yeah I had thought about it in the human world way to but was just curious as to the chicken way.The pecking order is a social aspect of flock life and it establishes who eats first, who gets the best roosting spots and even, sometimes, who gets the favorite nesting spot. It changes and flows, depending upon if there is a rooster~top of the flock~and which hens are in his favor at the moment. This can be determined by their current state of fertility, their age, their individual personalities, health, etc.
Humans, for some reason, find this strange, but it's been going on in humans since time began. We have several ways in which we determine pecking order in our society...usually without the actual pecking...but with more subtle communications. Think back to school days and what determined someone's "popularity" among a group...looks, social status, money, physical strength or athletic ability, intelligence, wit, personality.
When we get out into the world, it becomes more complex but stays primarily in those same categories...we even have special parking spaces reserved for the CEO, physicians, or whoever is the top cheese at a company. Where some give deference to someone that has rich possessions, others may give top positions for someone's abilities in their job, if they are elected to public office or if they are just leaders in the church or community. Some just because they are beautiful, famous, or smarter than their peers.
It doesn't happen with the squawking and physical violence that we see in chickens, but it is most definitely happening and much like in a flock or herd of animals, those humans that just don't "fit" into society pigeon-holes are often ostracized and cut from the herd. You either blend, go with the flow and accept the current social pecking order of things or you are isolated and treated with disrespect or at the very least, suspicion.
So, when you observe the actual pecking order in your flock, just understand that a bossy hen that gets her way in her prime and youth, in her sexual peak, may lose that as other, younger birds ascend the order. Whoever is the rooster's favorite today can change by next week, depending on the season and which hen is sexually active, the roosting spot that seems the favorite one today can be changed, depending on what the top bird wants on any given day.
Groups and cliques will often change as time goes by and what used to be rarely ever stays the same except one....the loner is usually always the loner and, though she may gain temporary favor with the rooster when she is hormonally peaking, she will never really be accepted by the other hens. She will often forage alone, roost alone, be the last to eat at the feeder and may be the most picked upon, depending upon her personality...she may not get picked upon at all and be a pretty nasty customer in a fight, but she usually lives out her life set a little apart from the flock.
Former top roos and former top hens also tend to be pushed aside into loner status over time, as they lose their age and virility....much like in the human world.
yeah me to Bee, I knew we were kindred spirits!It sure is! Maybe all those people who try to fit in are just trying to avoid getting pecked, ya figure? There is a Chinese proverb about the nail head that stands out gets hammered...not many can stand the hammering of standing out, so they just lay low, I'm thinking.
Same with chickens..to have a smooth and peaceful flock order, those who are low on the totem pole stay out of the way of those who rule the roost, but they are always watching for a change in the order so they can be ready to adjust. In a flock, you never know who is ruling the roost unless you keep a sharp eye out for the changes.
Me? I'm the loner chicken and always have been. I have the ability to blend with the flock when necessary but that's not where I live..I live on the fringe, often wander off alone and roost alone. Sometimes picked at but never missing any feathers from it and am able to stand up to it, with the Lord's help.
As a consequence, I find myself liking the loner birds who can hold their own in the flock but still prefer to be alone...have a soft spot for them and respect their solitude, as long as they don't grow cranky and crabby from it.
The loners who cannot hold their own and lack the strength to stand up for themselves are soon culled out of my flocks...there is usually a good reason the other chickens don't like them like poor health, low performance, lack of survival skills, etc.
WHOA, that's some good stuff there! Didn't get to finish reading it because I really got to run get some stuff in town but I WILL be back to finish reading this one!The purpose of the pecking order in a nutshell: survival. In the short term, survival of the individual, in the longer term, survival of the species via the individual passing on its genetics.
This starts with chicks; very quickly the fastest one will begin to achieve greater health and faster development than the others simply by virtue of it being able to steal their food and reach the best food before them. This is an advantage often experienced by the first-hatched, or more sprightly as compared to the chubbier babies.
In this way bantam chicks can outcompete larger chicks, because being lighter they tend to find their feet quicker and can outrun the larger ones, who will be smaller than the bantams in short order because their greater body fat ratio slowed them down and hindered their growth. This is not true of all larger chicks versus bantams, but rather those chicks from eggs with a lot of white as compared to those eggs with a lot of yolk compared to white. (Skinny vs fat). The same analogy holds true for low birth weight sheep or cattle; the tiny babies will outgrow and outperform the huge babies.
Any animals that cannot secure breeding space, resources, and a mate, will not pass on its genes. But if a species is genetically healthy many animals will make it to breeding age and have the ability to compete for resources; at this point differentiating behaviors sort out with the least waste of energy and life possible which animals get prime breeding opportunities. Lesser animals who failed to achieve dominance will still breed, being the middling best, not the worst and not the best, but this failure to secure top spot, whether caused by genetics or diet or whatever, will soon become genetic; they may have started off with identical genetic strength to the ones that achieved dominance, but having failed to secure the best resources, their offspring are now vastly more likely to fail to achieve prime breeding success.
So even if it wasn't their genetics that caused them to come second best, if they don't manage to achieve dominant status they will get the lesser feed, worse nesting spots, lesser mates, lesser opportunities for offspring, etc, and quickly this can translate into weaker genetics, since behavior, environment, nutrition etc all turn genes off or on. This is when harsher methods of attempting to achieve dominance start to show with some --- psychopathy or excessive, almost insane brutality being one method by which a sub par male or female takes a dominant position it could not earn otherwise. Other lesser animals will develop greater intelligence and cunning, which in a few generations can restore them to the top of the genetic competition and thus net them the resources they need to regain genetic strength.
Environmental influences activate and deactivate some behaviors. An overabundance of great nutrition can becalm even the most aggressive species. A lack of nutrition, or low levels of it present in the environment, can cause once peaceful animals to become savage, and kickstarts the 'depopulation' instinct. This can also occur in an animal in a rich environment, where the lack of nutrition is only within the animal, i.e. an inability to synthesize something crucial, or a weakened digestive system. Or a domestic animal fed an overprocessed diet, as another example.
In the wild, a flock/family group is often only comprised of one male and one female, sometimes more. They need a set area to survive, and a larger area than that to bring offspring to adulthood. Since the impetus behind any animal's life is to pass on its genes, the drive to procreate produces in most species some sort of behavior of environmental control, whether they're removing the unfit from their social group or protecting their territory from intruders who would consume the sources of nutrition they require to survive and succeed at reproducing. A rooster controls his territory from being invaded by other roosters, and a hen controls her territory from being invaded by other hens. She may tolerate a sister or other hen with which she gets along. She may not. A lot depends on personality there. The better the hen in terms of intelligence, genetic strength, and health, the less likely she is to tolerate another. She will want the very best possible chances for her offspring, and having another hen taking up resources for her own babies does not wash when there is not an overabundance. There's a certain 'arrogance' that comes with being genetically superior, among animals. Unlike us they are very aware of one another's genetic strengths and weaknesses, and therefore fitness to breed.
A sub par animal can become dominant through excess aggression, though. With males of many species there is a positive correlation between excessive aggression and low fertility. This has been proven with a few livestock species as well as wild ones, and I have always found it to hold true in my animals of various species. Abnormal aggression and harem keeping are the breeding tactics of the sub par male, and they reward him with offspring from only sub par females. Never the twain shall meet, it seems, with the best, middling, and worst genetic stock. There are many factors that keep them separate within the species, including vastly different breeding behavior; among many ruminants as well as felines and birds, the very best males often don't bother to hold territories or fight over a group of females as all the middling males do; rather, the best males continue life as normal and the best females seek them out, even if they were associating with a group thought to belong to some other male. Females will resort to very sneaky behavior to breed with the male of their choice, even while seeming to be the mate of another male. Many females will mate when not fertile with a sub par male, to appease him, but will seek out a better male when fertile. I've seen this behavior in various species. Many males and females who are conscious of their worth genetically will refuse to mate with a lower grade individual. Among red deer and many other animals a dominant female produces dominant sons, but a sub par female never produces dominant sons. There is some steep competition for the best females but the best females will never mate with sub par males... Unless some disaster or human intervention ensures it.
The area of territory, and how rich it is in feed, determines to a large extent how much territory they need to hold to guarantee reproductive success, and it also determines how tolerant any female will be of another female. If there's not much area due to neighboring territories, and not much feed for whatever reason, then both genders will be extra fierce and intolerant and a single female will remain with the male, having driven off all others. If there is enough feed for all you can end up with many antisocial species coming to live in huge, peaceful groups, and sub-par animals are far more likely to breed since they no longer need to compete for resources with the better stock. This is a sort of genetic leveling ground, where genetic lines that had fallen behind the dominant ones can regain the ability to compete due to the environmental excess of resources.
Contrary to popular belief a male is not naturally dominant over females. That's an aberrant mentality we are responsible for breeding into them. The hen holds her own social status which is entirely independent from the male, and she only fights other females for her spot... It is, after all, the 'top hen spot'. The male also holds his own social status irrespective of the females, and only fights other males to retain 'top rooster spot'. The roles are complimentary, not competitive. There is no natural dominance of male over female; there is no natural fight between them. Neither is there any natural abuse of either gender by the other.
A roosterless flock wherein the hens retain instinctual understanding of natural chicken society will embrace a newly introduced male, or several, without any fighting. Because he does not take the dominant hen's position there is no challenge nor fight to sort out where he is in the pecking order. This is also why a hen and rooster meeting each other for the first time do not fight to sort out the pecking order between them --- their gender-determined social statuses are complementary, not conflicting. When you have a male and female meet with either one or both lacking proper instinct about the other gender's social place or their own, then you have a fight. In most cases the rooster will accede the fight as his instinct kicks in and he realizes he should not be fighting a female. A male who harms a female severely lessens his chances of reproducing, and thus such aberrant males tend to ensure they fail to pass on their genes.
Each gender has their own predetermined role, for which they have fought all the others of their own gender who could challenge them, and neither of them attempts to take the other gender's role and prerogatives from their mate. If they're mentally healthy, that is. Many chickens these days have warped and misdirected instincts due to their ancestors being raised for countless generations in artificial environments, in human-enforced social orders, and a psychopathic, neurotic or socially incompetent chicken would still be bred if it showed a desirable trait like extra production of flesh or eggs, so in thus usurping natural selection, we have developed and preserved many deranged mentalities among modern domestic poultry which bear no resemblance to natural wild ones.
In the wild a male does not harm or drive away hens, or interfere with their fights, or kill babies. These are all unnatural, unhealthy cull-worthy domestic-only traits. Now, instead of having males who only control other males, we have males who also take the top hen's position, and abuse females.
It is not natural for any animal to interfere with subordinate's social struggles. This does not resolve the problem nor sort out the pecking order between the two. In my experience, a dominant creature attacking two fighting subordinates causes the root of contention to worsen between them until it becomes likely that instead of sorting out the issue without bloodshed, they will in future maim or kill one another. If you watch wild animals, hierarchy disputes between subordinates are left to be sorted out by them with the dominant animals ignoring the fight. It is utterly unnatural for a male to harm a female, but it's considered normal by many. Normal is not the same thing as natural or healthy. Case in point: cancer is normal; carcinogens are normal; in a natural environment they are so scarce as to be a rare cause of problems, though in this increasingly polluted world they are now normal in 'pristine' areas too. In artificial environments, they are a constant and increased hazard.
People often confuse the establishment and maintenance of the pecking order with outright bullying and abuse. These latter behaviors are unnatural and we bred them into poultry via bad breeding selection and intensive environments. It is natural for animals to sort out the hierarchy as peacefully, non-harmfully, quickly, and quietly as possible. Anything else exposes both participants to a heightened risk of injury, death, falling victim to predation, etc. For the same reason it is, for most species, unnatural for a creature to spend its valuable resources of time and energy trying to harm or kill an already injured or ill family member, or other member of its social group. It is entirely natural to drive them away, but to try to destroy them predisposes them to catching its disease, or risking becoming injured, or falling to a predator while distracted, etc. The risks outweigh the vague potential benefits.
For the greater majority of the time the damaged animals are left to die, and indeed seek to separate themselves to die, whether attacked or not. It is rare that any species kills its weak or damaged members, despite what we were taught at school and see in many misinformation-laden documentaries. I've studied animals for decades now and what research teaches us compared to what pop-pseudoscience teaches us are two vastly different things. A lot of misinformation is still passed around, some of it serving an old outdated worldview whose proponents were willing to misrepresent facts to preserve their societies' norms (i.e.the many old 'facts' concerning the animal world which were skewed to cast the prevailing social arrangement of human society over animal society too; many of these old non-truths are still taught and believed despite much proof to the opposite. These include patriarchal interpretations of social structure, with researchers assuming rather than ascertaining at best and sometimes outright lying at worst; they imagined males were dominant in all species, as per their worldview, and taught it as fact despite much evidence that male and female roles are not antagonistic, and flocks/herds are always headed/led/dominated/disciplined by females, since males come and go but females remain). A male competes with males and a female with females. For obvious biological reasons males and females do not compete unless deranged. He has no need to compete with his mate for somewhere to lay his eggs, as an example.
If a chicken has determined that it is dominant over another, there will only be a challenge if the subordinate chicken makes one. Otherwise, having settled their places in the hierarchy, the dominant chicken will leave the subordinate alone, and it in turn will avoid the dominant chicken and show appeasing body language and deference whenever they meet, and there will be no daily squabbling. There may be no squabbling or fighting for their entire lives if the subordinate never challenges the dominant.
Between socially healthy chickens, peace will prevail.
The same is true of basically every livestock species. Some families are more aggressive than others, but it is never the fault of the gender, nor the breed, nor the species. It is the fault of the breeder for breeding on with intolerant or outright violent animals. There are various body language modes/gestures a chicken will adopt to show its non-confrontational status to a dominant chicken. Different behaviors exist between males and females but the end result is the same. The dominant one is shown respect and has no need to reinforce its dominance. A good chook will be satisfied with that; a bad chook will continue to attack when not challenged.
In a socially healthy environment, a hen never shows subordinate behavior to a rooster, because she is not subordinate to him. When trying to woo a new mate, a rooster will adopt very unoffensive body language; not subordinate but very non-offensive and clearly peaceful. But it is not natural for either gender to show submissive body language to one another. People often confuse a female's invitation to mate with submission, but this is merely another outdated worldview lens that persists.
There is no need for the dominant one to regularly harm or abuse the subordinate. A little scuffle is normal but constant abuse of the subordinate is not. The real challenge for many chicken owners is to separate natural and health instincts from unnatural and unhealthy. Some people think anything they do is 'natural', unfortunately. Some domestic instincts are bad, others good/productive, like chickens peacefully sorting out the pecking order and coexisting in peace. Some wild instincts are good, others 'bad'/counterproductive, like fear of humans and the unhelpful desire to have a minimum of birds per a set amount of acres. It is not healthy nor natural for birds to be vicious with one another under any circumstance other than intensive caging of a large flock, but even then, domestic chickens have endured that and been bred and selected for coping without violence under such circumstances for uncounted generations, so bully birds represent another extreme that requires culling rather than breeding on.
If you want a peaceful flock, the solution is not to remove the bullied, but to remove the bullies. For some reason people always seem to remove the bullied and keep the bullies!
We have been taught that if it's bullied, it was for good cause; surely it's weak or unfit to breed. Often though the bully is the one that's unfit to breed, and is mentally aberrant which shows in it being abnormally vicious, and thus it gains a dominant place for being the equivalent of a psychopath. This will often breed true if allowed. And it is. Aaaaaanyway, long story, hope something in there is of use. Best wishes.