Many new chicken keepers are appalled to learn that chickens fight amongst themselves. Chickens are social creatures that live in a hierarchical structure. The chickens establish a social order known as the pecking order. Inevitably some hens will end up at the bottom of the pecking order. It is important to understand how to care for the girls at the bottom of the heap.
Hens at the lower end of the pecking order may lose weight and condition. Provisions should be made to ensure that they have access to food and water. If the hens are injured or lose feathers, they may need to be moved to a separate flock. The dominant or bully hens may also need to be managed.
Chickens are political creatures, vying for social standing and the opportunity to get the best resources.
How Do You Know Which Chicken Is At The Top Of The Pecking Order?
The hen at the top of the pecking order eats from any bowl she wants and goes wherever she wants. This hen will often be the first one out of the chicken coop in the morning. She will strut around with confidence.
The most dominant hen pecks at other chickens that get in her way or try to share a food bowl.
The top spot on the roosting perch is on the top level, in the middle of the
roost. The most dominant chicken will occupy this position in the flock. The rooster will usually be in this place, but if there is no rooster, then the dominant hen will take this place. If there is a rooster, the dominant hens will sit on either side of the rooster.
Hens at the bottom of the chicken hierarchy roost on the lower rungs at the edges of the flock. They are timid and often anxious when foraging for food.
What Is Normal Pecking Order Behavior?
Pecking order is healthy for a flock. Dominant hens and roosters take on the role of protectors of the flock, ensuring its survival. They are also the chickens that are vigilant and alert to danger from predators. In many instances, these chickens will attack predators that try to ravage the flock.
A balanced dominant hen or rooster will also ensure some kind of order in the chicken social structure. They may break up fights and squabbles among hens further down the hierarchy.
Nature has regulated animal behaviour so that they rarely kill or permanently harm each other. This would be detrimental to the ongoing success of the species. The same is generally true in chickens.
In a normal flock, dominant behaviour consists of one chicken chasing a less dominant one if it gets in the way. The dominant chicken will take first place in the food and water bowl. It may allow less dominant chickens to eat simultaneously if sufficient space exists.
The top hens will peck lower-order hens to move them away.
Pecking order usually extends to approximately fifteen or sixteen hens, with a maximum of about twenty being included in one hierarchical structure. There will be several social circles in large flocks with a pecking order in each one.
What Is Too Aggressive Pecking Order Behavior?
Hens with wounds and feather loss are signs of a pecking order that is too aggressive. Chickens should not harass, pursue and constantly peck other hens. This is a sign of a pathological pecking order.
Some chickens may be bullied to the extent that they lose weight and condition because they do not get enough access to food and water.
Aggression in chickens increases during longer daylight hours and, as a result, is often worse in summer. Lack of space and limited food or water resources will also increase aggression. Boredom may be at the root of excessive bullying in the henhouse.
Should I Help The Hen At The Bottom Of The Pecking Order?
The hen or hens at the bottom of the pecking order may need some protection to ensure she remains healthy and functional. Stressed and unhappy chickens do not lay eggs regularly, and their condition will deteriorate.
If your submissive hen is injured or has bald spots from other hens plucking out feathers, it is time to intervene.
What Do You Do When The Chicken Is At The Bottom Of The Pecking Order?
If your lower-order hen is not coping, it may be best to relocate her to another flock. This could be another flock on your property or permanent relocation to another home. The hen doing the bullying can also be relocated, which is a quick way to fix the problem.
If you wish to keep all your hens, you need to look into other ways to prevent henhouse bullying.
- Ensure that your chickens have enough space in the chicken coop and the run. Crowding guarantees to bully.
- There must be enough roosting perches for all your chickens. Having several different roosting sites in a coop can help to distribute the power base in a flock.
- Feeding troughs or bowls should be long enough to allow all the chickens to feed simultaneously. If separate bowls are used, place multiple bowls in different locations so that dominant hens cannot hoard all the food and water.
- Provide small shelters outside in the run and consider putting food and water in these. Submissive hens will have a chance to eat, drink and rest in these sites.
- The dominant hen may need to go to ‘jail’ for a while. Set up a small enclosure within the coop where the bullying hen can be placed for a minimum of a week. She should be able to see the other chickens without interacting with them. This time-out often restores order and sorts out any bullying.
- The small enclosure within the coop may also be used for the lower order hen if she is injured, plucked, or moulting. Moulting makes hens more vulnerable, and the bullied hen may need some protection at this time. The small enclosure can act as a hospital in this case.
- Boredom can be overcome by installing chicken toys in the coop or run. Tying a cabbage head or a seed ball just above the height of the chicken’s head is an easy toy to make. Red soda cans filled with a few stones or jingly objects attract the chicken’s attention and prevent bullying.
It may be necessary to intervene to protect the lower order hens at times. Henhouse politics can become out of control, and some chickens can be injured or killed if the bullying persists.