If you’re just starting out keeping chickens in your backyard, you’ll certainly want to learn as much as you can about poultry. And sure, this involves learning about all of the different kinds of food they eat, as well as the remedies and medicine they require from time to time.
But seeing as we’re talking about living things, it’s not all about the pure technicalities of keeping them alive. Just like any other animals you keep around your household, chickens soon become beloved pets you care about.
With that in mind, you’ll want to examine their daily habits and behavior and learn as much about it as possible. Unfortunately, that doesn’t just mean dealing with pleasant things.
Once you lose a member of your flock, you may start thinking about an interesting question: do chickens mourn the loss of a flockmate? We’re here to provide you with a detailed answer to that very conundrum!
General Chicken Behavior
Before we move onto how chickens react to the loss of a fellow member of their flock; we’d would do well to consider the general behavior of chickens. While some experienced poultry-keepers may have no need for this, we believe that those just beginning to take care of chickens may find this useful.
So, for starters; chickens, like most animals, spend their time actively looking for pleasure and happiness. Naturally, their daily lives revolve around fulfilling some primary and secondary needs. And though most chickens have identical biological needs, when it comes to their everyday behavior; you’ll find that it can vary wildly.
Some chickens are calm, docile creatures. While others may seek thrills and act like rebels. These are members of the flock that will still cross a road while no-one else from the coop follows. They’re the kind of chicken that will, like a true pet, run out to meet you once you approach, or constantly attempt to jump over the fence. If you let them, they’ll even enter your home. You can expect them to even hide a nest away from the rest of the coop.
And just like with human beings, their behavior is prone to change. Sometimes, your chickens can act in a frustrated and bored manner. You can especially expect this during the winter when they’re unable to go free-ranging as much as they’d like to. Not to mention of course, in this season they don’t have grass and freshly-grown green foliage to enjoy grazing on.
There’s a reason why we, even for humans, use the expression ‘cooped up’. While this confinement lasts, they may act erratically just to pass the time. In such a time, you might find even the nicer chickens ganging up on a member of the flock, pecking them relentlessly, pulling feathers, and possibly even drawing blood.
Dealing With Aggressive Behavior
In such times of aggression and boredom, you’d do well to provide your chickens with a nice distraction. If they’ve got something interesting to do in order to pass their time during the winter, their behavior will immediately improve.
Luckily, chickens are naturally inquisitive. They’ll amuse themselves and tinker with just about any object you place in their environment. They’re very prone to exploring unfamiliar things and surroundings, and even perform small tricks with it. Trust me – even something as seemingly mundane as a mirror is enough to leave them interested and baffled for days.
If it’s still fall, and you’re raking up piles of fallen leaves; let them play with it. They’ll spend a crazy amount of time jumping into the heap, and looking for small mealworms or bugs you can leave inside for them.
Even without your input, chickens can do silly stuff that’s only understandable to them; for example you might find them dragging a single stick or twig arund the yard for ages. But while they’re definitely fun-loving; how do chickens react to periods more negative than pure boredom? Namely, how do they react to trauma?
Chickens and Trauma
When it comes to chicken behavior, it’s not difficult to deal with them when they’re in a positive mood. After all, seeing as we’re talking about poultry, in such a scenario they can pretty much take care of themselves. But, the problem arises when chickens suffer some sort of loss or trauma; like the death of a flockmate. The question is – how do they process this?
In many ways, chickens are no different from any other animal when it comes to the way they process horrible experiences. Generally, they’re prone to getting into a depressed mood, and can exhibit some signs of distress and fear for quite a while after the event that triggered it.
For example, imagine if a weasel managed to make its way into your coop and kill many of the hens. In such a situation, it’s reasonable to expect only a couple of hens making it out alive in a flock of a half dozen.
But once they are safe, most of the surviving members of the flock seemingly suffer a kind of post-traumatic stress. To be more specific, they spend most of their days hiding, and they won’t lay any eggs. Even if none of the chickens in question were harmed, they still had a hard time recuperating from the event. Meaning that, beyond the stress of being attacked itself, they did care for their sadly departed flockmates.
What Can You Do?
Should you and your flock be unlucky enough to face such a situation, you should do all you can to make your hens feel better again. Spoil them with new distractions and fresh quality vegetables; and eventually, they’ll start acting normally again. That way, they’ll also be able to adapt to new members of your flock being introduced. But bear in mind; this whole process can take a long time, possibly even months.
Speaking of which; one of the crucial ways you can help your chickens cope with loss and similar stressful situations is finding them more company. If something bad happens to many members of your flock – be it sickness or a predator attack – make sure the surviving members have plenty of new company as soon as possible. Remember; chickens are animals that naturally belong in a flock. And they associate this togetherness with security and safety.
On the other hand, you’ve got a careful balance to maintain here. The last thing you want is to introduce a bunch of new chickens to the flock all at once. That is a surefire way to create more chaos in your coop. Why? Because, quite simply, chickens like the flock members they’re accustomed to the most.
When hens get new companions, they might initially be unsure of where they stand in regard to them. And the literal pecking order has to be established in the flock once more; meaning a period of anxiety and stress for the chickens, which can easily just turn into a vicious circle. So it can be difficult; you want your chickens to have more company – but you also need to introduce this company periodically, without overwhelming the existing members of the flock.
How Do the Chickens Take It?
While we’ve established how you can help chickens go through trauma; it’s also important to understand how the chickens themselves act upon the death of a flock member. And it’s an extremely interesting, though not a joyful sight. Once a hen nears its natural death, she will wander away from the rest of the chickens, and look for a quiet place to rest. Once she’s there, the other chickens will actually visit her; often a couple of them at any given time.
And though it may be just a human reading of the situation, they do seem sad in those moments. In fact, you can even spot some of them bowing with their heads in order to remain at eye level with the sick chicken. Plus, they’ll coo softly and quietly, with something akin to a whisper. Some will even push some food around to the sick chicken, and while some members of the flock will only visit one, the others keep returning
But once they’ve said their goodbyes, you won’t spot them returning. In the end, the chicken passes from this world entirely on its own. By then, the rest of the flock will have returned to their regular activities, like scratching and foraging. Quite simply – the life of the flock moves on uninterrupted.
Though, interestingly enough, when one of them dies – the hens who were socially closest to the deceased are known to mourn. They’ll remain in the coop, but they’ll produce the very same sounds that they do when they’re looking for a member of the flock who’s missing during their free-ranging.
And such grieving hens, in their mourning period, won’t spend much time with the rest of the flock. So, though only a select few chickens exhibit this type of behavior, depending on their relations with the deceased flock member; it’s still arguably a type of mourning.