Managing the Thugs in Social Ranking
The pecking order determines which chicken may eat first, where a 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 chaos, offering feeders, drinkers, and nesting areas in more than one place is helpful.
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 I’m not at all fond of watching my birds one by one begin to look like they’ve been through a meat grinder.
It certainly makes better sense to remove the troublemakers 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.
Note: It’s important to consider the fact that overcrowding can contribute to argumentative behavior or feather loss due to pecking.