Hen Hysteria

More than just Freaked-Out Fowl

I want to discuss hen hysteria. Don’t get me wrong – this is not a pejorative term; I’m not a politician. Hen hysteria is a genuine behavior disorder, a significant challenge in commercial poultry operations. Stuffed into cages, row upon row, some laying hens suddenly wig-out with no apparent trigger. This syndrome is marked by sudden flying (or attempts at flight), squawking, and searching frantically for a hiding place. Sometimes it happens spontaneously but it can also occur in response to unexpected noises or movements.

Hen hysteria is clearly related to crowding. The more densely packed, the greater the incidence. Flocks of 40 birds had a 90% rate of occurrence but for groups of 20 it was seen in only 22% of them. It happens because many of these animals’ natural choices have been taken away from them. This problem is not seen in free-range chickens because they can opt for greater distance from other birds. It’s a true animal welfare issue because it indicates a poor quality of existence.

Poultry producers are motivated to reduce hen hysteria because they know that freaked-out foul lay fewer eggs. They try to enter cage rooms quietly and announce their presence. That helps because many of their hens function at a level of continual stress that, at best, is just below their threshold for panic.

Here is the take-home message for cat and dog management: Adding just one or two more creatures to a household can destabilize that one pet who may be barely coping. Crowding is a major contributor to aggression, house soiling, self-mutilation, and infectious diseases.

Pets whose bad behavior is easily triggered can almost always be helped but prevention really counts. Pet population in a home matters. Mom was right after all. You can have too much of a good thing.

Dog Behavior Seminar in Albuquerque
Unruly behavior, barking, destructiveness, house soiling, biting: the list of canine conundrums is almost endless. I’ll explain the problems and share the solutions at the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, 4000 Montgomery Blvd NE, from 6-9 PM Wednesday, October 14. Cost: $50. To register call 792-5131. Bring plenty of questions. I’ll give individual help. The classroom is carpeted. Pet parents only, please.