Chicken Pecking Order — Stressful Times In The Coop

Help! My Chicken's Bullying the Other Hens!


If you added new chicks to your flock this year, you are probably going through the steps to safely integrate them into the flock. The chicken pecking order will be upset for a while and drama will ensue. But there are a few steps you can take to minimize the drama.

First, understand what the chicken pecking order is, and how it helps the flock operate on a daily basis. The chickens in your flock will, for the most part, work this out among themselves. Only occasionally is our interference justified or needed. Chicken pecking order keeps peace in the coop. Chickens are smart creatures. They learn to recognize their place in the ranks and for the most part, stick to it. Unless a change is made. Maintaining a pecking order is actually less stressful for a flock although it may appear harsh when we witness it with our human hearts. Unlike pigs, goats, and cows who keep testing the herd pecking order every day, chickens are smart. They learn their place and go on with life, peacefully for the most part. Of course, there is always the race for that last bit of watermelon or the juicy worm that was uncovered.

Look At It This Way

Consider it this way. Remember the pecking order from middle school?  The self-appointed cool kids had a designated lunch table? They instinctively knew whether they belonged there or not. The rest of us, well we found other tables, and other friends, right? This is true for the backyard chickens too. When they first leave the coop in the morning, the self-appointed flock leader and his or her gang head for the “best” bowl of food. They chase away any others who may try to grab a bite from that bowl.

Single combed chickens rank higher in the chicken pecking order than other comb styles. What a crazy fact about chickens! Remember the hair styles that were popular when you were in school?  For me, it was the straight glossy hair of the girls in the 1970s. (My hair was thick and frizzy, just saying.) The chickens in the popular group may have similar comb styles. (The Chicken Encyclopedia, by Gail Damerow, Storey Publishing, 2012.)

Adding a few new kids to the chicken pecking order upsets the status quo. Remember the new kids in school? Some of the cool kids would make some attempts to get to know them. Then it would be determined if they fit the criteria for being part of the cool kids’ group. If not they would have to go search for friends elsewhere.  It’s about the same for chickens. They check each other out. The hens wonder if they will be replaced in the rooster’s affections. It’s all quite anxiety producing. Until it all settles down again. And it will.


Tips To Help Make The Transition As Stress-Free As Possible

1. Use a wire barrier to separate the newcomers before they go into the main flock. The chickens will get to know each other a bit through the wire. (This is not the quarantine that you would use for bringing home new chickens, but the method used to introduce your new pullets to the main flock.)

2. Remove the barrier when you can be around to observe the behavior for awhile. I usually check periodically throughout the first days of adding new flock members

3. Have plenty of feed and water areas set up so that the chickens who get chased away can go to a different bowl.

4. Have some places for the timid chickens to hide or go behind, under or into when being chased.

5. Unless the chasing and chickens pecking each other are severe, try to not interfere! It’s hard and especially when we have soft hearts ourselves. Unless a chicken is being picked on by many others, and is being held down and pecked, I do not intervene.

Try to remember that we made it out of middle school in one piece! The chickens will survive the initiation into the flock. Good luck with your chicken flock pecking order.

How do you deal with chicken pecking order? Let us know in the comments.

Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.

  • Catherene C.

    In past years I had several pens. 1 for bantams (incl. 3 roos), ducks (incl. 2 drakes) and a standard rooster that actually flew over the fence from another pen and never left, so that made 4 roosters. 2nd for my original flock of standard chickens with 4 roosters, they had biggest coop. Then I got a larger group of new pullets and put them a 3rd pen. Lastly I had a pen that started with 5 roosters only, 1 flew to banty pen, sold 1, gave 1 away and 1 suddenly died leaving 1 alone. After needing emergency surgery winter of last year and having my boyfriend take over for me for 6 weeks, I decided to begin integrating all of them. At first I let the bantam mixed pen and the older standards intermingle in a common fenced area – all went fairly well. Each always returned to their own coop including the ducks. Enter the the 3rd pen which a pullet ended up being a rooster, my 10th at the time (was 15 prior). This did present a few rooster fights but nothing like the hens did, they were worse. Usually a loud bang of a pan worked to break it up. I only had 1 hen take up roost in the wrong coop but I left her there as she was content. I was to have a new single coop built this year but due to all the rain last year, it was built last fall after my pens and 2 of 6 coops got flooded repeatedly. Now they all, which includes 2 ducks & 1 drake, 6 roosters, 34 standard hens and 2 – 4 year old bantam hens (only 2 of my original 9 bantam hens and 9 bantam roosters that were gotten from some city people that got in over their heads), reside together in one large coop. The coop has a integrated storage section, which is where I’m currently raising 21 chicks (1-5 weeks old). I’m going to enclose off an area with they’re own coop until they’re ready to move into the main coop. Even now with them together, I get the rooster chasing rooster, hen squabbles over nest or dust bath and the funniest to see, a drake chasing and attacking my Cuckoo Marans rooster. Every time that rooster picks on my buff Orpington rooster or tries to get a few certain hens, the drake goes full force after him. He’s very protective. My 3 ducks are also my night patrol as the chickens sleep by their own choice (my ducks sleep mostly during the day but still on alert). I wish all lots of eggs.


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Chicken Pecking Order — Stressful Times In The Coop