Chickens, like humans, have a social hierarchy called ‘the pecking order’ within their flock. It’s definitely true! It works the same way as most hierarchies do - you have the queen who rules the flock, various levels of social stature in between, and then finally the poor birds who find themselves at the bottom of the food chain.
Simply put, the pecking order is the order in which your chickens are “allowed” to eat, drink, and roost, choose nest boxes to lay eggs, dust bathe, crow and even mate, basically revealing Who’s Who among your backyard flock.
Chickens work out the pecking order by pecking, of course, as well as, by eggs-hibiting other non-violent behaviour to show who’s the boss. Chicks will peck and chase, preventing meek or weaker siblings from gaining access to feed and water, as well as, squabble over prime roosting positions. Young pullets and cockerels raised together will deliberately bump into the other for the sole purpose of intimidation. The stronger of the two will often give chase!
Implications for introducing new chickens to your flock
If you're thinking of adding new chickens to an existing flock, the pecking order is something you’ll have to consider.
Chickens can be real bullies, especially when they have smaller, weaker birds to pick on. So if you’re planning on adding new birds into your flock, try to get them similar in size and age, to help minimise bullying and fighting. On the other hand, adding a large number of fit, young birds, can cause stress to a smaller number of more mature chickens. If you have an existing flock but are also wanting to raise baby chickens, they should be kept in a separate coop or enclosure until they are old enough and strong enough to stand a fighting chance against the higher ranked chickens of the pecking order.
Introducing your chooks to your flock can be a challenge without the correct information. Did you know 67% of chicken keepers surveyed experienced a chicken health or behaviour issue in the first 12 months that they didn’t know how to handle? It can be stressful and worrying when things aren't going well with your chooks and all we want to do is care for our feathered friends.
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Read more here about Introducing New Birds To Your Flock.