Why chickens fight and how to stop it.

2 hens fighting while a cockerel watches them

Both Cockerels and hens will fight, sometimes with each other. The most common reason chickens fight is over establishing a pecking order. Keepers often see squabbles with new hens in the flock or as young chickens grow up and find their place.

Cockerels fight all the time but serious disagreements are very rare amongst hens. I have had to wait three years to catch these two and it was all over in less than 10 seconds.

That said the most brutal fight I have ever witnessed between chickens involved two Old English Game hens with chicks. Chickens keeping is always full of surprises.

Below: A disagreement between two hens.

Most fighting and squabbling between hens is over pecking order, food or perch space and mostly involves posturing, feather (or comb) pulling, sumo style body bumping and jumping on your opponents head with lots of wing flapping and raised hackle feathers on the neck.

Below: Comb pulling amongst hens.

These sorts of disagreements are normally over in a flash and are nothing more than preserving the pecking order, they also rarely result in any injury. Hens rarely waste energy so any fights that last more than half a minute or are repeated are ones you will need to keep an eye on.

Why are my chickens fighting?

Below: This is the sort of pecking order dispute most backyard keepers see amongst their hens.

As a rule, hens do not fight like roosters but will do so for these reasons:

  • A challenge or change to the pecking order.
  • Flock stress factors like overcrowding.
  • Competition over food and water.
  • Broody hens.
  • Hens with young chicks.

Cockerels fight as a matter of course and the only way to introduce a new cockerel into the flock is from very young to allow it to mature. Two adult cockerels will normally fight all the time unless they have grown up together. We have 4 Barnevelder roosters and they all live happily together with no fighting between them.

It is best to introduce new hens at night so as they all wake up together in the morning, see this page for how to add new chickens to an existing flock.

Sometimes they will continue to fight until one bird concedes defeat and accepts their place in the pecking order. This is true of both sexes and the birds may need to be separated if they cannot agree on the pecking order.

How do I stop my hens bullying and attacking each other?

The only way to stop chickens fighting is either to let them get on with it until one submits, or separate them from each other. This might be doable with two cockerels but you can't be separating your flock of hens into small groups all the time.

I have found over the years that the biggest causes of fights amongst hens are either broody hens or young pullets that are just maturing and are trying to work their way up the pecking order a little.

You can try to stop chickens from fighting in the following ways:

  • Add a second source of food and water. One hen will often bully another off food, but with two sources that becomes much more difficult.
  • Keep broody hens and those with young chicks separate from the flock.
  • Give them more space. Overcrowding is a big cause of fights among chickens.
  • Add a nesting box in a different location. Raise one up and place it in a different orientation to the others.
  • Add perches and swings.
  • Give the birds distractions like a hanging cabbage.
  • Give them free range time on pasture.
  • Extend the dust bath or split it into two with a divider that the hens can't see through.
  • Treat for internal and external parasites. Itchy and scratchy hens are more likely to be bad tempered.

All methods will require a little patience.

Will chickens kill each other?

Although it is rare, chickens can kill each other when fighting. Apart from cockerels, I have only ever seen hens fighting to the death over chicks.

Why is my rooster attacking my hens?

It is common for young cockerels to challenge hens in the pecking order. This is something I witness a lot, the young roo's are growing up but are not brave enough to challenge an alfa male to a dual, so they pick on the hens as they see them as an easy target.

It can also happen if you add a new rooster to the flock and one or two of the higher ranking hens refuse to submit to him, this can end in a fight as he tries to dominate her.

A third and much less common reason is a hen that has a damaged ovary and has taken on some male characteristics.

Why do chickens attack injured chickens?

Chickens will attack sick or injured birds to drive them away from the flock so that predators are not attracted to weak birds.

This is a communal survival strategy that has evolved because it benefited the flock overall.

Why are my baby chickens fighting?

Baby chickens fight as they grow up for the same reason large fully grown chickens fight, to establish a pecking order in the brooder.

Even when very young chicks will chest bump each other and will normally begin to assert their dominance over the other chicks within 4 weeks of hatching.