long before you realize that. Hard as it may be to believe (almost as hard as believing that your sweet family pet dog is a chicken killer!), chickens can be downright nasty. Sure, they can also be sweet and cuddly and adorable, but in the blink of an eye, they will turn on a flock member.


They form cliques, they dislike newcomers, they snub those that didn't grow up with them in the flock. They'll turn on each other if they sense any type of sickness or weakness - or even if they're just bored or overcrowded.

Even after you've successfully integrated new pullets or grown hens into your flock (something that must be done gradually with fencing in between), and the pecking order has been sorted out, through the course of the year it can shift or be thrown out of whack again, leading to all sorts of bullying and pecking order issues. 

So what to do?

If you discover a bully (or bullies) in your flock, there are several things that you should do.

Check for Illness or Injury


Often chickens will sense weakness or an injured flock member well before you do. If you suddenly notice your chickens picking on one hen, the first thing you should do is take a good look at that chicken. It could be that she's been hurt or injured, or is suffering from an illness.  

If you spot a wound or other injury, or symptoms of any sickness, then you should definitely remove that chicken from the flock to recover.  If there are visible wounds, immediately separate the poor one being picked on - but INSIDE the coop or run so she gets a break from the negative attention, but doesn't lose her place in the pecking order while she heals. 


Simply dividing the run with chicken wire or putting her in a dog crate, rabbit hutch or small cage in, or adjacent to, the run works well (or that small "starter" coop that you bought when you first got your chickens, but realized the first month you had it that it was too small to actually be their forever home) so she is still considered part of the flock, but is safe from further pecking. 

Once she's healed, put another docile hen in with her for a few days and then add both back to the flock at the same time so she's not the only "newcomer".

(If you suspect an illness, then she should be removed to a location away from the flock and treated until she recovers. At that point, move her into a crate inside the run as described below and then "reintroduce" her after everyone has had a chance to get reacquainted with her.)

But if she seems okay, don't be too quick to take her out....


Try not to Separate the Victim  


As chicken moms who love all our girls, it's natural to want to protect them all - even from each other. The normal response when you see one chicken being continually bullied by the others might to take out the poor victim, but that's the worst thing you can do.

That only ensures that she's even lower in the pecking order when she returns. If you don't visibly see anything wrong with the "peckee", it could just be that she's lowest in the pecking order.

Normally you want to let the flock sort things out themselves, but if things turn bloody (see above!) or all the pecking seems directed at just one poor chicken or seems to be relentless, it's time to step in. So instead of removing the victim...

Separate the Bully


Instead of going with your first instinct and taking out the victim, if you can identify one head ringleader, then take that one completely out of the flock for a few days -  a dog crate in the garage or that small starter coop around the other side of the house where the rest of the flock can't see or hear them will work well.

When you put them back in with the rest of the flock, likely they will have lost their place high in the pecking order and might behave - at least for awhile. If it's just one or two, take them both out for a few days. If they go right back to the bullying, take them out again - for a bit longer this time.

Hopefully making sure everyone is healthy and unharmed, and trying to knock any bullies down a bit in the flock hierarchy, will help resolve bully situations, but sometimes chickens are just mean. Like people. Like I said, chickens are the original Mean Girls.

For whatever reason, they just can't play nice and insist on pecking on those they feel are a threat to their place in the pecking order.


Consider Rehoming


As a last resort, sometimes rehoming a bully will be your only recourse. Sometimes being introduced to a brand new flock is all a bully needs to become a model flock member, believe it or not. Taking them out of their element and putting them on another flock's "home turf" can be enough to stop a bully in her tracks.

But one caveat: NEVER rehome a bully without being very clear and transparent about why you are getting rid of the chicken. Make sure the new potential owner clearly understands the issues you're having. But know that many former bullies have been rehabilitated merely by joining a new flock.

Maybe one with more aggressive flock members, or more room to roam, or with a rooster who keeps peace among the hens. But realize also that sometimes the stew pot is going to be the ultimate fate of a chicken who just can't get along or play nice with others.

(Another option would be to rehome the victim if your bully seems to be focusing on just one other flock member. Sometimes two chickens (or people!) just can't get along no matter what.)

Trying to prevent bullying in your flock is important. Here are some tips.


Give Everyone Their Space

Rule of thumb is that you should allow 10 square feet of space per chicken in your chicken run. That's the bare minimum. Bigger is better when it comes to room in the run, if that's where your chickens spend the majority of their day.

In addition to adequate run space, it's also a good idea to create areas where a chicken who is being picked on can get away. Things like outdoor perches, logs or benches, swings or even ladders or chairs that the flock can hide under to get away from a bully are all good ideas.

Just be aware that you don't want to create any "dead-ends" where a bullied chicken could potentially be cornered and unable to escape from her attacker.

Provide Distractions


Giving your chickens lots of things to do can help. Bored chickens will tend to look to each other for entertainment (not all of it good), so instead give them lots of distractions in the run. Like a dust bath area.  Like piles of leaves or straw to scratch through. Like a flock block or head of cabbage or other treats that will keep them busy.


Provide Feed and Water in Several Locations

Regardless of whether or not you have a bully in your flock, it's always a good idea to put out several areas for feed and multiple waterers. Not only are they insurance that your chickens will still have enough to eat and drink in the case one spills or gets dirty, setting up multiple feeding stations will prevent a bully from "guarding" one spot and not letting others near to eat or drink. They can just go eat at the other feeder.



Dealing with a bully can be frustrating, but by taking these few steps, hopefully you'll avoid the situation - because for the well-being of your chickens, a bully needs to either be quickly rehabilitated or removed from the flock. Nobody likes a bully.




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