Off with their heads!
September 10, 2010 10:10 AM   Subscribe

I have a flock of backyard chickens (for egg production) that needs to have its numbers reduced. Which hens should have a date with the chopping block?

I keep my chickens in a chicken tractor but I've crammed too many chickens into too small of a space and they're starting to peck each other to the point that they're loosing feathers.

Assuming that the ones with more feathers missing are lower on the pecking order, which birds would I slaughter to restore some harmony in the flock? Would it be the ones at the top that do the most pecking or the ones at the bottom who are pecked the most?
posted by talkingmuffin to Pets & Animals (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are all the chickens the same age?
posted by punchtothehead at 10:13 AM on September 10, 2010

Just cull the older ones whose egg production is falling off (or about to).
posted by dersins at 10:21 AM on September 10, 2010

Can you tell which ones are the super-star egg-layers?
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 10:22 AM on September 10, 2010

I applaud your desire to loosen up the elbow room! As you obviously know, a crowded bird is a stressed bird, and Bad Things can happen.

But can I ask how many chickens you have, in how many square feet?

Reason being, chickens will always peck each other. That is where the very phrase "pecking order" comes from. You could have three chickens in three acres, and one of them would still get pecked.

It's normal for there to be a bit of feather loss here and there from pecking. If it gets bloody, or if the pecked chicken is being bullied away from feed and water, that's a serious problem. But no matter which chickens you remove, someone's always going to be the peck-er, and someone's always going to be the peck-ee.

I built my chicken tractor with a generous space allowance, according to all the resources I checked. I have 4 hens in 24 square feet (6x4) which is 6sf per hen. This gives them a decent amount of space, although I wouldn't want to add a fifth hen.
posted by ErikaB at 10:49 AM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

All of the chickens are the same age and they're all fairly consistent layers.

As for my tractor, I copied one of the designs off the page I linked in the original post. I have six chickens in it with 32 square feet exposed to the ground, a 5 foot long roost and two nesting boxes. That means I have the same square footage per bird as you do ErikaB.

I just worry for the health and well being of the birds. I did the backyard chicken thing because I didn't want my eggs from battery hens or hens kept in overcrowded barns. I'd hate to think that my birds are suffering.
posted by talkingmuffin at 11:01 AM on September 10, 2010

I don't know where you are, but it's possible that your birds are starting to molt in preparation for winter. Could that be causing some of the feather loss? Also, a molting chicken is a cranky chicken, which would increase pecking.

I can't offer first-hand advice about whether to cull the top or the bottom of the hierarchy since I only had 3 birds at a time, but there's always competition for the Top Hen spot. If you take out the current leader, the others will squabble over who gets to rule the roost. If you cull the bottom, the survivors will still squabble over who's Top Hen because the hierarchy is a bit fluid, but I'd guess there would be less fighting because there's less disruption to the status quo. Just a guess, though, and the status quo always takes a little bickering to maintain. There are many parallels between chickens and humans which are hilarious to watch in action, particularly if you're a bit of a misanthrope.
posted by Quietgal at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

Sometimes a flock has egg-eaters... those might be the first ones to go after, since the other chickens will observe this behavior and emulate it. If you're going to do it by pecking order, I'd be inclined to go from the bottom up, otherwise it will stress the flock since they have to re-establish their hierarchy.
posted by crapmatic at 12:23 PM on September 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you just want to reduce the number of hens, you could also try giving away, or even selling, one or two. We've given away a couple who didn't work out for us (for one reason or another).

My local Craigslist has a lot of ads for laying hens, so it seems like there's a market.
posted by galadriel at 1:27 PM on September 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

All chickens being equal, if you are ready for a fricassee, you could get an axe, and a deck of cards, a coin, or a die; then pick a chicken out at random, and... nah, just do what galadriel says.
posted by ovvl at 4:43 PM on September 10, 2010

This site has a short guide for choosing.

Quietgal is right about the pecking order, so consider taking the bottom two, if you can figure out which two those are. If the birds are pushing past two years (best egg laying years are over) you could go for all six and start fresh.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 5:06 PM on September 10, 2010

Oh, they're definitely not overcrowded, then! Not even crowded.

I mean, if you want a chicken dinner, or just fewer mouths to feed, or if someone's getting pecked bloody and you want to shake up the power structure, then by all means go to it.

But please don't worry about it being an unhealthily crowded situation! That's definitely a worry that you can take off your plate.

And Quietgal has an excellent point, which I should have thought of myself, since my hens started molting about a week ago. It does make them cranky, as well as shabby-looking.
posted by ErikaB at 6:05 PM on September 10, 2010

« Older Let's say the gods ate steak. I want to know how...   |   Bedtime Stories for Whiners. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.