Barnyard Politics: Establishing a pecking order

Recently we noticed some of the turkeys had bloody wings and were being picked on by the others. Often if turkeys don’t have enough feed or enough protein in their feed they will pick each other.

But this isn’t the case now.

There are two laying hens in the turkey house to overnight, so I thought it was possible they started the picking and the turkeys continued it. But for the past couple of nights I’ve moved very sleepy hens back into their proper pen. So this can’t be why some turkeys are getting picked on.

Today while treating the injured turkeys with zinc ointment and moving the most injured ones into the “hospital” we noticed two uninjured turkeys facing off.

At a few months old male turkeys start to puff up their feathers and strut around the pen, trying to impress the females. They also start fighting each other for dominance. This is what these two turkeys were doing.

Bird hierarchy is called pecking order for obvious reasons.

A pen full of mostly roosters and a few hens turned into a constant battle zone a few years ago. Some of the smaller roosters were killed by the dominant ones. And the battles didn’t stop until we removed the hens, making it a bachelor pen.

Everyone needs their own space and it’s not different for animals. Our breeder sows are also kept in separate pens to avoid huge battles and possible injuries. Crowded chickens will peck at each other when kept in cages with no escape. Even if there are only four or five birds to a cage it still isn’t a very good place to be.

Combining two groups of chickens can start an all-out war until one side establishes dominance. Allowing two flocks to get to know each other through a fence lessens the battles and is our preferred method of adding chickens to our flock.

Sometimes removing the picked on animal, letting it heal and then reintroducing it, changes the pecking order enough to allow the animal to reintegrate successfully.

Once a new pecking order has been established by either beating or chasing off the challengers, the barnyard returns to a semi-calm state.

And hopefully once our “hospitalized” turkeys heal they will be able to rejoin their flock with no incidents.

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