Understanding The Chicken Pecking Order
Hens establishing a pecking order can be quite disturbing to witness, but it is actually a good thing because once established it brings order to the flock.
Conflict within the flock is reduced because each hen knows its place in the hierarchy. When food is available there are no fights to get to it first, because the pecking order dictates who gets access when, the lesser give way to the more dominant in the group.
The top hen gets to have first access to food, water and choice of where to roost, etc, and the others each have their place in the pecking order, all the way down to the bird at the bottom which will usually be the last to have access to the food or choice in anything.
The dominant hen establishes her position at the top by bullying the others and at times can be quite vicious. There are various tactics she can use, most commonly blocking other birds from access to the food and water, and pecking them.
Other methods involve jumping on their back and pushing to the ground, sitting on them when roosting, chasing, rushing at or just giving them a warning look. She basically makes life unpleasant for them until they defer to her. This process usually takes a couple of days but at times can last up to a couple of weeks.
Do not interfere in this process, because it is quite natural and normal for it to happen. Just watch for any signs of a hen being pecked to the point where blood is drawn. Chickens can’t resist pecking at an open wound and will be drawn to the injured hen, pecking at the wound and making it worse. They are actually capable of pecking another hen to death. The injured hen should be separated from the group until she has healed.
If a hen is particularly aggressive, try isolating her from the group for a while but still within their view. This will have the effect of bumping her down the pecking order and on her reintroduction to the group she should settle in to her new position.
Once the order is established it will generally stay that way because chickens lower in the order are too scared to challenge a chicken higher up.
2 Readers Comments
Yes, the pecking order can change over time. Once established I found that it stayed that way for some time. If the dominant hen gets sick, injured or goes broody then it can change in the blink of an eye as the if lower birds are always plotting! When we introduced 3 new hens into our established flock things came close to a complete change, but Sienna (our domanent hen) managed to keep her roll at the top and her contender ended a few steps down the pecking order! - Mike from ChickenCoopsdirect.com
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