Why Chickens Sometimes Kill Their Chicks: The Sad Reality



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The other day while collecting eggs from the coop, I spotted something that gave me the heebie jeebies – one of the chicks all huddled in the corner alone while its ma cussed it out and pecked at it something fierce.

What’s the deal, lady? I thought chickens were s’posed to love their little chicks.

After doing some digging though, it turns out chickens can actually be real jerks to their babies sometimes. Wanna hear all the dirty details on why?

Chickens will often off their own chicks if they think something’s wrong with them.

Keep readin’ to get the real lowdown on why these feathered fiends act the way they do with their chicks.

Their Savage Instincts Run Deep


Chickens may live on the farm now but way back in dinosaur times their ancestors were real wild animals. Those primal instincts are still buried deep down in their bird brains today. One such instinct is that any chick that looks sick or hurt could threaten the whole clan. A weak link like that would be an easy target for predators to snatch up. So ma hen has gotten in the habit of peckin’ those chicks to dust so the others have a better chance at survival.

Sometimes a chick might have a bent toe or look a little scrawny compared to its siblings. The momma hen can’t exactly give each one a check up so any slight abnormality might trigger her instinct to rid the threat. You might think it’s harsh but from a chicken’s point of view, culling the defective chick means more resources for the healthy ones.

Even perfectly healthy chicks aren’t safe once they start losing their fluffy downy coats and newly hatched chicks enter the coop. The ma can get confused between the new peeps and her existing ones and end up pecking the “foreign” chick to death by mistake. Evolution has programmed these birds to eliminate anything that could risk the group’s survival without a second thought.

Add on stress from predators, new chicks mixing with existing broods or depleted resources during drought years and a chicken’s savage instincts will really kick in. You might find a whole batch of chicks ravaged by their own mom if conditions get tough enough to trigger her survival mode. It’s brutal but that’s just natural selection at work, prehistoric chicken stylee.

Cluckin’ Claustrophobia In The Coop


Another reason these chickens turn on their peeps is when conditions get too tight quarters like sardines in a can. If a hen has way more chicks than she can manage in the coop space allotted, the stress and lack of personal bubble starts beefs between the gang. She’ll start eliminating the chicks that are taking up precious real estate.

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Can you imagine having a dozen little ones constantly underfoot 24/7 scrapping over the few inches of space you got? Constant squealing, feather ruffling and tussles for the best roosting spot would have any chicken ma on the verge of a breakdown. Once tensions start stewin’ from non stop close contact, pecking orders emerge to let the alpha chicks rise and weaker ones get cut.

Population control naturally kicks in through pecking assaults if a chicken momma wants to give her remaining brood a fighting chance. It’s a ruthless game of survival of the hugest in a packed coop where the weak links literally get scratched off the roster. One day little Fluffy’s getting scraps along with everyone else, next thing her sisters have formed a conga line down her feathered back in a dominance display.

Making sure your coop has at least 2 square feet of space per bird gives chickens the breathing room they need to live together harmoniously. If not, you might come home to a scene straight out of Lord of the Flies—chicken edition thanks to their basic instincts gone haywire from overcrowding stress.

When Chicken Parenting Goes Cuckoo


Sometimes a ma hen will lose the plot with her chicks if she feels under the weather or frazzled from the pressures of motherhood. Raising a big brood of eggs is no walk in the park after all—between incubation, hatching, then feeding and protecting your little balls of fluff around the clock would stress out anybody!

If a chicken mama hasn’t had a good dust bath lately and her feathers are all ruffled, she’ll be extra grumpy and prone to pecking her chicks at the slightest setback like interrupted nap time. Not getting optimal grub in her diet also leads to irritability and violent outbursts where she lashes out at her innocents bystanders. A calcium or protein deficient ma is a loose canon waiting to explode on her frazzled nerves.

Introducing an adopted chick into an existing brood without properly acclimating everyone first is also roulette with their tiny lives. The resident matriarch won’t know the newcomer isn’t there to steal her turf and might give it the old one-two with a drop kick out of the coop in challenge. Even friendly fostering between hens can go awry if one of them isn’t feeling the foster mom vibe that day and asserts her rank in a bout of pecking.

Overall a stressed, nutrient deficient or mentally fatigued chicken finds an easy outlet by chasing her brood around the coop. It may seem unmotherly but for her it’s a coping mechanism during fragile times. Luckily some deep breathing and R&R for overworked moms along with a balanced diet usually fixes their poor behavior before it reaches the breaking point.

But Chicken Parenting Ain’t All Bad News…

Now while chickens can have their violent moments toward their toddlers, it ain’t all doom and gloom in their world of mothering. Plenty of ma hens are real patient, protective types who’d go to war for their little chicks. I mean can you imagine raising 15 chicks at once successfully all on your own? That’s some hardcore multi-tasking right there.

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When given a happy home with no stresses like ample space, food, water and shelter basics met, the majority of chickens make loving moms. You’ll often see them all cuddled up with the babies under their wings keeping them warm and safe. Some hens even develop favorites within their brood and show more affection to those particular peeps. It’s cute as heck to see the bond form between a mama bird and chicks.

So while chickens may act harshly at times for survival reasons, deep down they truly care for their offspring. With some experienced chicken parenting on our end to keep stresses low, most hens thrive being mother hens. It just goes to show that even prehistoric fowl have a soft, cuddly side hidden under all those feathers when raising the little ones. Who knew chickens could be such doting divas?

In summary – chickens’ violent instincts to cull weaknesses, overcrowding stresses, hormonal factors and lack of proper parenting can trigger aggression toward chicks. But minimizing those triggers through spacious living and TLC lets their tender maternal side shine through. Hope this sheds some light on chickens’ real deal behavior with their own babies!

Pecking Order Perils

A chicken social group always establishes a strict pecking order of dominance.

The top hen gets first pick of resources like food and the best roosting spots.

Baby chicks are low on the totem pole trying to figure out where they stand.

More dominant siblings may mercilessly peck newer chicks to prove they’re top dog.

Even mild nips intended to establish rank can turn into all-out attacks accidentally killing other chicks.

Having too many chicks hatch at once also means more competition for resources and pecking order ranking.

Stress from vying for dominance exacerbates normal pecking between chicks leading to injuries or death sometimes.

Misguided Mothering Mistakes

New chicken moms can make errors while learning to nurture their first brood.

Inexperienced hens may fail to properly incubate or brood chicks leading to health issues.

They may not recognize when a chick is ill or injured and needs special attention.

Young moms also run the risk of accidentally sitting or rolling onto chicks killing them during brooding.

Learning to identify her chicks among others and defend them if needed is a delicate skill that takes practice.

Overly anxious first-time mothers can be too aggressive pecking chicks out of unnecessary worry.

With experience a hen’s maternal skills sharpen reducing risk of negligence or accidents with her babies.

Chicks Who Don’t Zip It

Baby chicks communicate using high pitched cheeping noises.

Constant cheeping solicits feeding responses from the mother hen.

However, excessively loud or prolonged piping can attract predators to the flock.

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Some chicks may vocalize more than others due to size, health or temperament differences.

This bugs the hen into thinking the “noisey” chick endangers the whole brood.

As a solution, ma hen may swiftly shut the noisy chick up permanently through pecking.

It ensures the group’s safety even if her reaction seems harsh to human sensibilities.

When Hen Goes Hormonal

Chicken hormones drive maternal behaviors like broodiness and nesting.

Hens experience hormone fluctuations throughout breeding and brooding cycles.

Rises and dips in hormones impact a chicken’s mood and parental care abilities.

Say an egg bound hen is in pain – she may displace stress onto her chicks through nips.

Hormonal imbalances due to illness, age or poor nutrition also make hens more irritable.

At their crankiest, hens lash out violently when chicks trigger hormone driven aggression.

Ensuring hen health helps keep those pesky hormones in check for calmer chicken parenting.

Cluck Happens When Cuckoos Clash

Having more than one broody hen hatching eggs at once leads to power struggles.

Each hen wants to claim all chicks as her sole right as the mother figure.

Yet multiple mothers and their newly adopted mingled broods meet confusion.

Hens don’t recognize each other’s chicks through smell alone sometimes.

So they resort to fighting over the kids through feisty sparring or forceful pecking.

Poorly matched foster moms raising chicks under stress often turn abusive to them.

It’s smarter to let a single experienced mom raise her brood in peace undisturbed.

Flock First Philosophy

Chickens evolved surviving as mixed flocks not isolated family units.

Thus social cohesion ranks higher than individual welfare in their pecking order.

If a sickly chick threatens the entire flock’s health and foraging chances.

A hen may feel obligated to eliminate it as an act of flock cooperation.

“The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” philosophy drives chicken society.

Their group focused nature exists for flock cooperation which supersedes family bonds.

An individual may be dismissed if their presence risks the community at large.

When Baby Birds Bully Back

Contrary to belief, chicks can also exhibit aggressive behaviors too young.

For example, temperamental chicks may excessively peck and threaten their mother.

Bullied hens get stressed fast from their babies unsafe antics.

Chicks harassing or attacking their mom risks defending pecks in self defense.

Bullied moms will fight back against bratty chicks challenging her authority.

Occasional nips aim to discipline ill behaved chicks instilling manners.

With time chicks learn respecting mom’s dominance keeping everyone safe and sound.

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Dream of a waddling flock of feathered friends in your own backyard?

Then stop dreaming and start hatching a plan, people!

This ain’t no chicken game. After nearly a decade running my own egg empire and mastering the art of keeping chickens, I’ve stuffed all my insider secrets into the aptly named “How to Raise Chickens for Eggs”.

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