Chicken pecking order

Chickens eating corncobs

Corn freezing day is our
chickens’ favorite since the birds absolutely adore the sweet bits of
kernel left behind when I cut future dinners off the cob.  Whoever
gets the most corn is clearly at the top of the pecking order, so I
keep my eyes peeled to see how my flock responds to the food scraps.

Chicken faceoff

Mama hen is still the
meanest (and thus most dominant) chicken in the flock, but her chicks
are beginning to drift down the ladder.  At two months old, the
newly christened “tweens” no longer hug their mother’s side, and the
hen has also stopped protecting them from anything except the most
aggressive actions of the other chickens.  When Mama hen’s sharp
beak isn’t closeby, I see the old Golden Comets — next highest along
the pecking order — occasionally push a tween out of their way to get
closer to the best corn.

Chickens from above

The pullets from hatch
one (now four months old) are at the very bottom of the pecking order,
so they rarely get to nibble at the corn cobs.  One settles for
pecking the insides out of an old cucumber while two others sneak
around behind the tweens.  They’ve figured out that the tweens
aren’t precisely higher or lower than them on the pecking order and
will eat alongside the pullets unless Mama notices and comes to chase
the interlopers off.  Before long, I suspect the pullets will have
crept up above the tweens on the totem pole (but perhaps not before I
put the tweens in the freezer.)

Black Australorp pullet

The oldest Golden Comets
let the pullets eat with them from time to time without showing any
aggression.  In stark contrast, the younger Golden Comet will
chase the pullets away anytime she notices their black faces.  I
suspect that the younger hen is more worried about keeping her place in
the pecking order — currently below all of the other adult hens —
and already foresees the pullets lapping her as they become more
confident.  So far, the Australorps haven’t tried to threaten
anybody, and eat tentatively when allowed the chance.

Hen with chicks

Within an established
flock, the pecking order tends to remain
relatively static — everyone knows the top chicken is the most
aggressive, so they stay out of her way and she seldom even needs to
throw her weight around.  That’s why it’s such a treat to see the
shifting alliances as youngsters are raised within a flock of adult
chickens.  But I’m also careful to make sure that everyone gets a
safe place to eat and drink, scattering their morning rations down the
entire length of the pasture and providing three separate
chicken waterers at various spots.  Soon
enough, everyone will be grown up and they’ll all be able to eat and
drink together in harmony.

Latest Comments

  1. August 19, 2011
  2. anna August 19, 2011

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