Category: Chicken behavior

What to expect when adding new chickens into a flock

Intermingled flock

Assuming you’re not willing to dispatch old hens, egg numbers inevitably decline to the point where you’re tempted to integrate new hens into the flock. But will they get along? What constitutes normal pecking-order-establishment and what is an early warning sign of pecked-to-death?

Unfortunately, new and old hens are very unlikely to intermingle in serene harmony from the very beginning. There will be pounces and squawks and some of your hens may run off and turn into loners. Meanwhile, even though you’re likely to get eggs for a day or two (since those eggs were already in production), stressed hens are likely to stop laying for a while soon thereafter.

In a perfect situation, the establishment of a new group dynamic peters out after a few days, leaving the henhouse mostly peaceful. But if you see any of the following behaviors, you should keep a closer eye on the flock and consider separating out the bottom-rung birds:

  • Hens hiding with their face in a corner for hours on end.
  • Hens roosting for the night somewhere far away from the main flock. (Off to the edge of the same perch is alright.)
  • Hens with backs and/or heads pecked bare. (If you see blood, separate the hen immediately!)

Fresh eggs

And then, slowly but surely, serenity will return. At last, you’ll be rewarded with the chickenkeeper’s favorite sight — a nest full of freshly laid eggs!

Why do roosters crow?

Crowing rooster

Did you ever wonder why roosters crow? Cliff Notes version: Their goal isn’t to wake the farmer up in the morning.

Just like the song birds who drop by your bird feeder, male chickens use their songs to alert other roosters of their territory. So we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the most dominant rooster is the first to crow in the morning, with later crowers coming in descending order down the dominance hierarchy.

But why in the morning while city slickers are trying to get a little hard-earned rest? Scientists have figured out the how of this behavior — circadian rhythms within the chicken’s body tell them when to crow, even when they’re stuck in total darkness for up to a month at a time. As for the why — maybe hens just like it that way….

How to avoid chicken pecking

Chicken pecking on a foot

If you have more than one chicken (and you should since chickens are social animals), you will eventually have to deal with chicken pecking.  The end result is bloody, clearly bad for your chickens’ health, and also breaks your heart as a chicken keeper.  Many chicken keepers assume that pecking is a fact of life, but we’ve found that pecking can be completely avoided with a few simple steps.

First, it’s important to know what causes chicken pecking behavior:

  • In my experience, the most common cause of pecking is overcrowding.  Your chickens should each have 4 square feet of space if they live in a chicken tractor, but this number is much larger in a coop setting (6 to 10
    square feet per bird.)  Give your birds as much space as possible!
  • Chickens naturally peck at each other to establish a pecking order.  If one peck is too hard and blood becomes visible, though, pecking can spiral out of control very quickly.  Chickens are attracted to the color red and will keep pecking at a spot once it becomes bloody.  If a bird becomes bloody, separate her from the flock until she heals up.
  • In some cases, chicken pecking can be caused by nutrient deficiencies, specifically salt and methionine.  If you have a pecking problem that you can’t solve in another way, try giving your birds some dietary supplements.
  • High heat and light have also been shown to increase chicken pecking.

Chicken pecking outside its tractorThese are the reasons mainstream authorities give for pecking, but I’d like to add another — boredom.  Imagine you’re a chicken hanging out in a coop with fifty other birds, you barely room to turn around, and you have nothing to do once you spend fifteen
minutes eating up your food in the morning.  Chickens are meant to spend their days foraging for food and scratching in the dirt.  Of course you’ll end up picking on your neighbors, just to give you a way to pass your time!


We spend a lot of time watching our chickens, and have noticed that they seem to enjoy pecking at the chicken nipples, taking lots of short sips from the waterer.  Since we installed our homemade chicken waterers in our tractors, we haven’t had a single instance of pecking and our birds seem much happier.

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