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The pecking order is a term used to describe the social hierarchy of chickens determined by a series of bullying and fighting behaviors. The main use of the pecking order is to describe the dominance of one chicken, or others, to the rest of the flock.

Establishment[]

The pecking order is never established forever. Chickens in a flock will continually peck each other for dominance, so the hierarchy will only get temporarily established, being subject to change at any given moment. One of the first things chickens will do upon being greeted to one another, is to determine who is the dominant hen or rooster. This is usually done by fighting, mainly pecking. The chicken that dominates the rest will be at the top of the social hierarchy, and will be one of the more important ones, while the weakest and smallest chickens will be directly at the bottom, and are prone to bullying. The older a hen is, the more likely she is to be more dominant than the others, having more strength and skill.

Behaviors[]

Once the pecking order is temporarily established, there will be different interactions between the chickens. For example, the top chicken will always get first dibs on the food and water, dust-bathing spots, nests, and other locations, often pecking or chasing other chickens who try to take it first. The other chickens will be forced to endure this, and will sometimes fight with the top chicken to acclaim their dominance, and attempt to be the new leader.

However, chickens at the bottom are usually excluded, bullied, and left last for generally many things, mostly feeding areas. It is not uncommon for a chicken at the bottom of the pecking order to be killed or exiled from the flock. Hens who are on the lower-ranking side of the pecking order often use hens lower than them as a source of pecking, making the said hen gain more power.

Classes[]

In the pecking order, there are three separate dominance levels called classes. These classes serve as a marker between how dominant a hen is overall to the rest of the flock. In each class, a hen will have her own position, and keep track of the rankings of others.

High-ranking Class[]

Hens belonging to the high-ranking class are the most dominant in the flock, and are often very aggressive towards others. They will receive the first bites of food, drinks of water, nesting areas, sun-bathing and dust-bathing locations, and roosting spots. If any hen attempts to drive them away from their resources, then the high-ranking hen will bully them until they are fully chased away. They seem to be most aggressive around the feeding areas and nesting boxes. Hens that are high in rank are not often bred by the rooster, as they are less submissive.

Middle-ranking Class[]

Hens who are in the middle-ranking class are of average dominance, and may or may not be aggressive towards others, depending on whether they are on the top or bottom of the middle class. They are the next on the pecking order to receive flock resources (listed above) after the high-ranking hens. If any hen attempts to drive them away from the resources, then the middle-ranking hen will usually allow herself to be chased off, though the more brave hens may use the opportunity to climb higher in the pecking order. Hens that are middle-ranking are usually the second choice for breeding when a rooster is present.

Low-ranking Class[]

Hens who are placed in the low-ranking class are the least dominant in the flock, and are subject to getting bullied consistently throughout the day. They are the last ones to receive any kind of resource, including roosting locations; in fact, low-ranking hens usually sleep on the ground, as they are repeatedly knocked off the roost at night by hens who rank higher than them. Because of these hens not getting adequate food and water, they are the most likely to fall ill before the rest of the flock. When this happens, they are usually killed by the other hens in an attempt to drive out an "unworthy" flock member. Hens that are low in rank are the first to be chosen for breeding by roosters because of their submissive behaviors.

Roosters and Cockerels[]

Adult male chickens are different when it comes to the pecking order. When a rooster is introduced into the flock, he will be immediately respected by the average hens, and will not have to deal with fighting. Although, if there are multiple roosters in a flock, each of them will have to fight with each other to establish who is more dominant, though like the hens' pecking order, this is never established forever. Contrary to the former statements, when a cockerel is introduced with adult females, he will often become subject to bullying; this is due to the hens wanting to teach him how to behave like a proper rooster as he grows.

Territory and Breeding[]

One of the most fought over resources in a flock is the territory, especially when there are multiple roosters in the flock. Each chicken has an area that they feel more safe in, and due to this, many chicken owners set several feeders and waterers at a few feet away so each chicken can have access. Hens lower on the pecking order will be subject to getting bred more frequently because of them being more submissive; when a chicken submits, they will do a squatting posture, both around hens and roosters.

Management[]

There is no true way to control the pecking order, as a flock will always have their own opinions on who is placed where on the social hierarchy. However, one way to lessen the amount of fighting in hens is to place multiple waterers and feeders a few feet away from each other, so everyone will have access. Another approach of controlling the pecking order would be to add a rooster; the proper adult male chicken should regulate the amount of hen fighting. Nonetheless, lower-ranking hens will still be chased and pecked daily.

If a chicken owner were to remove the aggressive hens from the flock, there is a chance of the pecking order being more peaceful. However, it is more likely that another hen, previously less dominant than the one removed, will take her place in the high-ranking class.

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