Bloody hens!

The six hens snoozing in the sun in better times

The six hens snoozing in the sun in better times

We have kept ducks for the past 25 years with relatively little trouble (apart from some being killed by otters and by a dog from a neighbouring house). In the summer of 2014 we got half a dozen hens, and were surprised how tame they are compared to the ducks. Part of their friendliness may come from my wife feeding them a treat of a handful of grapes daily. They are almost as good layers as the ducks, with five or six eggs lovely brown eggs daily from the six hens. By comparison we have around 14 to 15 slightly larger white eggs daily from the 16 ducks.

Ducks seem to have no pecking order, and live in relative harmony, with the worst aggression being a little tail-pulling. The hens, on the other hand, have their clear leader, in our case it is one with a white leg ring, descending to the hen with a purple ring at the bottom of the pack. In between, in descending order are (or at least were) red/orange ring, red ring, blue ring and yellow ring.

Bottom-of-the-pack purple ring began to have her backside pecked by the other hens, to the extent that it was bleeding.  I wrote of this in an earlier blog, and after separating off the hen its injuries healed and it is back with the flock.

Next, red/orange hen had a broken egg inside her, and I thought this would be her demise. Luckily the egg was thin-shelled, which is probably why it had broken in the first place, and by late afternoon she had managed to pass it.

Yellow ring was the next to suffer pecking of the bum. Her pecking was so bad that some of the insides had emerged and I had to put her down. On the same day I found red ring dead behind the henhouse. She had been in great condition and was a solid, heavy hen. There was no evidence of earlier pecking, but about 18 inches of gut had been pulled out, though I’ve no idea if this was before or after death. I suspect it was after death as there was no blood evident, though of course hens home in on blood and may have cleaned it up. So then I was left with four hens.

The following week blue ring began to have her backside pecked. There was considerable blood drawn so I liberally covered the wound in suda cream. I’d no doubt this would assist healing but I also hoped it would prevent further pecking. It encouraged initial pecking but its aggressors did not like the taste of suda cream and soon left blue ring alone.

Blue ring’s injuries have almost healed but she has now taken to eating the eggs from the two nest boxes. I filled an egg with cayenne pepper and placed it in the henhouse. She immediately began to scoff it with no apparent aversion to the hot contents, so I quickly removed what was left. I read later that an egg filled with mustard had been used to good effect in these situations. Meantime I have placed a golf ball in each of the nest boxes. That seems to have helped as I have had no eggs eaten (to my knowledge) for two days. Egg-eating spreads quickly to the rest of the flock so she is now on her last chance.

My next challenge will be in trying to integrate new point-of-lay pullets to make up the numbers again – or should I just buy more ducks?

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