Chicken Behaviour

Why was my chicken lying in a hole and covered in dirt?

Chickens engage in the natural behaviour of dustbathing, which can be either be very funny or very unsettling the first time you see them doing it. This strange behaviour involves them finding (or making) a dusty area, dig a hole, lie in it and kick dirt over themselves. The purpose of dust bathing is to removed mites, lice and other bugs out of their feathers. It is also very enjoyable for them, as their favourite place to dust bathe will probably be in direct sunlight.

Chickens that are kept in a closed run should be given access to a cat litter tray (for example) with sand/dirt so they can still remove their own parasites… some chicken keepers also add Pestene powder to areas where they dust bathe for added protection.

Why won’t my chicken won’t get off the nest?

Some breeds can be quite ‘broody’, which means they will sit on a nest and refuse to move with the intention of hatching out some chicks. If you put some fertile eggs under her, or if you have a rooster and suspect the eggs under her may be fertile, you stand a good chance of having some chicks after 21 days.

All broody hens have behavioural characteristics in common, including:
     · Sitting on a nest, with or without eggs and refusing to come off. They will be quite low into the nest (squatting) and will appear very puffed up and fluffy.
     · They may pull out some of the feathers from their belly, which ensures direct contact with the eggs. You may notice an increase in feathers in the coop/yard if this has happened.
     · She could get aggressive, screeching in a high pitched tone and even pecking at anyone who gets too close.
     · She will also have ‘broody poos’ – a surprisingly large and very offensive smelling poo which is a result of not having the frequency of pooing that a chicken normally does.

Chickens don’t need a rooster, or even eggs, to become broody. If you want to discourage your chicken from being broody (and resume laying eggs) please contact Suburban Chooks for an information sheet on how to ‘break their brood’ or do a bit of research on the internet. Also, broody hens may develop health problems associated with this behaviour including not eating/drinking/pooing daily and possible mite infestation  – they will need intervention from their owners to keep her healthy.

I think my chicken is broody – what now?

All broody hens have behavioural characteristics in common, including:
     · Sitting on a nest, with or without eggs and refusing to come off. They will be quite low into the nest (squatting) and will appear very puffed up and fluffy.
     · They may pull out some of the feathers from their belly, which ensures direct contact with the eggs. You may notice an increase in feathers in the coop/yard if this has happened.
     · She could get aggressive, screeching in a high pitched tone and even pecking at anyone who gets too close.
     · She will also have ‘broody poos’ – a surprisingly large, very offensive smelling poo which is a result of not having the frequency of pooing that a chicken normally does.

If you put some fertile eggs under her, or if you have a rooster and suspect the eggs under her may be fertile, you stand a good chance of having some chicks after 21 days. Broody hens may develop health problems associated with this behaviour including not eating, drinking or pooing daily and possible mite infestation  – they will need intervention from their owners to keep her healthy.

Chickens don’t need a rooster, or even eggs, to become broody. If you want to discourage your chicken from being broody (and resume laying eggs) please contact Suburban Chooks for an information sheet on how to ‘break their brood’ or do a bit of research on the internet. Also, broody hens may develop health problems associated with this behaviour including not eating/drinking/pooing daily and possible mite infestation  – they will need intervention from their owners to keep her healthy.

How do I ‘break’ my broody hen? 

There are different levels involved in breaking the brood of a hen, dependant on how determined they are to sit on the nest. Your chicken should always have access to food and water whilst attempting any of the ‘unbrooding’ techniques as depriving an already weak and unhealthy chicken is cruel and doesn’t help the ‘unbrooding’ process.

The first suggestion is removing the hen from the nest into a separate pen where she can’t see her old nest will do the trick. This can often take a few days. Others find that moving the broody hen to an open pen, where there is good air circulation and no nest, is what it takes to break a brood. This is often referred to as ‘chooky jail’ or ‘the sin bin’ (with the ‘sin’ being they have stopped laying eggs). This technique works because the hen is cooler, uncomfortable and unable to nest – resulting in a quicker return to the ‘normal’ business of laying eggs. Other suggestions include putting ice in the nest in place of eggs, again to lower her body temperature or dunking the unfortunate Mum in a container of cool/cold water. 

All of the above suggestions mainly revolve around lowering the body temperature of the chicken and changing their environment to make the conditions less conducive to being broody. Often it will take a chicken keeper repeated ‘treatments’ before a brood is successfully broken. Without intervention (or eggs to hatch out) a chicken can remain broody for well over a month…

Crowing hen

It’s not unheard of for adult hens to crow (though usually they are not as good at it as actual roosters are). It generally happens if there is no adult rooster in the flock. They won’t necessarily crow every morning, or all year. I have a hen who crows but she only does it sometimes, maybe for a few days a few times a year. 

I don’t think there is anything you can do to prevent your hen from crowing (other than keep a rooster, which defeats the purpose…). If it is too early, loud and annoying then putting her inside at night in a cat carrier with a towel over it will probably stop the crowing (at least it does with my hen). Let her out when it’s a reasonable hour. 

How do I introduce new chickens into my flock at home?

There are a variety of different methods (as outlined below) but what you grow to prefer is entirely up to you. There is no ‘one right’ way… Some chicken keepers introduce the new girls to the coop (on the perch) during the night, so their introduction is (theoretically) less noticeable. Some introduce them in an open area and monitor the “introductions”. Some introduce them by separation through a fence (chicken mesh etc). Some just add them to the new flock, stand back and let them sort it out and nature do ‘its thing’.

There are a miriad of information on how to do it, but alot of it depends on your own personality and how tolerant of how you are when the chickens inevitably have their squabbles to determine pecking order. The bare minimum requirements are that there should always be enough room for the new comers to run away safely and you should ensure that there is more than one area for water and food access so the new comers can eat and drink and that the ‘top chook’ isn’t stopping them from doing so.

As a general rule as long as there isn’t a concerning amount of physical damage done to each other things should settle down within two or three days at the most, although some chicken keepers have reported ongoing squabbles continuing for a week.

PLEASE NOTE – Suburban Chooks recommends that you quarantine new birds for at least a two week period before introducing them into your existing flock – click here for more information.