Do some of your chickens push the others around? Do you have one or two that dominate the rest? Do you have trouble getting your big chickens to accept newer birds to the flock?
It’s pecking order.
That’s a Real Thing?!
You’ve heard the phrase. It comes from the chicken yard, and it’s a thing.
Chickens, like people, live in hierarchies. Fact is, some of your birds are going to rise to the top and some are going to be relegated to the bottom. This is typically just fine. However, sometimes those at the top will bully those at the bottom.
Those at the top of the order should not cause physical harm to others or deprive them of food (which can happen). A little posturing is fine, but when it comes to truly hurting each other, you have to stop it.
Reset the Order
Did you know that your current pecking order doesn’t have to stay that way?
Chicken behavior can be remarkably easy to change. Unlike mammals (dog and cats), chickens have primitive brains and are a bit like robots. They can be programmed. Change the program, change the behavior (I wrote a whole post on it).
Step 1: Remove the Offending Chicken(s)
As long as the bullies “rule the roost” (another popular term from chicken life), they will be bullies. But you can use the primitive chicken brain against itself.
First, remove those at the top of the pecking order from the flock and put them in a separate location.
I prefer a broody breaker. Don’t have a broody breaker? You need one. I wrote an article on that too. You can also use your nursery.
Give them food, water, and nesting. Make them comfortable, but don’t let them near the other birds.
Step 2: Wait
This is the hard part. Most chicken raisers don’t like to see their birds locked up, even mean ones. But it is necessary if you want to reset the pecking order. Separate the bullies from the general flock for at least three days.
While the dominant birds are away, something interesting will happen. The remaining birds will reset the pecking order. They will choose a new leader, often a bird that was near the bottom of the old order. Don’t know why, but it works.
Step 3: Reintroduce the Bully Birds
After a few days, simply take the birds out of lock down and put them back into general population. No special care required. They are now the “new birds” and should fall in under the new boss.
Once the pecking order is reestablished, it usually doesn’t go back to the old way. Sometimes, but rarely. And usually, the new king or queen of the flock is nicer. Again, don’t know why, it just works.
Rinse and Repeat as Necessary
Things will usually stay peaceful for quite a while after the reset. However, if the birds at the top of the new pecking order get mean, repeat the process again until things calm down.
We’ve never had to do it more than once at a time.
P.S. – If you want more chicken articles, visit my Chicken page.