Chickens’ pecking order may seem a little viscous to us humans, but it is an integral part to chicken socialization. You may wish your chickens were a little kinder to each other, but that’s just not part of their biology.
What is The Pecking Order?
Chickens organize themselves in a social hierarchy within their flock. Higher ranking chickens get first dips on food and the best roosting spots. Generally stronger and larger birds rank higher in the pecking order.
If you have a rooster, one will be head honcho above the other chickens. Junior and lower ranking roosters will generally work out a hierarchy among themselves. Females will also have their own separate pecking order, although some dominant females may establish themselves over lower ranking roosters.
You can see chickens establishing their ranking as young as six weeks. They will run at each other and bump chests, and the larger chicks will chase smaller ones away from feeders and waterers.
Once a flock’s pecking order is established, they are resistant to adding new birds. You can add new hens, as long as you are careful about it. Check out Introducing New Chickens Without Causing a Bloodbath for more details about how to do that.
If you try to introduce a new rooster while you still have one, it will most likely be a fight to the death. However, some roosters will tolerate younger roosters who have been raised in the flock.
How To Deal With Problems
Generally you do not need to intervene with your chickens pecking order. However, occasionally they may seriously injure or kill each other. If one bird is being bullied extensively, you may need to pull it out to save its life.
If blood has been drawn, remove the injured bird from the flock and then reintroduce gradually. You will likely need to pull one or two other birds to keep the injured one company and to help reintroduce it to the main flock once it’s healed.
To prevent problems in the first place, make sure there are plenty of feeders, waterers, and roosts. You may also want to provide additional nesting boxes as well.
Sometimes chickens try to put YOU into their pecking order. Don’t let them think they rank higher than you do. If they charge you or peck you, stand your ground and don’t run away. Thick pants and shoes can help you not get nervous, especially if a rooster is charging you. You can also try holding the bird onto the ground for a couple minutes, or gently brushing it away from you with a broom.
You can’t change a chicken’s behavior, but it’s good to know what is natural and when you might need to intervene. Chickens will always have their pecking order!
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