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What Survival Instinct Causes Chickens to Fight For Position on the Roost?

post #1 of 8
Thread Starter 

Does anyone know why chickens bicker so much on the roost?  I try to think like a chicken and try to tie their behaviors back to the context of what helped them survive in the wild.  Many behaviors make sense, even if it seems brutal in my human view, such as when they peck the weak or sick, work so hard to establish the pecking order, etc.

 

But what's up with all the nightly bickering on the roost?  In the wild where they roost in trees, were they fighting for the best spot which would have been the one that kept them safest from predators?  Or the spot that kept them most comfortable (coolest in warm weather, warmest in cold weather)?  Or is this just a place where they're close to each other so they establish dominance during this time?

 

It's strange to watch.  My 16 chicks are between 9 and 12 weeks old and the drama on the roost every night seems unnecessary. There is PLENTY of space on the upper roost (a 2 x 4 with the 4 side up, 14 feet long and 6 feet high) and 2 lower stair step roosts leading up to the top roost (2 x 4 with the 4 side up, 3 feet long).  Yet, they try to pass each other, knock each other off, peck at each other.  The older 10 do this to each other. The younger 6 roost on the lower stair step and they do it to each other.  Just seems so unnecessary.

 

 

 

I wish I understood why they behave this way.

 

Guppy


Edited by GuppyTJ - 6/24/13 at 5:39am

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."

 

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"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."

 

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post #2 of 8

The first law of chicken dynamics is that there is no animal on Earth as inhumane towards each other as chickens are.

 

The second law of chicken dynamics is, chickens behave in the manner that they do because they are chickens. 

 

Chickens don't know any better than you or I know why they behave in the ways that they do.  If chickens did know or could tell us the reasons that they act in the ways that they do, then chickens wouldn't be chickens.  Relax, watch, listen and learn, then use the chicken behavior that you learn to help your chickens thrive.

 

The behavior you mentioned is more like the ringing of a church bell or the vibration of a tuning fork.  For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction or what goes around comes around.  The same is true regarding the pecking order in a flock of chickens only much more so.. 

Keep your chickens safe from predators, buy and wear fur. 
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Keep your chickens safe from predators, buy and wear fur. 
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post #3 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by GuppyTJ View Post

Does anyone know why chickens bicker so much on the roost?  I try to think like a chicken and try to tie their behaviors back to the context of what helped them survive in the wild.  Many behaviors make sense, even if it seems brutal in my human view, such as when they peck the weak or sick, work so hard to establish the pecking order, etc.

 

But what's up with all the nightly bickering on the roost?  In the wild where they roost in trees, were they fighting for the best spot which would have been the one that kept them safest from predators?  Or the spot that kept them most comfortable (coolest in warm weather, warmest in cold weather)?  Or is this just a place where they're close to each other so they establish dominance during this time?

 

It's strange to watch.  My 16 chicks are between 9 and 12 weeks old and the drama on the roost every night seems unnecessary. There is PLENTY of space on the upper roost (a 2 x 4 with the 4 side up, 14 feet long and 6 feet high) and 2 lower stair step roosts leading up to the top roost (2 x 4 with the 4 side up, 3 feet long).  Yet, they try to pass each other, knock each other off, peck at each other.  The older 10 do this to each other. The younger 6 roost on the lower stair step and they do it to each other.  Just seems so unnecessary.

 

Guppy

 

First of all, this is normal, especially while establishing the pecking order. As you stated, in the wild they would each be seeking the safest, most comfortable spots to roost. The one highest on the pecking order would be the one with the best spot (as determined by that chicken). In a coop environment, they still do it, but without the dangers involved that exist in the wild. status has its benefits.

 

Mine have a habit or ritual that they go through evey evening. They come into the hen house, eat a little, fly up to the roost, where i have a tray of oyster shell, and they each get a little shel, then go to their normal spot, then they usually go back and forth on the roost, maybe get some more shell, see that another hen is in her favorite spot, then run over to reclaim the spot she likes, and so forth. This goes on for about 30 minutes or so. I have a few that like to roost in the rafters, and even they jockey for the best spot. I have a couple of those that don't care, they just go wherever in the rafters and roost, not moving for anyone. My dominant rooster has hs spot, and all must respect his status. It's actually very interesting to watch. If you watch your flock closely, you will soon understand where each is within the pecking order. The flock dynamic is an important part of their lives, and we shouldn't interfere too much in it. Chickens will do what chickens do.

 

Young chickens are constantly moving up and down on the pecking order ladder. Always looking for an opportunity to move up in position. Think  back on how it was in junior high school....That's what they are doing. As each one develops, like the first to crow, he then moves up in status. The first to lay an egg too moves them up in status. So it goes round and round. The roost positioning in a hen house is an extension of that as well.

W K Smith

Windy Ridge Dominiques

American Dominique LF chickens

Mountain Region Director DCA, ALBC, NPIP CO-124, Member Colorado Poultry Association, APA

Southwest El Paso County, CO

 

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W K Smith

Windy Ridge Dominiques

American Dominique LF chickens

Mountain Region Director DCA, ALBC, NPIP CO-124, Member Colorado Poultry Association, APA

Southwest El Paso County, CO

 

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post #4 of 8
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by wsmith View Post

 

First of all, this is normal, especially while establishing the pecking order. As you stated....

Wow, WSmith, this is very helpful!  I get it now and can watch with a more informed eye. It makes total sense. You even cleared up something that happened recently that I didn't understand.  One of my RIR's crowed, the first one to do it and all of a sudden, he's bossing everyone around.  I didn't notice/make the connection but now that you say it, what happened is he moved up in the pecking order.  Now I understand.

 

One more question: My roost is 6 feet high (see the pic).  It's that high because there is a natural brace on the left side, which is the wall of the barn. You can see it in the picture, where the 2 x 4 for the roost is resting on this wall.  Anyway, that's why it's 6 feet high.  Is this too high?  When they fall/get knocked off, I worry they'll get hurt falling/semi flying to the ground.  The ground is sand below the roost and straw everywhere else.  Will they break a leg or a wing or their necks falling from that height?  Will they get bumblefoot, perhaps?  When they fly down purposefully, they do it pretty gracefully and have plenty of runway as the coop is 14 feet wide. They seem fine with the 6 foot roost but it worries me that they don't know any better and will get hurt.  I can lower the roost but just wondered what you thought. Yet, you said your chickens roost in the rafters so that's probably even higher.  You don't happen to have a picture of your roost, do you?  That I'd like to see!  Anyway, what do you think?  Should I stop worrying and leave the roost at 6 feet or take it down and make a lower roost which will be at about 4 feet?

 

And thanks for taking the time to explain roost behavior so thoroughly.  Much appreciated.

 

Guppy


Edited by GuppyTJ - 6/24/13 at 6:30pm

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."

 

Reply

"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away."

 

Reply
post #5 of 8

I love your roost!  I have been looking for ideas to make a roost fox proof and yours is perfect, although the cinder block would have to be removed. :ya

Just because you caught it in a trap, doesn't make it the killer of your chickens.

 

Poo chart:  https://uconnladybug.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/scatlayout_bottom-worthadam.jpg

Foxes climb:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6YQdi5gbFg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt8FG9Fblis

Possums eat ticks  http://www.caryinstitute.org/newsroom/opossums-killers-ticks

A Chicken's Life:  https:/...

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Just because you caught it in a trap, doesn't make it the killer of your chickens.

 

Poo chart:  https://uconnladybug.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/scatlayout_bottom-worthadam.jpg

Foxes climb:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6YQdi5gbFg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt8FG9Fblis

Possums eat ticks  http://www.caryinstitute.org/newsroom/opossums-killers-ticks

A Chicken's Life:  https:/...

Reply
post #6 of 8
Quote:
Originally Posted by GuppyTJ View Post

Wow, WSmith, this is very helpful!  I get it now and can watch with a more informed eye. It makes total sense. You even cleared up something that happened recently that I didn't understand.  One of my RIR's crowed, the first one to do it and all of a sudden, he's bossing everyone around.  I didn't notice/make the connection but now that you say it, what happened is he moved up in the pecking order.  Now I understand.

One more question: My roost is 6 feet high (see the pic).  It's that high because there is a natural brace on the left side, which is the wall of the barn. You can see it in the picture, where the 2 x 4 for the roost is resting on this wall.  Anyway, that's why it's 6 feet high.  Is this too high?  When they fall/get knocked off, I worry they'll get hurt falling/semi flying to the ground.  The ground is sand below the roost and straw everywhere else.  Will they break a leg or a wing or their necks falling from that height?  Will they get bumblefoot, perhaps?  When they fly down purposefully, they do it pretty gracefully and have plenty of runway as the coop is 14 feet wide. They seem fine with the 6 foot roost but it worries me that they don't know any better and will get hurt.  I can lower the roost but just wondered what you thought. Yet, you said your chickens roost in the rafters so that's probably even higher.  You don't happen to have a picture of your roost, do you?  That I'd like to see!  Anyway, what do you think?  Should I stop worrying and leave the roost at 6 feet or take it down and make a lower roost which will be at about 4 feet?

And thanks for taking the time to explain roost behavior so thoroughly.  Much appreciated.

Guppy

That is quite high and it could be an issue for heavier or older birds. I recently lowered my roosts to around 40cm off the ground and I observe thet my bigger breeds seem to be able to manage better than before. I should add that the floor is concrete and I used to lift my older bird off the roost every morning as she seemed to have a limp. She can now fly (like a brick) down from the roost with no problems.

I would have thought that there are threads on ideal roost height but nothing is caste in stone.


Cheers
Ct
"The whole problem of the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." Bertrand Russell
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"The whole problem of the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts." Bertrand Russell
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post #7 of 8
It quite simple actually, any lower roosting birds or those on the outside of a single roost are most in danger of being taken by a predator, those higher up or in the middle are safer, as well as those sitting next to a rooster because he usually will try to defend the hens. This is why many roosters try to sit at the end of the roost but the hens keep crowding on both sides of him and he will keep moving until he gives up or gets what he wants.
Chickens, muscovy ducks, turkeys, donkeys , goats, dogs, fish, parakeets, a parrot, and a cat.

Chickens and dogs are healing to the soul.

I brake for squirrels.

Some of my birds.
http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/my-wisconsin-flock
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Chickens, muscovy ducks, turkeys, donkeys , goats, dogs, fish, parakeets, a parrot, and a cat.

Chickens and dogs are healing to the soul.

I brake for squirrels.

Some of my birds.
http://www.backyardchickens.com/a/my-wisconsin-flock
Reply
post #8 of 8

If they get up by using the ladder, then they need a similar perch to land on when heading back down so the distance is shortened or they need a long landing strip in order to fly down at a horizontal angle.   I know my 4 ft landing area was not enough...I had to open the door so the heaviest birds had a longer landing area or they wouldn't come down.

Just because you caught it in a trap, doesn't make it the killer of your chickens.

 

Poo chart:  https://uconnladybug.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/scatlayout_bottom-worthadam.jpg

Foxes climb:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6YQdi5gbFg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt8FG9Fblis

Possums eat ticks  http://www.caryinstitute.org/newsroom/opossums-killers-ticks

A Chicken's Life:  https:/...

Reply

Just because you caught it in a trap, doesn't make it the killer of your chickens.

 

Poo chart:  https://uconnladybug.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/scatlayout_bottom-worthadam.jpg

Foxes climb:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t6YQdi5gbFg and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lt8FG9Fblis

Possums eat ticks  http://www.caryinstitute.org/newsroom/opossums-killers-ticks

A Chicken's Life:  https:/...

Reply
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