The Pecking Order - One Consideration when Introducing New Chickens to Your Flock

Introducing new chickens to your flock can be tricky. For some perspective, imagine if two strangers were dropped by aliens into your home. It would likely take you a few days to work out the personalities, reassign chores, adjust the living space, etc. Chickens share your concerns about new additions. That is where the pecking order comes into play. This is established by the strongest and most aggressive member literally bullying his/her way to the top. They do this by squawking, chasing, fluffing themselves up to look bigger, and pecking their coop mates. This pecking can get violent and can end in the death or injury of one of the other birds. Where this may seem mean, the system works pretty well for chickens. As stressful as this can be to watch, your intervention will not stop this process.

The pecking order usually has a rooster at the top. In the absence of a rooster, this will be a lead hen. The lead hen or rooster gets certain privileges, like the best nesting box or roost. She/he also controls who gets access to food and water, who eats first, etc. With this high rank, the chicken at the top of the pecking order is supposed to also check for predators and warn the others about potential threats. So, being the "ruler of the roost," comes with responsibilities.

When I introduce new birds into my flock, I usually lock them in a separate cage or inside the coop for several weeks until all of the birds are used to seeing each other. This allows the chickens to see each other and provides a safe barrier for any initial feelings of aggression. When I let them all out together, I monitor the interactions for a few minutes and then let nature take its course. If any bird is injured and bleeding, you should separate it again until it is healed before a reintroduction. I recently had a mother hen with chicks locked in the coop until the chicks feathered out. Here is a youtube video of the pecking order in action as the younger birds are taught their position in the flock.



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