Hens are social birds that enjoy the company of their flock. As with other social animals, they have a hierarchy or a means of attaining and keeping order within the flock. This ordered social structure is called a "Pecking Order" and can affect every aspect of their lives.
In simple terms, the pecking order is a way of preventing mayhem within the flock. You will find that once established, the flock will be relatively calm, with very little jockeying for position. The addition or removal of a single bird, however, will upset the establish hierarchy (see the page on Introducing New Hens for more more information) and mayham will erupt once more until a new order has been established.
The hen at the top of the pecking order calls the shots within the flock, while looking out for her mates. She basically gets to push everyone around and gets first access to food, water, prime roosting spots and so on. If she doesn't like what someone else is doing she will let them know, generally by raising her head and/or tail or fluffing out her feathers and glaring at the lower ranking hen. The lower ranking hen, on the other hand will generally show its submission by crouching, tiling its heads to one side, gazing away, or beating a hasty retreat to another end of the coop. If that doesn't work, the higher ranking hen could peck at the lower ranking hen. For the poor hen at the bottom of the pecking order, life can be hard everyone in the flock can peck her and she has last rights to food and other resources. For this reason, it is vitally important to ensure that their is enough space and resources for everyone to ensure that the girl at the bottom of the order still gets enough.
If you do have the ability to keep rooster's (unlikely in an urban centre), you will notice that pullets and cockerals maintain separate pecking orders within the same flock. As well, while hens tend to accept higher ranking roosters as superiors, they will give lower ranking cocks a hard time.
Keep in mind that problems sometimes occur when you have only a small number of birds (two for example) as it can then be difficult to establish the pecking order. With only two birds, the poor girl on the bottom of the ladder will get the full brunt of it. It is always best, if at all possible, to keep at least three hens. The extra hen can make a huge difference to the behaviour of the flock without drastically affecting either your financial and time commitment.
Last edited June 17, 2017