The pecking order is an essential part of any chicken flock.
You might not know it, but you are part of this order, and you have a vital role to play!
You do not have to worry if you are not familiar with the pecking order, or if you do not know what your part is, or what you should even do. We can help you with that!
Here is the complete guide to chicken pecking order that will help you with those problems.
This article will cover
- What is the Pecking Order?
- How is the Pecking Order Established?
- What Is it Like at the Top of the Pecking Order?
- What Is it Like at the Middle of the Pecking Order?
- What Is it Like at the Bottom of the Pecking Order?
- Where Are You at the Pecking Order?
- Pecking Order Problems and Other Things to Consider
What is the Pecking Order?
Chickens are social creatures, and simply put, the pecking order is their social hierarchy.
As a hierarchy, that means each chicken will have a rank. There will be a top chicken and a bottom one. We will talk about each class in a bit.
How is the Pecking Order Established?
Well, the main basis of who gets to be on top is dominance.
Chickens do not get to vote who they think should be on the top. Chickens fight their way to be on top. The one who wants to be on top fights anyone else who wants to be the top chicken as well.
Being the top chicken could be as easy as intimidation. If one chicken chases one of the members and this bird runs away, you could say that it is already a victory. The challenger is one step up the ladder.
On the other hand, if a chicken challenges one member and this bird does not run away, they would have to fight it out. In the wild, this goes on until one submits or until one dies.
It might be a good time to note that the ranking is not only based on dominance. It is also about health and performance. You could say that the top chicken should be able to walk the talk.
With all that, generally, the top chicken is a rooster. If you have a mixed-flock, the king or queen is most likely from the most aggressive breed.
What Is it Like at the Top of the Pecking Order?
As you would imagine, the top chicken gets many privileges, and this bird literally owns the best seat in the roosts and nesting boxes.
However, as the famous line goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Being at the top does not only mean rights and privileges.
It is the top chicken’s duty to protect and keep the peace in the group. If you have a great leader on your hands, this one will be helpful in stopping many of the fights within the flock.
Not doing his duties might lead to some kind of rebellion and another member might challenge the top chicken for the spot.
What Is it Like at the Middle of the Pecking Order?
The middle class is a pretty good place to be.
Chickens in this class get good seats, and they do not really have to worry much about anything.
They may not get the best seat, but they do not really have a position to defend or tasks to handle.
Chickens in the middle class may have a trouble-free life, but you can almost always be sure that trouble comes from the middle class.
Do you have a bullied chicken? The bully is most probably from the chickens in the middle class. Not always, but many middle-class chickens seem to think they have to make the lives of those below them miserable.
What Is it Like at the Bottom of the Pecking Order?
Being at the bottom could be a hit or miss for the chicken.
If your flock is a friendly bunch, the life of the bottom bird would most likely be good. Being at the bottom means no one would fight them for their position. Ideally, no one would bother them then.
On the other hand, if you have a couple of mean girls and boys on your hands, the bottom bird would most likely be the subject of bullying. We will come back to this topic in a bit.
Where Are You at the Pecking Order?
Now, as we have said earlier, you are part of the pecking order.
If you’ve read our fun chicken facts discussion, you would know that your chickens recognize you. Here’s a fun addition to that.
Whether you have feathers or not, you are probably the top chicken or an essential member, at the very least. One of the jobs of the leader is to go and find food and you give them food, after all.
The girls and the gentler breed would most likely honor your standing, but a rooster might not. A top rooster might challenge you.
Now, what do you do when this happens? Well, it is your call.
However, if you want the flock to see you as the one on top, you should stand your ground when a rooster attacks. Do not run away. Gently but firmly subdue the little guy.
That is not your actual duty being part of the pecking order, though. You could say your role is to be the pecking order police.
You should let a pecking order fight play out, but you should keep an eye out that it does not get bloody and deadly. Stop a rumble once you see one or both birds getting injured. If there are already cuts and injuries, tend to it.
Pecking Order Problems and Other Things to Consider
In addition to looking out for the chickens fighting for the top spot, you would want to keep an eye out for the bullied ones.
A few pecks and feather plucking are okay, especially if you do not have a friendly bunch. If it gets too much that you start seeing blood, then it is time to step in.
You do not want to separate the injured chicken for too long. That will not help. If you isolate this bird from the flock for too long, you need to re-introduce this chicken again. Tend to the wounds and put this one in a chicken hospital.
A chicken hospital in this case is basically a place where the other chickens could still see but not touch one of their members.
What you want to do is isolate the bully. Put her in the chicken jail.
A chicken jail is basically a place where a troublemaker stays for a few days. Ideally, this place is separated from the flock’s area. Keep in mind that it should still be a comfortable place that has all the chicken’s needs.
Isolating the bully would remove her from her place in the pecking order. Once you re-introduce her to the flock, she would be starting at the bottom again. You could say it is a reset. Supposedly, this method would solve the problem.
You can also check this discussion out for other ways to stop chickens from pecking and bullying others.
Introducing New Members
When you are introducing new members, you should expect a shake in the order.
Introduce new members slowly. Do not immediately mix them with your flock.
What you want to do is to place the new members somewhere your flock would be able to see them but not touch them. How long this visual introduction should last depend on many factors like the gender and breed of your existing flock and the new members.
After the visual introduction, slowly mix the two groups.
It might be the best time to note that you should never only introduce one new member. You should always bring at least two new members at once. The more, the better. You do not want the heat to be on a single chicken. Introducing new members by groups would spread the bullying of the preexisting flock.
Opting for friendlier breeds would likely lessen your problems in this area.
There are several instances that change could happen in the pecking order. If a high-ranking chicken gets taken out of the picture, you can expect that the remaining birds would scramble to get that position.
When an old member disappears from the flock, expect some fighting for some time. Make sure you pay extra attention to your birds during these times to avoid injuries and deaths.
A little recap on the complete guide to chicken pecking order!
First, we defined and elaborated on what the pecking order is. Simply put, it is the social hierarchy among your chickens. Because it is a hierarchy, there would be a chicken at the top and the bottom.
We also discussed what it is like to be at the top, the middle, and the bottom. Additionally, we also talked about where you place in the whole ordeal.
After that, we talked about your roles and the problems you will face being part of the pecking order of your flock.
The pecking order may bring in all sorts of problems to you and your chickens, but it could be fun to see the hierarchy unfold and the interactions that would follow. The pecking order might sound and look problematic at times, but it ultimately helps with the peace and harmony among your chickens.
If you have other chicken concerns, feel free to check out our other discussions! See you!
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken & Scratch.