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Pecking Order In The Hen-house- What is Pecking Order
Just like work at the office, kids on the playground, and the coop, there is always a pecking order. Where one animal, or person, is the top dog and everyone falls in line somewhere below that person. Honestly, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been at the top of the pecking order, but, I’m pretty sure I’ve been at the bottom a time or two.
Natural Order of Things
If you’re new to raising chickens, seeing the pecking order for the first time may be disturbing or even alarming. One chicken bullying the others, or, even one being ostracized. The truth is, as disturbing as it may seem, the pecking order is the natural order of things and us humans shouldn’t meddle or act as playground warden.
The Pecking Order- How It Works
Visualize a chain of command. The leader is on top, his (or her) right-hand man under him, their secretary and so on. Now apply that visual to your chicken flock.
You will have one chicken who is the top alpha of the coop. Since we’re dealing with chickens, we’ll call it the Top Cluck. The Top Cluck will be on the top roost, get the first worm, be the first to the feed and pretty much be the boss of the yard.
How Many Are in Order- Pecking That Is
Whether you have three, or, three-hundred chickens, this pecking order will always be there. Top cluck, righthand cluck, all the ones in the middle, and bottom cluck.
The bottom cluck will be just that, the last one in the lunch line and the bottom one on the roost. But remember, this is the natural order of things. Any human involvement to change this will muck things up. So, let the clucks do what they do best.
When to Get Involved
As I mentioned above, the pecking order doesn’t need human meddling. However, there does come a time and a place when you should get involved.
Times to get involved:
- The bottom cluck is losing weight
- Bottom cluck is not getting food
- Feather loss
- Other injuries
When There’s Blood
When my older children were little and had friends over, they always liked to tell on each other. I finally had enough and started saying ‘I don’t want to hear about it unless someone is bleeding.’
One day the kids came yelling “MOM…….” Me: I said not unless someone is bleeding. Kids: THERE’S BLOOD! Yep, it’s time to get involved when there’s blood.
When you have a chicken that is bleeding from being pecked on or from another injury, it is extremely important to remove this chicken from the flock and treat the injury.
By nature, chickens are attracted to red. When a chicken sees red, they will peck at it more. That is why you’ll often see chicken water dishes and food dishes colored red, so chickens will be attracted to them.
Once a chicken, or chickens, start pecking an injury, they won’t stop. You need to remove the injured chicken and treat their injuries until they are healed. For our Blue Kote recipe for injured chickens, click here.
When you have an injured chicken from chicken-yard bullies, it’s important to remove them and give them time to heal. We use a large dog crate for our injured chickens but a playpen or a separate part of the chicken coop will work just as well.
Once you remove the injured chicken you will need to
- Assess the injury and decide if a vet is needed
- Clean the wound and apply Blue Kote (make your own with this recipe)
- Give the injured food, water, and probiotics or electrolytes if needed
- Keep the chicken separated until fully recovered
When the Peck-eee Becomes the Peck-er
No one likes to be the bottom cluck, certainly no chicken. Often the chicken at the bottom of the pecking order will become the play-yard bully if new chickens are introduced into the flock. For this reason, always introduce new chickens to your flock slowly and keep a watchful eye. Remember not to micro-manage but be aware of happenings.
Tips for Introducing New Chickens To An Old Flock
Anytime there’s a new kid on the block, feathers are going to get ruffled. What used to be an organized pecking order will now be mass chaos when new chickens are introduced and every cluck for himself. Each feathered friend will once again peck their way to the top of the order, all vying for the top cluck position.
Assuming you’ve allowed ample quarantine time to confirm your new birds are healthy and disease-free, there are some steps that can help your new birds adjust to your old birds with minimal casualties. Just kidding, no clucks should die in the process.
- The right age, personally I wouldn’t introduce any chickens younger than 8-10 weeks to an older flock. They need to be able to defend themselves if needed.
- Good fences make great neighbors. Keep a wire fence or glass between the new and old flock for several days. Make sure they can see each other and interact but not touch. This will give them some time to get to know each other at a safe distance.
- Change things up a bit. In our house, everyone has their favorite chair or spot on the couch, same with the chickens. If someone sat in my chair? Oh, honey, that would be a mistake. Right before adding the new flock to the old, add some new perches, places to hang out, bedding, and a new snack or two. That way it will be new and uncharted territory for everyone. Without fighting for their favorite resting place.
There are never any guarantees in life, you can do everything right and they will still be fights in the schoolyard. Nature will always be just that, no matter how much we try to domesticate it.
Are They Fighting? Or Something Else?
Don’t laugh, but I’m gonna tell ya, if you’ve never seen chickens mating before, you may think they’re fighting. I remember our youngest screaming for me saying the chickens are killing each other. I ran outside and interrupted some a very intimate moment between my rooster and his hen. Roosters are not the gentlest of lovers, so if you’re not familiar with how baby chicks are made, it can scare ya.
I’m not going to go into details but if you see what appears to be two chickens fighting and one is a rooster and one is a hen, chances are you will have baby chicks in your future.
Do you have any advice to share about pecking order or introducing new birds to an old flock?