Chicken Chronicles: The Dark Side


So I'm sitting here looking at a pecked, bloodied, half-dead chick.

It's so awful that I'm not going to post a picture.

We've been putting the chicks out with the older birds for increasingly longer periods of time to try to acclimate them to each other, and this morning we thought we'd try 45 minutes.  We then made the mistake of leaving to run a couple of errands rather than sitting there and supervising them.

When I got back, Lady Bird was just laying there on the ground, motionless, as if she was dead.  One of our adult hens (probably Dolley of the adorable photo below) had attacked her, pecking  her so badly that the back of her head is a bloody mess.  She has a patch of bare, bleeding skin about the size of a quarter on the back of her head–which gives the rather horrifying impression that half her head is gone, even though she's only missing feathers and some skin.

So I immediately rushed them both back inside and returned them to the bathtub while I figured out what to do.  Then I realized that, as expected, little Ida started pecking at Lady Bird's wound as well (chickens are attracted to the color red, so if another chicken has an injury, they will all pick at it more or less by instinct.)

So.  Now my murderous adult hens are outside in their coop. Ida is in the bathroom downstairs by herself, which is about her least favorite thing in the world.  Lady Bird is in a pet carrier on my desk, sleeping on a towel, with a head full of antibiotic ointment.

And I'm going out of town in two days.

And we just did a massive remodel of our bookstore, which requires Scott's presence at the store for long hours every day, which is why we were hoping to transition the chicks outside before I left.

I hope Lady Bird will sleep off the shock and revive a little later.  Then it will just be a matter of keeping her isolated until this awful wound heals and feathers out again. But honestly, I don't know if she's going to make it.  She just seems really weak and fragile.

The chicken books are full of advice about how to keep new chicks segregated from the others by putting separate pens next to each other, etc.  Believe me, we've got all that information.  It would not have been easy to build a separate pen for them give the layout of our coop, and it would have been expensive to buy one, but clearly we're going to have to do one or the other. We had just hoped that we could try this gradual introduction and see how it goes–but our mistake was in leaving them unsupervised for any time at all.

Well.  Since the whole point of the Chicken Chronicles was to share our experiences in this round of chicken-raising, I thought I should share our one terrible mistake.  I'll post again in a day or two and let you know how Lady Bird is doing. 


  1. In my experience birds can suffer great injuries and pull through, they are not like most animals (I believe they are dinosaurs). Can you borrow a large wire type dog crate from someone and place it in the coop with the uninjured chick so that it can get to know the big girls better and then have someone pet sit the injured chick until you get home?

  2. I’m sorry – that’s heartbreaking. Thank you for posting this. I just transitioned my chick outside today. I did put her in a separate pen in the coop BUT was thinking about letting her free so the hens could keep her warm & give her love. I think I’ll just keep her in the pen for a couple weeks with the heat lamps instead.

    Keep us posted on Lady Bird’s progress.

  3. I’m so sorry that happened! When our youngest ones were little one of them got their foot slammed in the coop door and did some pretty severe damage. After sequestering her, she healed rather quickly. Hopefully yours will be up and at ’em soon!

  4. When my mom found a wounded chick, she’d put the ointment on and then get the ointment dirty so the other chickens wouldn’t see it. Seems contrary but helped. This was for the birds that were the same age together. There were just too many to start keeping each injured one separate. Hope she heals quickly!

  5. Oh, this is awful! I know it’s Nature’s way, but I’m such a softy when it comes to those lovely ladies. My best — not only to Lady Bird (awesome name!), but also to you. I could hear the heartbreak in your words.

  6. Your post, which was very interesting, reminds me why I like Willa Cather’s novels — those set in the American Midwest when the first settlers were carving out their lives. Death is as big a part of farm life — all life I guess — as birth. Both are full of drama. At least the kind of drama I’ve come to appreciate.

  7. Poor Lady Bird. That is heartbreaking and you can’t help but feel so helpless in these situations. As others have mentioned however, chickens are resilient. Years ago when I had hens a neighbor’s dog mauled one of them, the kids favorite of course. All I had on hand was Vitamin E so I popped open a capsule and squeezed the oil onto the many and serious wounds and it did the trick. The hen went on to live to a ripe old age.
    Here’s hoping Lady Bird does the same.

  8. Good luck!

    As a kid on our farm I tried to save one of our hens from the gang rape of all the maturing roosters that were ready for the chopping block. She was an awful mess. I tucked her in the cab of our non-functioning truck that had yet to be hauled away. Eventually, we moved her to a friend’s farm where she did okay for a while but eventually gave up the ghost.

    I learned a lot about pecking order and survival of the fittest from that experience. Sad, and heartbreaking 🙁

  9. If I lived in your town, I’d be offering to come over and continue to acclimatize the new birds outside while you’re out of town! I hope Lady Bird pulls through.

  10. I Too have had trublr with chicks this yr.6 just died from feedstore. 13peeped but no hatch 1 did and lived 1died with tested hens from last yr. I got 6 day olds to put under hens 1 dead rest gone. Last yr no problems this yr slot of people I know have had problems.I have 7 that are ok but sad chick yr feel ur pain.

  11. I lost 6 first of season. The 13 no hatch but were formed one hatched one died. I got day olds and put them under th at nit that was six. Have 7 left… Been a rough year.

  12. My husband and I went to a few stops on the Funky Chicken Coop Tour ( here in Austin last week and one of the things we were impressed with was how peaceful the backyards were. Amy, your post does show another side to keeping chickens.
    It’s especially upsetting to read that a chicken named Lady Bird was attacked during Bluebonnet time!

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  13. Amy,

    I had a similar problem when I was introducing some baby chicks to the flock. I was not really able to create a whole separate coop either. So, I took some heavy small gage wire fencing (each square was 1/2 inch) and created a tunnel that the babies could hide out in and the full grown hens could not fit inside. Then I used another piece to create a hideaway corner of the coop. I wired it to the sides of the coop and made the openings small so the full grown hens could not fit.

    It worked like a charm! The babies had two hide-aways they could run to. The full grown hens would try, but never could fit through the tiny openings.

    It might be worth a try for you.

  14. I;m sory to hear of your sad experience. I too have a chook that is not happy in the group lately. They are strange creatures, i dont know whythey all cant just get along

  15. Amy,
    I’m so sorry you had to learn the hard way. As much as we want chickens to be like people, they aren’t.
    On the up side, I’ve had chickens that sustained what looks like impossible damage, and they’ve survived – even thrived.
    Best of luck to your girls.

  16. I have to agree with Daryl on the damage they can sustain. We had one get pinned by our newly adopted dog (he burst out the door on us while it was the ladies time in the yard), she pulled through and is still top hen, but boy what a scare.

    Wishing the best for Lady Bird!

  17. Wow, thank you for your honesty. I’m not sure I’d have an easy time sharing it, but it’s what people really need to know.

    Best wishes to your little chick on a swift recovery!

  18. Sorry, Amy! I had my own experience of the viciousness of chickens. Just ordered the wrong breeds–too aggressive.

    My three Buff Orpingtons are a very peaceful crew. But I’ve been thinking of allowing the first one to get broody this year to hatch out a few chicks from my country neighbor’s fertile eggs.

    Now, I’m not so sure the other two hens would behave decently.

  19. I am so sorry Amy. I so hope Lady Bird pulls through.

    Our Esther nearly died after a raccoon attack and it took her two weeks of sleeping indoors to be able to move again, then a few months to have her wits about her – but now she’s the same chicken she was before.

    So I’m hoping Lady Bird will be able to pull through her injuries too. What a terrible trauma for all of you.

  20. AH! This post as me worried, as I have 4 chicks that eventually need to be introduced to my older girls (10 12-week olds and 1 1-year old). Maybe I’ll just somehow segregate all of them until they’re the same size. Equal footing, right? Sigh.

  21. I’m really sorry to hear about Lady Bird.

    The lady at the feed store told me if I ever were to introduce newbies to the biddies, to put them on the roost at night so the biddies would wake up with them there in the morning, but man, I don’t think I could do that with my current group. They’re mean enough to each other without having smaller birds to be mean to.

    I bet Lady Bird pulls through just fine. I have chicken-keeping friends with birds that have been through all kinds of unpleasant adventures and are still clucking, scratching, and laying just fine.

  22. Oooh, I hope Ladybird recovers quickly! Thank-you for your honest sharing (mistakes we do make) as it paints a true picture of the responsibilities of raising pets. As I talk to more and more people I find it interesting how “romantic” a view people have of raising chickens…there is such a bigger picture.

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