Chickens & Pecking Order

The pecking order has a major role in chickens’ social relationships.

Chickens naturally form social hierarchies that can be observed in their behavior. The top chicken, known as the “alpha,” enjoys privileges such as first access to food and water and a choice of sleeping areas.

Lower-ranking birds must defer to the alpha bird when competing for resources. Chickens that are low in the pecking order often get chased away from feeders, don’t get enough to eat, and don’t grow as well or lay as many eggs as others.

More feeders and drinkers must be provided for larger flocks, and they should be spaced further apart to allow for easy access by all social groups.

When the flock’s pecking order is altered for whatever reason, including when chickens are added or withdrawn, stress levels rise.

A hen’s typical sexual behavior entails crouching when a cock places his foot on her back to prepare for mating.

Low-ranking hens will crouch when a rooster approaches and will mate more frequently than other hens.

These subordinate hens are easily identified by the broken or missing feathers on their backs, as well as occasionally by wounds caused by the cock.

It could be necessary to isolate the hen and treat her injuries if the wounds are severe enough.