Sometimes living with animals you have to make hard choices. In the past month our flock of laying hens had become very dissatisfied with each other and life in general. They bickered, they were loud, they fought over the same two nesting boxes (out of 15!), many were missing feathers due to picking, and two of our hens (the gold lace and an easter egger) had become quite aggressive.
Mom worried over them to no end. She’d go out and break up fights and sit in the coop to monitor them. We’d flipped chickens over on their backs and held them down to show dominance. Their feed has been switched to crumbles, they now have sand in their inside run, and hay in their outside run. She even made curtains for their nesting boxes (in girly fabrics!) She’ll tell you that no farmer years ago did that, but I’ve read that farmers used to hang feed sacks over nesting boxes so who knows.
Either way it is an unhappy flock for no discernable reason. There are two chickens who are the brunt of everything. Tempa, an australorp, is missing feathers on her head and butt. We’ve been coating it with pine tar and another product, but it’s not helping much. Beverly, our buckeye, is just getting beat up on a daily basis. This isn’t a normal quick peck to show pecking order, but they’ll get her down on the ground in a vicious way. She’s been scared to eat or drink and mostly hides in the coop or in a far corner of the run. I know pecking order is normal, but whatever is going on is not normal.
I offered the two aggressive hens for $10 each on Facebook. They laid well, they just weren’t getting along with the other chickens at all. I had no takers for over a week. Even being in “time out” for days wasn’t helping. They’d come out madder than ever. One of them even went after me once.
Wednesday was the last straw after one of them took a chunk out of the buckeye’s head.
We made the decision to butcher the gold lace and easter egger in the hopes that the rest of the flock would get along. Dad and I butchered them after he got off work. To kill a good laying chicken isn’t an easy decision, but it’s my belief that it is something that needs to be done occasionally. You’d butcher an aggressive rooster and a hen isn’t any different.
Since then there have been some squabbles as the pecking order is renegotiated, but I have the feeling the two we butchered were instigating the unusual aggression. The buckeye is holding her tail up and socializing with the rest of the hens. More problems might develop, but for now they seem to be getting along and they are using more of the nest boxes since the curtains have been added.
Like all things we take the life of, we thanked the two hens for what they gave us. Eggs for a year and now meat. I don’t agree with the way animals are raised in feedlots and factory farms, but I’ll never be a vegetarian. I think providing an animal with quality of life while they’re living and killing them in a respectful way is all we’re expected to do, being stewards of God’s creation.