Unclear hierarchy

K0k0shka

Crowing
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Jul 24, 2019
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I have 5 pullets, all 26 weeks old. Three Orpingtons and two Barnevelders. I've read about the hierarchy/pecking order and some say it's linear, others that it branches out, yet others that it's individual relationships between the birds. Most people seem to agree that, whatever the structure, there is a top chicken - the male if there is one, and a top hen if there isn't. People say that this structure is noticeable fairly early. Well, it's been 26 weeks that I've had these chickens, and so far I haven't been able to determine what their hierarchy is! It doesn't seem like anybody in particular is "on top". All 5 are mellow and get along well. The Orpingtons are about twice the size of the Barnevelders, despite being the same age, and they are perpetually hungry. So they throw their weight around a bit, especially when it comes to food - I guess that puts them higher up? But at the same time, it's not uncommon for a Barnevelder to peck and Orpington out of the way if she's getting in her space. So... Not higher up after all? I've read about roost arrangements being related to pecking order. Well, these chickens sleep every which way. Every night they're in a different configuration on the roost. The only consistency I've noticed is that they often segregate themselves by breed - the Barnevelders sleep next to each other, and the Orpingtons next to each other, but on the same roost and at the same height, all smooshed together. And even that is only sometimes. As far as general pecking goes, it seems to be driven by personal space more than any particular order. So any one of them pecks any other one if she's too much in her space (blocking the feeder or vying for my attention etc.) The relationships between each two chickens seem to be more consistent than anything else. The two Lemon Cuckoo Orpingtons just don't seem to like each other very much and that's that, even though they look like twins. The two Barnevelders are best friends. The big Silver Laced Orpington is the sweetest and gets along well with everybody. And so on.

So... Do these chickens have a "pecking order"? Do all chickens have to have a pecking order? How can I tell?

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Left Spur

Chirping
Nov 3, 2019
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Your chicken aint normal, naturally the top one will dominate the food, then the last member will eat the last.
 

3KillerBs

Crowing
Jul 10, 2009
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My little flock is also still quite young, about 17 and 19 weeks. At first Omelet, who was the largest chick, was dominant, but now most of the others have out-grown her and it seems to be being worked out among Dumpling, the larger Light Brahma who is the largest hen, and the two Blue Australorps, who are identical -- with Chipotle, the California White who is the second smallest, putting in her two cents from time to time.

I expect them to continue to shuffle around as they finish growing and start laying.

I'm sure that the chickens know who is boss and who is challenging the position. When they're adult I'll probably be able to tell as well. :D
 

K0k0shka

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Yeah, maybe things are in flux because they are young. But it's not like they are rotating through the top position... Nobody has ever been in a top position, at least not in a way that I can tell (and I spend a lot of time hanging out with them). They have two feeders - one in the coop, and one in the run (the one in the run is for their favorite treat - wet mash made from their usual feed plus water). There is enough room for all of them to eat together from both feeders, and they do eat together, without taking turns. Sometimes there's some pecking of heads, if their heads get too close, but nobody is keeping anybody else from actually eating.
 

Left Spur

Chirping
Nov 3, 2019
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My little flock is also still quite young, about 17 and 19 weeks. At first Omelet, who was the largest chick, was dominant, but now most of the others have out-grown her and it seems to be being worked out among Dumpling, the larger Light Brahma who is the largest hen, and the two Blue Australorps, who are identical -- with Chipotle, the California White who is the second smallest, putting in her two cents from time to time.

I expect them to continue to shuffle around as they finish growing and start laying.

I'm sure that the chickens know who is boss and who is challenging the position. When they're adult I'll probably be able to tell as well. :D
Right, chicken can change their hierarchy a few times, but it is pretty settled when they reach adult, unless one is sick, then it changes again.
 

21hens-incharge

Nuttier than a squirrels stash
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The ranking can be super mellow and smooth especially if the top bird has a calm demeanor.
Personally I really like a mellow top bird. They keep things running smoothly and no real fights ever seem to happen.

When I downsized in July.....I sold my top hen. :he
Since then while things got sorted there have been a couple serious arguments.
Once again things have settled down and while Rudy is not the nicest hen she is keeping order without bloodshed.
 

K0k0shka

Crowing
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The ranking can be super mellow and smooth especially if the top bird has a calm demeanor.
Personally I really like a mellow top bird. They keep things running smoothly and no real fights ever seem to happen.

When I downsized in July.....I sold my top hen. :he
Since then while things got sorted there have been a couple serious arguments.
Once again things have settled down and while Rudy is not the nicest hen she is keeping order without bloodshed.
Wow. I can't say mine have ever had an argument or gotten into a fight. Could it be because both breeds are very mellow and non-confrontational? The most they do is peck each other on the head as a sign to move over.
 

JedJackson

Crossing the Road
Jul 6, 2016
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When there is plenty of space and plenty of food, competition is lessened, and pecking order is less noticeable. You have to watch carefully. If a bird is pecked at and gives ground or lowers it's head, then that bird in lower on the totem pole than the bird that pecked at it. My experience has been that there isn't always a totally dominant hen. In my current flock, I have three top hens. A is dominant over B while B is dominant over C who is dominant over A. Pecking order can be complicated.

The good news is that your birds are getting along well, with no problems. If that remains the case, then I see nothing to worry about. Your curiosity can only be satisfied by close observation of the birds over time.
 

rosemarythyme

Crossing the Road
Jul 3, 2016
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It's not always obvious. My head hen is pretty mellow, doesn't fuss or bully, but there's subtle things that tell me she's in charge. She's the one that no one attempts to scuffle with, or even puff up at. If she wants to eat at a certain bowl, she gets to eat there - yet she rarely chases off another bird that wants to eat too, even pee wee chicks. If she wants to sit somewhere or walk through somewhere, she gets to do so there. No one else gets to do that without another bird throwing a side eye.
 

K0k0shka

Crowing
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A is dominant over B while B is dominant over C who is dominant over A. Pecking order can be complicated.
Yes, I've definitely observed this. It's not a straight line at all.

If a bird is pecked at and gives ground or lowers it's head, then that bird in lower on the totem pole than the bird that pecked at it.
This makes sense, and this is what I was going with, but the thing is, none of my birds are immune to getting pecked now and then. Wouldn't a "top hen" (even if there is more than one) always be on the giving end of pecks, and not on the receiving end? Currently there isn't any one hen that nobody pecks at.

The good news is that your birds are getting along well, with no problems. If that remains the case, then I see nothing to worry about. Your curiosity can only be satisfied by close observation of the birds over time.
Yep, at the end of the day that's what matters. They have lots of space and enough resources, and can live their lives in peace. I was just curious. I'll keep watching.
 

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