Solitary Confinement for Chickens

When I let the hens out for some free range time yesterday, I noticed one of the Austra Whites was bloodied about the comb.

We have two of this breed, and the other one was bullied a few months ago in the same way. I was so concerned about the mess of blood on our first go-round with this that I took the injured hen to a bird vet, who recommended isolation and charged $80 to apply pressure to the injured comb for 40 minutes until the bleeding stopped.

Isolation (which we had been doing anyway) did the trick and eventually the first chicken’s comb healed, she learned some deference and the bullying seemed to stop.

When I saw that we had some comb-attacking happening again, my first thought was, “Man, these Austra Whites sure get picked on!” They are significantly smaller than our other breeds and it’s easy to see them as the victim.

Then I watched a little longer and saw some serious back-and-forth between the injured Austra White and a much larger Barred Rock. Both were giving, though the Austra White was taking a lot harder. To my inexperienced chicken-keeping eye, this looked like a chicken power-play situation.

For everyone’s safety and flock tranquility, the Austra White needed to be separated. During the day I kept her in our semi-mobile bottomless pen atop a fallow raised bed with a little food and water. As the flock moved back into the coop for the evening roost I had a brainstorm. I wanted to keep the injured Austra White separate, but in a location that would allow her to see and hear the rest of the flock if possible.

Chicken keepers know that a flock of hens will pick one nesting box and use that while ignoring the others. We have three nesting boxes, only one of which is ever used for laying. The nesting boxes look out onto the roosting area. Looking at the two never-used nesting boxes, I realized it would be simple to partition one off with hardware cloth mesh as a hospital pen for injured on confined chickens.

Making the isolation cage was dead simple. I used wire cutters to snip a scrap section of hardware cloth to size and fitted it to the front of one of the not-favored laying boxes. Meanwhile, my daughter and trusty chicken wrangler kept the hens from beating on each other until we could finalize Solitary Confinement.

The mesh is anchored by four screws, one in each corner, and is held on by tension, making it simple to pop the mesh on or off as needed.

I didn’t think the view from Solitary Confinement was too bad.

But the Austra White was clearly unhappy in such small quarters.

My 8-year-old daughter asked if we were going to lock her in that little space.

“Yeah, we are, but just for the evening.” I said, “Hey, it’s a lot more room than egg laying hens in a factory get for their whole lives.”

“Really?” asked my daughter, horrified.

“And that’s why we have our own chickens,” I said.

A few hours later, after the sun set and the chickens were solidly roosting, I went outside to check on the Austra White. I opened the external egg hatch and discovered she was still awake!

My theory is, without the ability to satisfactorily roost, she couldn’t get comfortable enough to fall asleep, but I might be anthropomorphizing dangerously. In any event, I am on a hair trigger about sleep deprivation for my own reasons right now, and I couldn’t let my poor hen suffer as I do from lack of sleep.

I released her from Solitary Confinement and placed her up on one of the roosting poles. I figured no one would be fighting during roosting time, so she wouldn’t get any worse overnight. There’s just the issue of getting into the coop and moving her out of squabbling range before the flock awakes.

Oh well, I didn’t need that sleep, anyway, right?

Chicken keepers, what do you think – is converting an unused nesting box into a confinement pen for injured hens clever or problematic? Why? And long term, what are your best tips to stop aggression in a flock?

 

Comments

  1. Very interested to see the answers to this. Such problems, along with prolapsed vents *shudder* are my biggest chicken concerns. I’m acutely aware of all the little pecks my 8 day old girls are giving each other. Hoping its normal, and not going to turn into carnage.

    I’ve already thought about isolation, and for me, because I have a dogs and their associated equipment in spades, I’d use a dog crate. A wire one preferably, which would have the benefit of more room and could have a temporary, albeit low, roost added.

    Can you tell I’m paranoid about this?

    • Dog crates seem very useful for this. Not having dogs, we are shy a crate but I should keep my eye out for a used one on Craigslist or Freecycle. Do they come collapsable, to make storage simpler? The prolapsed vent situation we dealt with last year was, surprisingly, not that big a deal. I mean, I did have to get all up in my hen’s bitses but other than that it was much less difficult than this head pecking stuff. I’m sure your girls will be fine!

      • some are 1 piece, some break down into two pieces, you can get them in canvas or tent material, too. I might have Josie’s first crate around, it was about 2 feet x 3 feet. ABS plastic, two pieces for easy cleanup. I’ll look this weekend.

  2. We have two wire dog crates that we use for brooding chicks with the hens (really helps with that whole introduction thing) and so when we have a sick or injured hen we keep her in the smaller of the two with food and water (it’s still a large crate while the bigger one is XLarge). That way they are with everyone but safe.

  3. In th four years that we have been keeping chickens (not very long) that has happened twice, both times to the same chicken. Per Backyard Chickens forum advice we put pine tar on her comb. I think it both helps the wound heal and tastes bad, so it deters further picking( although honestly it didn’t seem to bother the aggressors). Then we locked her in the enclosed run, which looks much like yours, during the day while the other girls free ranged around her. We only isolated her for a day or two until the blood was gone and then she was fine. I would worry about the chicken getting mites if left in a nesting box with the same bedding for too long. Our neighbors chicken who was allowed to sit in the nesting box all day when she was broody would get mites. Best of luck!

    • Thanks Pamina! I’m glad you mentioned mites, I hadn’t considered that. As clever (or not!) as my nesting box confinement cage idea was, I have now decided it’s just not fair to lock the hen up like that if I can figure out an alternate method of separation that gives her more room. It means a bit more back and forth hen wrangling in the early morning, but that’s a small price to pay.

      • Yah, the nesting box was a good emergency solution, but I think you’ve gotten a lot of good ideas for types of dog crates and such to give her more room, but allow her to stay with the flock. I thought the top down separation idea was interesting too. Most of us have our own flocks because we like to see our chicken enjoying their space and able to exhibit all there funny chicken behaviors. It makes the eggs so much better. I’m sure you will find a good solution.

  4. Sharon Miro says:

    We have had to isolate chickens twice: both times we used a bathroom, but they clearly were not happy. We just finished what we are calling The Maternity Ward. Since we ended up with two roosters, we needed to separate them, as one was losing his tail feathers! Several of the girls were gettign somewhat pecked, and when we did the separation we took several of his ladies, and one that had been pecked. Things worked out just fine! They are much better away from the others for a while.

    • I don’t think I could go for a hen-in-the-bathroom situation. I have enough indoor poop in my life with my son! :) On the other hand, I was fine converting our old pack-and-play crib into a chick brooder.

  5. Just Nick says:

    As a sort of update, the isolation ward has now been improved with a roost – of sorts: the handle of an unused rubber mallet that I rummaged up out of the garage this morning. When I want to hit something, I want to hit it with metal, so rubber mallets have a limited use in my world. This seemed like a reasonable improvisation and it propped in place relatively well.
    She seemed willing to roost up on it this morning when I moved her back into isolation (one advantage of a conference call with the company’s European team: I’m up before the chickens!). But the real test will come this evening, we’ll see if it suffices for overnight.

  6. UPDATE: I let the injured Austra White out of her Solitary Confinement Pen when I let the flock out for range time. Her blood was totally dried at that point and I thought, with the whole yard to peck in, stress would be so low no aggression would happen. WRONG! As soon as the AW was in sight of the rest of the flock, the Barred Rock she’d been sparring with and the other Austra White full on attacked her. They actually left a pile of scratch to run her down. Both ruffled up their neck feathers and attempted to hop on the back of the injured chicken to scratch and peck her head.

    There was never this kind of outright aggression towards the other Austra White when she was being pecked. If chickens can hate other chickens, hate was on display this morning.

    Thoughts?

  7. Linda McHenry says:

    We’ve had our flock of five hens for a year and have not had a pecking problem until last week. I think it has to do with confining them to their run and chicken yard area (about a 8′x20′ space). Until the new spring growth started appearing in the garden beds they were allowed to “free range” in the backyard……..now they are “cooped” up and I think bored. Our two problem girls are an aggressive Barred Rock and our docile Ameracauna. No blood yet, but Cleo is being pecked about the head and throat and showing loss of feathers. The local farm supply store has some ointment that’s supposed to help…..we’ll be getting that if this continues. But in the mean time I’m keeping a close watch and have my fingers crossed that it doesn’t get worse. My only worries about isolation is the reintroduction phase. We had and injury that required isolation of two of the hens (kept them in the sun room for a week…..boy was that a stinky proposition) the reintroduction was problematic…..lots of postering and reestablishing of the pecking order behavior. But things finally settled down…..until last week.

    • I smeared some of that coal tar ointment on the head of the other chicken who was pecked. I’m not sure it helped all that much, but it sure didn’t hurt. It did dye the top of her (previously white) head a rather striking purple… :)

  8. I think you have to make sure there is no visible blood. We really cleaned up our girl before returning her to the flock because they have some weird blood thirsty instincts.

  9. We’ve separated ours as well to let them heal a bit and get back on their feet. I have a large dog crate in the garage for those purposes and, as you said, its still a lot bigger than life in a factory!

  10. I remember a similar case where a flock pecked one of their own to death. I wonder if chickens are racist…

    • Up until now I would have said that birds of a feather really DO flock together, since the barred rocks tend to hang out, and the ameraucanas do as well. But one of the attackers is the same breed as the injured.

  11. How and where we separate hens depends on what the problem is. Usually at night though, as everyone goes into a torpor when they roost, if a hen isn’t too bad off, I have no trouble just popping a hen back in the coop at night, and pulling her back out in the morning. In the day, like you, they’re usually out in a portable tractor where they can still see the rest of the flock.

    As for aggression, I was at my wits end last year, and finally resorted to pinless (NOT pinned) peepers. I put them on all the hens, not just the aggressors, so they all looked the same. Difference in the coop (size, color, pattern etc.) seems to make the matter worse, so they all got a pair of spectacles. Anyway, they worked fabulously well. My girls have all their feathers back, and nobody picks on anyone, and the hens can all be in one place together, which makes management easier. I’m happy to say my ‘hospital pen’ has been deserted lately. Our ‘peeper’ post is here if you think you might want to try them: http://curbstonevalley.com/blog/?p=7756 Without them, I may have had to cull some of my best egg-layers. I honestly wish I’d tried them sooner.

    • That’s a great post, thanks for sharing it. I will watch this situation and if it doesn’t resolve, I’ll be looking into the…ahem…chicken goggles. I had no idea such things existed, so thank you for the suggestion!

  12. I had some problem this winter with one of our hens getting attacked and isolated from the flock. I don’t think it had anything to do with being more in the run over the winter, they have a good sized run and they still got to go outside in the yard plenty of days this winter. Even when roaming outside this chicken got attacked when she got close to the others, she started to stay away from the flock and in the end just set down in a corner of the run and didn’t seem to interact, eat or drink. I got concerned about that, tried to force her out in the yard and watch how they interact. It seemed at first that she was the instigator, pecking first passing by the other chickens but as I observed I think she was just trying to defend her place…….the others were much more vicious, they all jumped at her at the same time.
    after a few days I noticed she hardly moved from her secure spot (as long she stayed in that spot she was not attacked) even in the rain, at night she was not allowed on the roost and sat on the ground, I also observed she started shaking her head constantly and yawning/gaping frequently so I looked through my chicken books and found this could mean a gaping worm infestation. She started getting weak, so I separated her into the 2nd part of the run (we have a divided run with chicken doors to both sides we can close off), with a dog kennel as shelter/sleeping area, gave her some worming medication and hoped for the best. She is doing much better, walking around now and eating and drinking a bit, just got her second dose of the worming stuff but is still isolated from the flock. I’ll try to reintroduce her to the flock this weekend, when they can go outside(weather permitting) and I can watch them.
    I think chickens as a self preservation thing will attack the weaker member of the flock, even killing them to keep the rest of the flock save. So if a chicken get’s brutalized by the flock maybe she is having a health issue.
    I think isolating her into the small box is not enough room for the chicken, especially if she is used to much more room….but sometimes if you don’t have any other solution it’s probably better then letting her be attacked. Maybe you have a garden shed or Greenhouse to let her in?

    • That’s so sad! I’ll watch the injured girl for any sign on health issues, but other than the flock-inflicted problems she seems very healthy. Right now she’s roaming around in the semi-portable tractor thing and seems ok. Her wounds have healed well.

  13. I would put some Blue Kote on that and keep her with the flock as much as you can – separating her will only make it worse when you reintroduce her. Do they have enough space? More is always better and, also making sure there are multiple places for them to eat and drink. The lowest on the totem pole always have someone making their life difficult, what else do they have to do all day but terrorize each other? Honestly if you are having a bullying issue, I would separate the trouble maker for a few days then throw them back in with the flock – knock them down a bit and give the lowly a chance to work their way up. I have a white banty in with all standard sized hens – I wouldn’t do that over as she is constantly stressed from the other chickens. We moved them into a bigger coop spaced and it has helped a lot. Also giving them “something” to do might help too, hanging a cabbage in the run, throwing a handful of cracked corn into a pile of leaves, etc.

    • Linda McHenry says:

      I like the idea of removing the aggressive bird instead of the pecked one…….she would have to reestablish dominance once back with the flock. I’ve played “boss hen” and swatted our aggressive Barred Rock when she’d go after the Ameraucana and that seemed to put her in her place a bit. Was just out collecting eggs and all seems quiet on the home front.

      • I like this idea too. I think I’ll reintroduce injured bird tonight and pull out the bully tomorrow and see how that goes. Glad your girls are playing nice.

        • I have to agree with Erin. When I have a hen that is being above and beyond aggressive I separate her from the flock for a couple of days. She comes down a peg or two in the order and the roosting order changes too. I also agree with Isabel Norman’s observations too and advice for checking a picked hen’s health as there is nothing so organised and microcosm as the foul yard, but since you have eliminated that concern it’s probably just bully behaviour OTT.

          • OK, it’s decided. We’re going hockey rules on this. Blood = Penalty Box Time. Tomorrow am The Bully gets separated.

    • Great perspective, thanks. I will work on the problem from top-down, rather than bottom-up. :)

  14. We have had some serious pecking issues. We introduced new chicks (at bout 4 months) to a group of 2 year old hens. The older hens singled out one of the chicks (who I believe was sort of a “runt” and might have been slightly brain damaged) and repeatedly pecked her, bad enough that we had to separate the younger birds from the older. The pecked chick kept escaping back into the run with the older chickens, and was pecked badly enough that we had to separate her completely (in a box in the garage) to heal. AFter this, some of her own age chickens were now pecking on her, so we created a new run and coop, within our current run and coop (we call it “the loft”), for the pecked chicken and her sister, both bantams (although the other bantam was not being pecked, she would live peacefully with her sister so we kept them togther for company). One day the door was left unlocked and the pecked chicken got into the other run, and was pecked to death. SO now I am super paranoid about keeping these two groups of birds separate (we got another young bantam to keep the sister company!). Pecking just seems to be something that happens when chickens are confined – free range they can run away easier. We now have a chicken being pecked on her back. We are using pine tar to help with healing and hopefully prevent much more damage.

    • That’s terrible! I’m so sorry for your poor bird. Your “paranoia” seems pretty reasonable, considering the history there.

  15. Arrianne says:

    The most peace our flock ever enjoyed was when we had a rooster. Which is funny because the got no peace from the rooster’s constant crowing. When he arrived at maturity, he established his own social order among the hens and enforced it by intervening between bickering hens and protecting hens he favored. He didn’t let one hen dominate another.

    I know roosters are a no-no in Seattle, I just thought it was compelling how he handled it.

    • But if I were willing to sit in the coop for a few days, perhaps *I* could be the rooster? Smack down the bully a bit….

      • Just Nick says:

        Ooh, that sounds fun. Would you keep me supplied with coffee? I’ll sit out there with a sleeping bag, a paperback, and regulate on them hens.

  16. I had one pecked really bad. She stayed in a rabbit pen with top. We painted her with this blue stuff to change the red blood to purple. Chickens go after red. After she was healed a couple days I put her back with the others. The bully hen went after her right away. I took the bully and isolated her a few days. The pecking order readjusted and the bully isn’t pecking anyone now. I got the idea from backyardchicken.com

  17. Ugh. Damn pecking order. Grr. We had to let our beat up barred rock pretty much completely heal before she was let back in to mingle. And, I moved the “Mean Girl” to isolation and let her roam with the rest of the “Nice Girls.”
    I love the empty nest box/isolation spot. Mites…couldn’t you use DE?
    I used “No-Peck” on my barreds head….it worked. Sort of. Until it wore off. And, until she was healed enough to not start gushing with one well placed peck.

  18. Chickens usually peck at each other for 3 reasons: hierarchy, boredom and protein deficiency. It could be that they are re-establishing the pecking order, but it also could be a protein deficiency. Sometimes the feed just doesn’t cut it. If you aren’t already try giving them yogurt or even mashed up hard boiled egg. Cat food works too. It might help too.

    A good alternative to “No Peck” is a heavy coating of vaseline. It helps with the wound as well as keeps the other chickens from pecking. Easier to find and often cheaper. We did that when the neighbor dog ripped out the tail of our Ameraucana and worked like a charm.

  19. In my case all the chickens went after the poor thing. Poor girl was sitting in the corner all day not eating and drinking so it wouldn’t have helped removing the bully. She is getting better now, the head shaking has stopped and she is moving around more so I think she got rid of the worms. I tried to reintroduce her to the flock today while I was in the yard and them free ranging. I kept a good eye on them and intervened when it got too bad. Whenever she got to close to the others one would start attacking her and then they all jumped on her. After a few attacks she just sat in a corner by herself and looked kinda depressed so I separated the yard and put her on the other side. One of the Welsummers seemed to be ok next to her earlier, even she would join in on the attacks so after a little while I put her with the poor girl….that seemed to work so well that I later replaced her with another chicken. Toward the evening I let them all get together and didn’t see a fight but she was still very cautious around them. I keep them still separate for the night and see how it goes.

  20. Well, on the patio, across from the smaller coop and run, I’ve got Maxine bunking in a really big cat cage loaded with as much straw as she cares to scratch and nest in. Because her sisters decided her head looked like a primo spot to take up competitive pecking. Maxine loves her confinement, from all outward appearances. My guess is she is glad her sisters won’t be pecking her head in the near future.

  21. Cynthia in Denver says:

    Perhaps during free range time, instead of confinement, turn a playpen upside down on the yard with the victim inside. She gets to free range too, and the other girls are in sight.

  22. I found your site and we are having a similar problem. My hen has a torn comb- looks similar to the size of yours- lots of sites talk about cutting off the injured part? Did you do that? Did her comb stay red and healthy after the wound healed?
    Thanks so much!!

  23. Another thing to try with young chicks to prevent aggressive pecking is to put something shiny in their environment. We use an old cd and hang it from the roof so it is right at eye level. Then when the baby chicks get bored they peck that instead of each other.

  24. One thing to stop them pecking is to treat the wound with blue spray (anticeptic spray used to mark pigs, sheep and other animals). The chickens cannot see the old wound under the sprayed blue, and tend to leave the wounded alone. It has to be recoated every day until wound is healed.
    If there is cuts with the roosters (or old chickens) flingy parts, at times to stop bleeding is difficult. For those flingy part cuts which are nasty cases use simple elastic band and wrap that around the damaged area, and it cuts the blood flow in minutes. In 15 minutes you have to release pressure for few moments, but it can be redone immediately after. Same time, once its under pressure, use ice cubes inside plastic bag and covered with anticeptic wound wrapping piece. It reduces blood flow and makes the wound stop bleeding faster.
    Then blue spray and back to the pack- thats how the pack keeps its dynamics but the hurt one is also left alone. If the problem becomes severe, separate few chickens and put one rooster with them, so that they form their own “minipack.”

    • Yes we used an old rabbit hutch inside the chicken run to integrate the new chickens. Although yesterday one of our 14 month old chickens decided to isolate herself from the flock she’s been with since birth to the point of not even roosting at night and no longer coming in the house. She’s gone all day and all night. She came when i called her for food in the morning, ate and drank and disappeared all day and night again. No sign of injury, no blood, eating well. Why the change in behaviour? What should i do? We’d like the old Sparkles back, even though she climbs the balcony steps to come into the house!

  25. I have 2 young roosters born same day June 6,2013 up until a few weeks ago they got along just fine. I also have “Rooster “Bad Ass” Dude” no one messes with him, 3 days ago I came home from work only to find Chip & Charlie covered in blood with feathers missing all over there body’s. They are both in lock down. But how do I get all the blood off there once beautiful feathers? And can they ever be friends/brothers again?

Trackbacks

  1. [...] (Read more about the Solitary Confinement nesting box conversion.) [...]

Your participation makes this whole thing work, so join in! Comment policy: Wheaton's Law enforced here.

*