Chicken Pecking Order — Stressful Times In The Coop

Help! My Chicken's Bullying the Other Hens!

Chicken Pecking Order — Stressful Times In The Coop

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If you added new chicks to your flock this year, you are probably going through the steps to safely integrate them into the flock. The chicken pecking order will be upset for a while and drama will ensue. But there are a few steps you can take to minimize the drama.

First, understand what the chicken pecking order is, and how it helps the flock operate on a daily basis. The chickens in your flock will, for the most part, work this out among themselves. Only occasionally is our interference justified or needed. Chicken pecking order keeps peace in the coop. Chickens are smart creatures. They learn to recognize their place in the ranks and for the most part, stick to it. Unless a change is made. Maintaining a pecking order is actually less stressful for a flock although it may appear harsh when we witness it with our human hearts. Unlike pigs, goats, and cows who keep testing the herd pecking order every day, chickens are smart. They learn their place and go on with life, peacefully for the most part. Of course, there is always the race for that last bit of watermelon or the juicy worm that was uncovered.

Look At It This Way

Consider it this way. Remember the pecking order from middle school?  The self-appointed cool kids had a designated lunch table? They instinctively knew whether they belonged there or not. The rest of us, well we found other tables, and other friends, right? This is true for the backyard chickens too. When they first leave the coop in the morning, the self-appointed flock leader and his or her gang head for the “best” bowl of food. They chase away any others who may try to grab a bite from that bowl.

Single combed chickens rank higher in the chicken pecking order than other comb styles. What a crazy fact about chickens! Remember the hair styles that were popular when you were in school?  For me, it was the straight glossy hair of the girls in the 1970s. (My hair was thick and frizzy, just saying.) The chickens in the popular group may have similar comb styles. ( The Chicken Encyclopedia, by Gail Damerow, Storey Publishing, 2012.)

Adding a few new kids to the chicken pecking order upsets the status quo. Remember the new kids in school? Some of the cool kids would make some attempts to get to know them. Then it would be determined if they fit the criteria for being part of the cool kids’ group. If not they would have to go search for friends elsewhere.  It’s about the same for chickens. They check each other out. The hens wonder if they will be replaced in the rooster’s affections. It’s all quite anxiety producing. Until it all settles down again. And it will.


Tips To Help Make The Transition As Stress-Free As Possible

1. Use a wire barrier to separate the newcomers before they go into the main flock. The chickens will get to know each other a bit through the wire. (This is not the quarantine that you would use for bringing home new chickens, but the method used to introduce your new pullets to the main flock.)

2. Remove the barrier when you can be around to observe the behavior for awhile. I usually check periodically throughout the first days of adding new flock members

3. Have plenty of feed and water areas set up so that the chickens who get chased away can go to a different bowl.

4. Have some places for the timid chickens to hide or go behind, under or into when being chased.

5. Unless the chasing and chickens pecking each other are severe, try to not interfere! It’s hard and especially when we have soft hearts ourselves. Unless a chicken is being picked on by many others, and is being held down and pecked, I do not intervene.

Try to remember that we made it out of middle school in one piece! The chickens will survive the initiation into the flock. Good luck with your chicken flock pecking order.

How do you deal with chicken pecking order? Let us know in the comments.

Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

One thought on “Chicken Pecking Order — Stressful Times In The Coop”
  1. Once integrated together how long does it typically take the pecking order to establish itself? I added 11 new girls the an existing 6 girl flock, I put the “littles” in the the main coop area at 6wks old ,but fenced off for two weeks so they could get to know each other.
    The “littles” are now 12 weeks old and the older girls are still very bossy . The littles aren’t allowed in the coop at night where the roost is, not allowed their water or space . I make sure there are doubles of everything but I would have thought they would have things figured out by now.

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