The Pecking Order Among Chickens

Managing the Thugs in Social Ranking

The pecking order determines which chicken may eat first, where which chicken is allowed to sit on the perch, or even even drink. It is often the stronger or larger birds that rank highest in the social order.

The organizational power among chickens can be pretty brutal, fighting, pecking, and injuries often occur. To minimize ciaos,  offering feeders, drinkers and nesting areas in more than one place is helpful.

Note:  It is also important to consider the fact that over crowding can contribute to argumentative behavior or feather loss due to pecking.

The perch is a common place for pecking or bullying, especially when there are rank differences.  Watching them find a place to retire for the night is a complicated process.  The pecking order rarely changes among an existing flock, however we have some power over the pecking order simply by removing the higher ranking birds for a few weeks.  I bring this up because it is sometimes necessary to intervene when the pecking order becomes so aggressive that weaker birds are plagued with injuries.

Once a weaker bird’s skin is exposed from being pecked on, the situation worsens and another problem occurs. One measly drop of blood is enough to create absolute havoc in the chicken yard.  Something happens to chickens when they get a taste of blood, and they become quite capable of literally pecking a bird to death. Of course, before this happens the injured chicken will have to be removed and placed in isolation to heal and grow new feathers.  It is usually 3 weeks to a month before new feathers cover the affected area. Or, you can do nothing, and stay out of the pecking order process entirely, which many poultry keepers believe to be the best way.  But personally, I’m not at all fond of watching my birds one by one begin to look like they’ve been through a meat grinder.

What to Do

It certainly makes better sense to remove the trouble makers rather than constantly doctoring chickens. There are usually 2 or 3 thugs that dominate a small flock, isolate them from the weaker birds for a few weeks. Then you can re-introduce them to the flock, but only one bird at a time over the course of a week. This will lessen the chances of them ganging up on the existing flock.

If this doesn’t work…  I’m afraid you have a difficult decision to make.



8 thoughts on “The Pecking Order Among Chickens”

  1. I never realized that chickens could be so brutal to each other. I had never heard that they were capable of a blood lust. Phew, they are scary things!

  2. Indeed you may! Do your homework friend! 🙂 Will you be keeping a rooster? The rules change a bit for the better if you are.

  3. Thanks for this. We’re getting our first chickens in a couple of weeks and since it’s going to be a mixed flock (Not my idea -I wanted all Buckeyes) with birds of different sizes and temperaments we may really be in for some trouble…

  4. I don’t have any chickens but I am wondering if this behavior shows up in humans, given the right situation. It is primal, as in “The Lord of the Flies” kind of way.

  5. Timely again, Amy! I have a little white hen that was, very obviously, attacked in the nesting box. When I first found her I thought she had been attacked by a larger animal. This happened on Monday, and now they seem to be leaving her alone, which is good. However, I never did figure out who the culprits were. I will have to keep a closer watch and then quarantine the trouble makers as I find them! ~ Lynda

    1. Watch your birds in the morning when they come out of the coop, they generally exit in the pecking order. At night the weaker birds will enter first in order to get a spot, the boss hens will go in last since they will take what ever nest they want anyway. Just a little trick I learned and thought I’d pass along! Good luck.

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