Chickens are very social animals. In my little herd (I know, I know) of beaked wonders, there are a few different breeds. They were all raised together from when they were chicks. Even so, as adults they tend to stick with their own kind… The Rhodies with the Rhodies, and the Brahmas with the Brahmas. This tells me that they recognize each other and have social awareness. Are chickens social animals? You bet.
Why do Chickens Fight?
The social behavior that chickens use to establish the hierarchy known as pecking order is fighting. Often, the fighting is subtle, consisting of a few well-placed pecks. I’ve been pecked many times, and although surprising, it doesn’t really hurt. But to a 3 or 4 pound chicken, those pecks have a memorable effect. Once a hierarchy is established, it doesn’t change much unless chickens become ill, or pass on.
Chickens squabble over many issues like who gets the best perch, who gets the earthworm – it’s a riot watching chickens fight over an earthworm. They spend so much time chasing each other around that they probably burn up more calories than the worm gives them. They bicker over nesting boxes. It’s not uncommon to see two chickens in the same nesting box, even when there are several boxes available.
Chickens jostle over the best spot at the feed trough and at the watering hole. It’s pretty easy to control this jostling. It’s a simple formula. Circumference is 2 times pi times radius, so the circumference of a 10-inch feeder is 2×3.14×5= 31.4. Figure 4 inches per chicken and you can get 7 or 8 birds around a 10-inch feeder. Now, pecking order dictates that the top echelon eats first, so you really just need to keep enough food in the feeder to satisfy everybody’s hunger when they get the chance to eat.
Roosters will fight to be dominant. If they are kept confined, this fighting can become severe. There are ways to avoid rooster fights.
- Keep One Rooster – Roosters are the guardians of the flock. They watch out for predators, and are typically the first to call out if a predator is around. Keeping only one rooster is enough to satisfy this role. If you’ve ever seen two roosters on one hen, you’d never want to have two in your flock.
- Have Enough Hens – The big, handsome fellas want to have their own hens. One rooster is usually satisfied to tend to 10-12 hens, so you can do the math. Again, having more than one rooster in a small flock is brutal on the hens.
- Free-Range – When chickens have enough room to roam around, there is much less squabbling in the ranks. Roosters, especially the subordinate rooster(s), have room to go their own way. This can be difficult in an urban setting because of space restrictions.
- Segregate – I a situation where your chickens are in runs, you can create a separate area for your “other” roosters. This seems unfair, but you can always give your other rooster to someone who needs a rooster. I recently re-homed a huge light Brahma to a neighbor whose rooster got foxed to death. Everybody was happy (especially my hens).
Keeping birds calm is so good for the well-being of the flock. Fighting, and the stress caused by fighting, can cause injury, death, reduced egg laying, feathering, spreading of disease, nervous birds, and so on. Calm chickens are happy chickens.
The Importance of Hierarchy
One country, one king. As I’ve already said, pecking order is established by fighting. From the time they are baby chicks to adulthood, chickens are in a constant state of figuring out who’s who in the hierarchy of the flock. This is important because with that understanding comes peace in the ranks.
If you have one rooster, the there is no doubt who the king is. If you have more than one, then they will figure out who rules the roost by battling it out. There will be a queen as well. One hen will be the dominant hen in the hen house. It is through this hierarchy that squabbles are quelled. Disputes are settled, and peace is maintained.
Did you know that if there is no rooster in a flock, a hen will take the rooster roll? Yes, I once had a big Buff Brahma named Icky who took over the flock because we had no rooster. When Icky was a baby chicky, she was being feather-pecked by her brooder mates. All I had to treat her with was ichthammol. It worked! She became Icky.
Space is a Necessity
I have 13 adult chickens currently. They free-range. I wouldn’t have it any other way. They are so happy, it would break their tiny hearts to be shut in after so much freedom. My chickens have no problem roaming over an acre of land every day, pecking and scratching for seeds, bugs, and worms, including ticks! Because of all this space, they don’t even consider fighting with each other- they’re having too much fun!
Back to the run situation… If you keep your birds contained, you will want to give them at least 4 square feet of outside space to provide an environment of calmness. So that’s a 8×16 foot run for eight birds. My recommendation and this is just me, you do you, I wouldn’t have a rooster in the run environment. The hens won’t need protection, and the proximity of the chickens will be rough on the hens.
Chickens need to be kept clean, well-fed, well watered, cool in the summer, and warm in the winter. To accomplish this you will need a good chicken coop with clean bedding, a feeder, and a waterer. I’ve covered these items ad nauseam in my other articles, so I won’t elaborate here. The point is that in order to keep your chickens distracted from bickering, or downright fighting, their resources need to be sound and plentiful.
Other resources include the roost. Chickens love to roost. It is an instinct that they have used to secure themselves for their overnight slumber since chicken-time began (maybe – I don’t really know. I wasn’t there). You can put two or three roosts in your coop if it’s big enough. I have two in a 6×8 foot coop, and three plus a step in a 6x12foot coop. They seem to love the variety of viewpoints.
Chickens are social animals. They fight in order to ultimately increase the sociability of the flock as a whole. Roosters have their place in the modern flock. With hierarchy comes order, understanding and peace. Enough food, water and space will keep your flock healthy and happy.
I thank you for reading this. I hope you got some useful information from it. Please leave a comment if you like. If you don’t, have a great whatever you do, and I’ll se ya ’round!