The pecking order, for what it's worth

Discussion in 'Beginners Forum' started by Bird_slave, Nov 16, 2012.

  1. Bird_slave

    Bird_slave Junior Member

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    If you are new to owning chickens and find yourself wondering why are my chickens acting that way towards one another, here's some info. that may help you gain a better understanding of life in the coop.

    Each flock of chickens that contains more than one rooster actually has two pecking orders. There is the main pecking order and roosters also maintain a seperate pecking order, a men's club so to speak.

    At the top of your pecking order is going to be the alpha roo (or alpha hen, if no roosters). This is the rooster that has proven himself worthy of the top spot. He does this by excelling at three things - protection, providing, and procreation. This alpha roo answers to no one. He gets the best roosting spot and pecks on any other bird he chooses.

    In most cases, the alpha chooses a favorite hen. She only answers to the alpha. Other roosters or cockerels in the flock are very low on the pecking order, usually dead last. They don't get to choose anyone to be beneath them. If these lowly beasts get to mate at all, it's only because a.) the alpha is weak or b.) because they snuck around and managed to catch a hen out of earshot and sight of the alpha. Normally these omegas just do their best to blend in, staying incognito, because they don't want to draw the attention of the alpha. Often times, these roosters develop very little roo-ish looks and you may even question their gender. All self-preservation. If you start having fighting between your roosters it's because one or more of the omegas has decided he is better than the alpha and can take him in a fight; or you have two very dominant birds that are determined to control the entire flock. That's the roosters pecking order.

    Then you have the pecking order that controls the entire flock. Dominant hens are at the top; right below the alpha roo (or alpha hen, without a roo around). You can tell whose at the top by observing the birds. See the hen that has the most beautiful plumage, is a great egg layer and gets to eat and choose a roost first? She's at the top of the order. Her position can be challenged too; but again, it has to be by a hen that is in top form.

    The rest of the birds fit in the order downwards from there. A hen that is right in the middle has the right to go after anyone below her - you'll notice her victim averting her eyes and ducking away from any above her. The middle hen will not challenge hens above her unless she senses a weakness in the superior hen.

    So that's the way it goes - you can move up or down in the order only if another bird is removed from the flock or shows signs of weakness due to health issues.

    I love to observe my birds behavior; especially when they are young and still sorting out the pecking order. I've found the easiest way to tell how its developing and where each bird has ended up is by watching them enter their coop at night. My young rooster (who is turning into a fine flock leader) hops in the coop first and calls all the hens to bed; then he jumps out and stands sentry by the door. The oldest and most dominant hens go first, followed by the most dominant of the younger hens, and down from there. After all the hens are in and accounted for, the rooster enters the coop and takes his spot on the highest roosting point.

    So again, for what it's worth....
     
  2. Lissa

    Lissa Junior Member

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    Very interesting! Thanks for posting this! I love reading all this good chicken information you provide. My poor Easter Egger gets picked on all the time (she is so shy, not sure if this is a trait of her breed or just her personality) and now someone is pulling out my Polish's plume feathers (or could it be another cause because she used to be 3rd in the pecking order) so I guess the order of my hens has changed since the addition of our 2 new girls. Any thoughts? Thanks Bird Slave!
     

  3. Bird_slave

    Bird_slave Junior Member

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    I've owned two easter eggers in the past. One was very dominant and close to the top, the other was next to the bottom one on the totem pole. I really feel like it's the birds personality first and foremost. Much like you have shy humans and more outgoing ones.
    My current low bird in the pecking order, in the main flock, is big, she's beautiful and scared of her own shadow. "Emma" made the mistake of entering the coop before the bird above her the other night. She was promptly corrected by both the higher ranking hen and the rooster. I felt bad for her, but it's their society and their rules. I never step in unless someone is being outright attacked.
    In my opinion, you are correct. You upset the pecking order when you added the new ones. Someone, likely one of the new hens, has decided she's better than the polish and gets her spot. Poor polish girl. They are usually very sweet and that hairdo just makes them too tempting to other birds with an agenda.
     
  4. Happeesupermom

    Happeesupermom Happee ChickenSuperMomma

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    Thanks for sharing! :) I'm grateful for the info.
     
  5. 7chicks

    7chicks New Member

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    Great post Bird_slave! Very interesting to read and so informative!
     
  6. Bird_slave

    Bird_slave Junior Member

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  7. BootedBantam

    BootedBantam New Chicken Mom

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    Very cool.....I have been observing my flock and their pecking order. My blue splash hen is the littlest bird and she was the top hen. She never leaves the roosters side. But with the introduction of three new hens, the black hen has taken over as the top hen. She is the one mating with the rooster and laying consistently, too. I thought the funky frizzle was lowest in the pecking order and was for a bit, but my partridge hen is now the lowest hen. The rooster chases her and she wants nothing to do with him. Very cool to watch their personalities and the way the integrate with each other.
     
  8. Bird_slave

    Bird_slave Junior Member

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    Kinda how size means nothing in the poultry world.
    The only bird my big ol' LF brahma rooster is afraid of is the rooster from the other flock - a serama that weighs 12 ounces. Same goes for my ducks. My runner drake is afraid of my call drake. Fred the call drake weighs a pound and a half, maybe. We do step in and break up their fights, but only because Fred seems determined to bite off more than he can chew and we don't want him hurt.
     
  9. Zakgirlsfarm

    Zakgirlsfarm Old Farmer

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    Very well explained! I've seen this too. It's quite fascinating to watch.

    I currently have a bantam rooster that thinks he should be top dog (er rooster) against the full sized Australorp X Leghorn X Sussex. He sneaks around and 'does the do' but he is so quick he doesn't get beaten-up (yet). I need to make another pen and then another and another. You know how it is.

    Thanks for explaining the pecking order. It really is a fascinating life these chickens lead.

    Zak the farmer.
     
  10. kiwicsi

    kiwicsi Junior Member

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    REally interesting post, thanks. :)
    I've noticed this with my four hens (ex battery farm girls). They sorted their pecking order out very quickly where the dominant hen now seems to have spurs on her legs (like a rooster). She and the second in charge peck mercilessly at the bottom hen, who I had to separate and have now had to rehome.
     
  11. Bird_slave

    Bird_slave Junior Member

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    Ah, such a shame that you had to re-home her.
    I hope you never run into the same sort of problem, but if you do try removing the alpha hen for awhile; put her in time out. ;)
     
  12. realsis

    realsis New Member

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    very cool. i have a tiny flock of four silkie females. the oldest is 6 months, second oldest is going on 4 months,and my two youngest are 2 months. i try for the life of me to see who's dominant out of the last three but can't tell. my oldest is defiantly the alpha female the babies still challenge each other and my 4 month old is so docile I've caught the babies picking on her. I'm almost thinking she's at the bottom? not too sure yet. maybe they are still to young to tell? no one, i mean no one challenges my 6 month old, EVER so I'm sure she will hold her position. but do you think the babies are too young to tell at 9 weeks old?
     
  13. Bird_slave

    Bird_slave Junior Member

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    Yes, I do think at 9 weeks old it would be hard to tell; especially with silkies that are very docile to start with.
    My youngest chickens in the larger coop are 11 months old, almost 12. I thought I had the lowest on the pecking order figured out months ago. One of them doesn't hang with the other chickens, she prefers humans or being off by herself. I was positive she was the lowest, until the real lowest got picked on to the point of being bloodied. Turns out my shy, reclusive girl is very high ranking.
     
  14. realsis

    realsis New Member

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    very interesting, thanks for sharing that! i just love watching them! they are so much fun!