If your chicks are in a small brooder, they’ll most likely become agitated if unable to escape from an annoying light. Uncomfortable living conditions can lead to pecking each other, a problem that you definitely want to avoid.
I’m not at all a fan of the clear white bulbs and switched a long time ago to red. They provide a calming environment, and as a bonus, any minor pecking that’s caused an injury is better disguised under a red lamp.
Most feed stores only carry 250 watt heat lamps, but if you’re finding the brooder too hot, there are lower wattage bulbs available. You can often find 50, 75 and 100 watt heat bulbs in the reptile section of pet stores, or online. You may also want to research using a radiant heat brooder instead of a heat lamp.
Does your Brooder Have Comfort Zones?
It’s easy to tell, you should see some birds huddled together under the heat source, some resting alone, some scratching in the litter, and some eating.
Let’s start at the beginning with chicks in the brooder. Chicks don’t just peck each other for lack of something to do. There is an underlying problem causing them stress and/or aggravation. As any living creature, the first and foremost necessity for well being is comfort.
Providing chick starter crumbles and fresh water is a given, so we can certainly rule out hunger as the stress factor. It is my opinion there are two other very important factors to consider. Living environment and lighting, with significant emphasis on the latter. Overcrowding may or may not be the culprit in their acquired pecking behavior. However, if ample space is not provided away from a heat source, comfort is indeed compromised.
Always provide more than one feeder so weaker birds are not bullied. It only takes one drop of blood for the pecking disaster to begin, remember chickens are in fact cannibals. Also, by week 3, keep them busy with offerings of green grass, especially when you witness aggression.
Now let’s get to the nitty gritty of the pecking problem. Lighting, lighting, lighting! A brooder lamp is necessary for warmth but it shouldn’t be a blast of blinding light. Especially if you have the chicks in a small brooder and there’s no way to escape the annoyance.
I’m not at all a fan of the clear white bulbs and switched a long time ago to RED. They provide a calming environment, and as a bonus any minor pecking that’s caused an injury is better disguised under a red lamp.
You may want to make the switch from heat lamps altogether and switch to radiant heat from a Brinsea brooder. This will solve your fluctuating temperature problem, and providing you have a good number of chicks, it will be sufficient in keeping them warm.
Note: If it’s brutal cold… you can supplement with a low wattage red heat lamp. Low wattage heat bulbs are sold for reptiles, I usually use a 50 or 100 watt, depending on how cold it is.
For injuries, no matter how slight, I use a product called Blu-Kote. It has healing agents and the purple dye in the treatment hides the battle wounds. You’ll find this product at your local feed store.
I’m convinced that happy and content chickens start in the brooder. It’s easy to tell if the brooder has comfort zones. You should see some birds huddled together under the heat source, some resting alone, some scratching in the litter, and some eating. Watch your chicks, their behavior says it all!
Stressful Conditions Create Unhappy Chickens and Bad Behavior
Pecking problems can begin even when chicks are still in the brooder. At this age they start pecking the toes of other chicks. When pecking occurs in older birds, they tend to peck the backs, heads, and vent areas. Whether your birds are chicks, pullets, or mature chickens, pecking can turn into a serious matter without intervention.
Pinpointing the Problem
Normal behavior of chickens does include establishing a pecking order. So it’s important to watch your flock to learn the difference between normal and problematic pecking. It’s less likely to have a pecking problem if your flock is uniform in size, age, and breed. All your birds should be in good health as well; those that show signs of weakness are more apt to be a victim of aggressive behavior.
When persistent pecking is observed, check your flock’s environment. Poor living conditions or inadequate nutrition can be a factor in bad behavior. Make sure all members of the flock have access to food and water, even if it means putting it in more than one place. Hens do not take kindly to a shortage of nest boxes either; place them in various areas with easy access.
When there’s excessive pecking brewing in the brooder, it may be something as simple as lighting. Improper or undesirable lighting in the brooder can cause stress, If you’re using clear bulbs in the brooder, switch to red. Check the temperature in their environment, if it’s too hot, or cold, this can contribute to pecking. Adequate space is also vital, whether in the brooder or the coop.
Last but not least, check for parasites. Examine your birds, their droppings, the coop, and treat if necessary. Pecking habits and cannibalism occur when birds are under stress and unhappy. Take a good look at the environment that has been created for them. Is it what your chickens need to live in harmony?