The Pecking Order- Understanding and Encouraging It

By cluckcluckgirl · Jan 8, 2013 · Updated Jan 13, 2013 · ·
  1. cluckcluckgirl
    It's something just about all chickens work and figure out- the pecking order. Now what exactly is the pecking order, is it necessary, and should you encourage it? First, lets take a look at what the pecking order is.

    The pecking order is a ranking among chickens in a flock to see who is higher up in the order than others. Commonly, two chickens come up to each other, flare their feathers, bump into each other, and try to look tall, and the first one to walk off is lower in the pecking order than their opponent. Some chickens my come up to each other and one pecks at the other's head. If the opponent doesn't walk away, they peck at the other chicken's head too. Same thing, the first chicken to walk away is lower than their opponent. As long as no one is bleeding or hurt, this is fine and just part of a chicken's natural instinct. If they do get hurt, try to cover up the blood color or stop the bleeding. Applying cornstarch to the wound is proven to stop the bleeding and cover up the blood color.

    The chickens towards the top (the ones that usually win a challenge against another chicken) usually eat first and get the treats first. The chickens toward the bottom of the pecking order eat whatever is left, or are chased away by the other chickens while trying to eat. The chickens toward the bottom of the pecking order eat after everyone is away from the food station, or some may even try and try again to eat with the others. The ones toward the bottom will also get pecked at near their tail area as a signal to move.

    Here, two of my chickens have waited for the others to move so they can eat too.

    So why have a pecking order?
    A pecking order will bring peace to the flock, as they know their rankings and who eats first. The pecking order is most obvious in roosters and cockerels. The roosters and cockerels challenge each other also to see who is the protector and hens' rooster. The top rooster will typically be the one to crow, protect, find food for the girls, and fertilize the eggs.

    However, some roosters and cockerels may try the pecking order on you, so be prepared. If they do, try to chase them away or push them away. I have had one that challenged me, and I would chase him away. He still wouldn't learn, and ended up hurting me. With roosters like that, you want to isolate them and monitor them for a few days. If you let them out and they do the same thing, try isolating them again. If they still don't learn even after a few times in isolation, then it may be time for him to go to the stew pot.

    So how do I encourage the pecking order?
    It's pretty simple. If you notice someone challenging another chicken, just let them challenge each other. Some will get hurt, but it is normal. If one chicken targets all the others and hurts them for no reason, isolate her or him for a few days. But as long as it's just chickens figuring out where they rank, everything is fine. It is in their natural instincts, so why eliminate some of their natural instincts by breaking them up if they are challenging each other? Basically, as long as no one is targeting and severely hurting the others, let it happen. After a couple or few weeks of them doing this, they'll know where they rank and all will be well.

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  1. Mountain Peeps
  2. Spanishchick
    I have a bully too! And I also have the momma, she is obviously at the top because nothing and nobody phazes her and from day 1 it wasn't even a question with her. She must smell like alfa chick jajaja!
  3. Farmgirl1000
    Good job! Very informative.
  4. chickencoop789
    Thanks man. I actually learned something today ;)
  5. szone
    We have five hens, from two different flocks (3 and 2). 1 of the 2 has asserted her authority and fits in well with the 3. But the second of the 2 is now retreating from the others because she is so bullied. She has stopped going into the hutch at night and retreats to another "hutch", or underneath the current one. Any advice on what to do? Thanks!
  6. lizzybaxter
    When my young roosters tried challenging me, or on a couple of occasions they were rough with the hens, I would hold them down on the ground, much like they would do to a hen. That sent the message that I was dominant. No problems with one-- the other wouldn't stop hurting the hens, and he got relocated to my niece's home, lived happily ever after!
  7. MyPetNugget
    very helpful
  8. ShelbyCoral
    I've noticed with my roosters is that if they dont get attention they go mad... So if you give them attention every morning and every night, you my friend will have a wonderful roo. Its best to cuddle with them when they are perching. My own rooster puts his head in my shirt by my shoulder and falls asleep.
  9. ShelbyCoral
    Not good for the the roosters. Mine have ALWAYS been treated with kindness. My top rooster (Pepper) has never done anything to me and he is the best rooster. He is Great with kids and will let you cuddle with him and an hour or two. My 2ed rooster(Chocolate, brother or Pepper) does go for me sometimes, but i hold him for a couple of min and give him love and attention. Hes fine once I put him down. Now If he when he attacks me, or at least tries. I just put my foot up and he runs right into the foot and he will stop for a few months.

    Lol He learns his lessons but he is also a very good rooster and is beautiful. I even fell asleep on the hay with him. His only girlfriend is a cat... They share food and hes tried jumping her... xD it was funny!
  10. MaPa26
    I have six hens. Two are white Leghorns and four are Red Stars. They did the "chest bumping" behavior a lot when they were young. I never noticed when it stopped. The Leghorns are bullies. They get along with each other but at feeding time they both challenge the Reds. I started using two bowls (when feeding treats or small meals) and would try to keep them separated. Often the Leghorns would try to control BOTH bowls, or piles of treats. It wouldn't matter if I put six bowls out, the Leghorns would go from bowl to bowl to check out what the Reds are eating, abandoning the bowl I gave THEM. It is quite a learning experience for me. I did get ticked when "Rosetta" decided that SHE had had ENOUGH and pecked back at a Leghorn; THREE TIMES-- hard on her head. The Leghorn backed off and now Rosetta is "allowed" to eat side by side with those two. I use her as a buffer sometimes, putting her in-between the Leghorns and the other three Reds! Anytime the Leghorns try to bully her, they are sorry! The only time I have ever seen a severe attack was when a Red (Fluttershy) went broody. She came off the nest once a day and when she tried to join the others, they would ALL attack her. After a few days, (and some research on BYC), we tried the separation technique, keeping her in the pen and unable to get to the nesting box. After a few days, she snapped out of it, rejoined the flock and all was well, again.
  11. Chickens R Us
    I have a few different flocks separated by age 18 mths,8 mths and 12 week.There is a 18 mth. BO hen that was always at the bottom of the pecking order so much so that she doesn't even go by the other hens, so I put her in with the 12 wk.old flock where she became top chicken.In my 8mth. flock I had 4 bullies which I put in with my 18mth old hens which settled them down, they were feather pickers. I then put my 12wks with the 8mth. and they all get along great. I think they are all much happier this way.I think that by me combining the different personalities with the different ages I have reestablished the pecking order and created harmony in my flocks.
  12. cluckcluckgirl
    That's interesting. I've never heard of that.
  13. chickenpredatorkiller
    its weird... I don't think mine have a pecking order. They do they puff up thing to eachother but they all eat at the same time, and there is no clear leader or anything. I have no idea who is at the top and who is at the bottom. They pretty much all treat eachother equally.
  14. youngchooklover
    lol chickens are smart
  15. cluckcluckgirl
    Walking away is not the best option. They will feel like they've won, so my recommendation is to let him know you are the boss. Sometimes if he flies at you and tries to physically attack you, you may have to chase him away from you or try isolation for a couple days. You may have to repeat this a couple times. Sometimes they will get so violent towards you that you may have to re-home him or stew him.
  16. country flock
    I've had many a rooster challenge me and it has always been my experience that when that happens, the WORST thing to do is run. That only makes them more aggressive and, I think, feel like they've "won the battle" so to speak, so they'll try it many times just to make themselves feel good if nothing else.
    So what do I do when I get challenged? Thankfully, my Silkies have learned & known the limits from little on up, so they don't do much of it. Snaps will occasionally, but when that happens, I look him in the eye and walk towards him. That sufficiently conveys the message to him and always works.
    But yeah, roosters are as varied as the weather, so don't assume that works for everyone.
  17. cluckcluckgirl
    Sometimes it can, depending on how your flock behaves. Perhaps they know their roles, or just get along with everyone better.
  18. cstronks
    My pullets developed their pecking order around 16 weeks, and it roughly took them 2 weeks to figure out who was who in the flock. I have five birds, so the order was relatively simple for me to figure out. However, now that they are older (hatched in May 2012), they seem to have abandoned the order. Those at the top no longer nudge others away from feed, and there is no more challenging or flaring. Everybody eats treats when they are presented in no specific order. I don't know if this is common, but does the pecking order dissolve with age?
  19. Amb3r
    It's best to have a hen that has good parental care as the alpha hen in the flock, they'd raise baby chicks best as the other beta hens and cockerels give a wide berth to her!! Also a nonbroody Alpha hen would get over-bred unlike the broody hens which are not always receptive.

    To bring down a nonbroody alpha down a notch, it should be seperated from the flock for a brief period!!
  20. cls82
    I have one that seems like a bully…..they others will just be laying in the sun or having a dirt bath and she runs up to them and starts pecking them in the head, hard. Should i punish her by isolation? If I remove her will it continue to happen every time I add her back in?
  21. cluckcluckgirl
  22. seminolewind
    Pecking order has been on my mind lately. I have a bunch of Polish gals put together recently. I do notice with them , tho, is they don't peck eachother hard. Just a little reminder, LOL. Thanks for the article, it's great!
  23. cluckcluckgirl
  24. willowbranchfarm

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