Chickens are charming. They’re also opinionated, tend toward melodrama, and are famous for not getting along. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories of one bird in a flock being literally pecked to death by the other hens.
Fortunately, we haven’t experienced anything near that extreme. In fact, our first two hens got along perfectly well before the introduction of a new Ameraucana and Welsummer last summer.
Petunia and Luma had been making do on their own for over two years, and though they didn’t seem particularly emotionally bonded, scuffles were rare. Petunia, a slight, intelligent Barred Leghorn with a penchant for human piggyback rides, was decidedly in charge of the larger, food-obsessed Luma—a Barred Rock.
Needless to say, introducing new birds sent all social dynamics to hell. Immediately. (And this was with a cautious, well-planned get-to-know-you period and introduction). Petunia and Luma suddenly had something to bond over and became best friends. Petunia put the young birds in their place and then treated them well enough, though she remained extra vigilant for any sign of revolt.
Luma got ferociously mean, especially toward Fifi, the nervous Ameraucana. While Fifi ran for cover as soon as anyone noticed her, the Welsummer, Bell, was more persistent in humbly asserting herself and running into the fray for as many gulps of food as she could get away with.
But now, six months in, the pecking order is more convoluted.
Sometime in early fall when the older girls were preparing to molt, Bell made her move and came out on top. Petunia and Luma run away when she approaches and defer to her in matters of food. Petunia, especially, is afraid of Bell.
With the shift in dynamics, Bell continued being nice to Fifi, as she always has been. By mid-fall, Fifi must have realized that Bell was the safest bird to challenge. She remains terrified of Petunia and Luma (who continue to chase her away from treats), but she is downright brutal to Bell. For instance, Fifi will now bite down hard on Bell’s wattles, hanging on until Bell gives a shrill, desperate scream.
So who’s on top?
Petunia gets to boss around Luma and Fifi, Bell scares Petunia and Luma, Luma terrifies Fifi, and Fifi tortures Bell.
You’d think they would realize how ridiculous it all is. But they’re chickens.
This convoluted hierarchy leads to some humorous scenes. The other day I watched as Luma chased Fifi away from a pile of greens she was eating. Moments later, Bell moved in to claim the pile, and Luma ran off to avoid being pecked. No sooner was Luma gone, then Fifi returned and chomped down on Bell’s wattle.
It’s tempting to assume all this confusion is due to molting, and that’s certainly possible. But it’s been like this now for months. Petunia began an energy sapping, appetite suppressing mini-molt in October, Luma molted in December, and Bell in January. Fifi’s the only bird laying and the only one yet to molt, but she’s certainly not on top of the flock.
While it may be a confusing social situation for the birds (and it certainly is for us on the outside!), fortunately no one is getting seriously hurt.
But I have to wonder: is this type of pecking order mayhem common?