Originally Posted by DBB
I may get slaughtered for this, but it often seems to me that these problems nearly always seem to come with rescued, ex-battery hens. Is that what yours are op?
Ex-batts never learn how to perch. From my own observations amongst our fairly large flock of mostly various heritage breed hens, many of whom hatched here and have never known life outside our place, they need to learn how to perch and roost from about 4ish weeks of age. If they're deprived of that opportunity, as battery hens are, they very often will never do it even when presented with the opportunity later in life. You could try placing them onto a perch after dusk for a few nights in a row. Once you "position" a hen after dusk, they usually stay put for the night. Our overwhelming experience here has been once you create a new way of doing things, it takes 2-3 days for this to be adopted as the new normal for the hens. If one or two hens start doing it, there's a better chance that the others will eventually follow suit.
Hens poop where they sit or stand. Normally, this isn't a problem... During the day, they poop and can walk away from it. At night, they're on a roost, it just falls harmlessly to the floor. So, nature kinda takes care of their hygiene without them having to think about it! But the lack of tendency to roost in battery hens means that they still poop... But they're sitting right on it then.
For the record, I'm not aware of any poultry that deliberately move away from where they poop. We have turkeys and geese too. That said, I have a sneaking suspicion that if you give geese a certain night-time set-up, there is a possibility they'll poop away from where they sleep, to some degree at least.
Bullying... Again, this seems to almost always plague ex-batt hens. We have a few dozen hens, and there's rarely any trouble, other than the usual handbags-at-dawn stuff that hens do. Never any injuries. None of them are ex-batts. Everyone I know who's coping with bad bullying, owns ex-batt hens. I *think* that this is related to them not having the opportunity to learn social skills as youngsters. It may also be related to some hens learning that bullying works really well when you live in crowded conditions, to get you more space/food/water etc.
With ex-batts too, they're really thrown in at the deep end when they're rehomed... They've probably never met each other, they've never had freedom, they've never learned how to live effectively within a pecking order... So they've a lot of new concepts to get used to very quickly. No wonder they run into problems!
The general advice, when there is bullying, is to remove the bully(s) from the flock for a few days... Allow the flock to consolidate and form allegiances, then re-introduce the bully(s). With ex-batts, this may very well be a movable feast, and something you've to do on a reasonably regular basis.
I also can't emphasise the importance of having enough space. An 8-hen coop for 8 hens is never big enough. I'd be worried about putting 6 into an 8-hen coop, I'd be more likely to only have 4 hens in it. It may be that your provision of the 2nd coop came too late and the dye had been cast in terms of henny interpersonal relationships. But it's a useful philosophy for all group-dwelling animals... Give them more space and resources (feeding stations, water, perches, nest boxes) than you think they'll need.
A good rooster is often a good anti-bullying device too! Our lad will intervene and scold any hens that start getting uppity with each other. But I realise it's not for everyone to keep a rooster.
Breed of hen can also be a factor. Some breeds are tremendously easygoing, whilst others are more... Bitchy. Light Sussex for example are such popular backyard hens not just because they're good layers, but because they're too laid back to get into fights with anyone!
I do understand your horror at the bullying... We have a few young turkeys being raised for Christmas, and they are utter assholes. Fine most of the time, but if they get an idea in their head, or if they spot a tiny weakness, they will relentlessly bully and attack each other, and the hens. So much so that they're kept separate from the hens now. They're like unsocialised teenage scumbags really.
Egg-eating is perfectly normal. It's not cannabilism really... Hens hardly see eggs as potential baby chicks... They're just a tasty source of protein for them. It's a nuisance when they do it, but it's perfectly natural.
So, as you may have gathered, keeping hens has been a very enjoyable experience for us! But whilst rescuing ex-batt hens is very laudable, it's not without its problems when it comes to behavioural issues. We have some rescue hens... But they're not ex-batt, and they're fab.