Pecking Order and Who Rules the Roost

20180429_133813-1If someone says that they “rule the roost” at their house you may wonder where that term came from.  The top chicken gets the best place on the roosting bar at night as part of a complex hierarchy commonly called “the pecking order.”  The pecking order has an influence on feeding, drinking egg laying, roosting, crowing, mating and even dust bathing.

Chickens are a social animal and enjoy the company of their flock mates. Chickens will become lonely for others of their own kind if they are deprived of them. However, the pecking order is anything but gentle and chickens are very aware of their own place in that order.

Everyone knows their place in the pecking order so when a new chicken is introduced, problems arise until the pecking order is reestablished  again.  Pecking order rank determines the order in which chickens are allowed access to food, water and sleeping spot.

The top chicken is usually the strongest and healthiest.  It is their responsibility to protect and take care of the flock, keeping it safe from predators and mitigating disputes between lower members.

The pecking order is a sort of cooperation between members of the flock. It ensures the survival of the flock by giving the best chances to the fittest birds. Unless a member of the flock is removed or added, the pecking order will remain the same for a long time.  However, it is a fluid thing and is never permanent. The younger will always challenge the older.

A flock of chickens who were hatched and raised together establishes a pecking order early on.  Pullets and cockerels that grow up together will play games of running and bumping chest together.  The strongest one is usually chasing a weaker one around the food dish.  Serious games of pecking order start at around six weeks.

The most dominant bird will be the rooster if you have one in your flock.  The lowest bird will be the meekest and the gentlest. Older birds will be dominant over younger ones until the younger ones start challenging them.

Gender has a lot to do with what the pecking order looks like.  If you do not have a rooster in your flock, then the strongest hen will take this spot. It will usually go roosters, hens, cockerels and pullets at the bottom. The order is established by pecking, chasing, blocking from food and water and sometimes violent fighting.  If there are several aggressive birds fighting for that top position there can be blood shed.

Pecking order positions are fixed when one flock member confronts another.  The weaker will back down and become lower in position than the stronger one.  Do not try and interfere unless bleeding is occurring.  They need to work it out themselves.

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Flaring hackle feathers with a lowered head is one form of intimidation.  Loud wing flapping with the head held high and the chest puffed out is another form of letting everyone know who is the boss. They may also use the wing dance to challenge one another.  The dominant bird will come up sideways to the other bird. Then he will lower his outer wing and dance in a half circle around the other chicken.  If the other chicken walks away, the dancer is now higher than the other bird in the pecking order.

Roosters who copulate with hens throughout the day are asserting their dominance over the other roosters who are not allowed to. Roosters who are lower in the flock crow less and rarely mate.  They only get a chance to when the other rooster is not around.

Alpha roosters will crow to signal their dominance to the other chickens.  Roosters who are the flock leaders will look out for the hens by watching for predators, finding them treats, mating and chasing other roosters away from their group of hens.

Hens who are at the top tend to be fearless and boisterous.  Hens high in the pecking order will chase other hens out of the nesting boxes.  Chickens high in the order get to eat more and have a better spot in choosing where they will roost.  Weaker hens have to wait to drink or eat and will often be pushed away by others. If one of the low ranked chickens tries to feed before their leaders, they may get a nasty jab or peck to teach them a lesson. If a bird tries to go out of turn, she will earn glares, pecks and feather pulling from higher ranked hens.

Establishing a pecking order can take anywhere from two days or up to two weeks.  Once everyone knows their position, the stress will go down and disputes will be settled very quickly.

The less space chickens have, the more violent they are in establishing and maintaining the pecking order. They need around four square feet of space per bird inside the coop and eight square feet outside in the chicken run.

Use hanging feeders and waterers in the middle of an open area rather than in a corner if you are having problems.  There should be three inches of feeder and waterer space per chicken.  If you have more than six birds, use multiple feeders and waterers.  One inside the coop and one outside the coop if smaller birds are being pushed away.

There should be one nesting box for four hens and eight inches of roosting bar per bird.

Problems can occur when a new chicken is introduced to an existing flock. This upsets the pecking order and an new one must be reestablished.  If the new chickens are younger and outnumbered this can create additional problems.  Chickens have a habit of ganging up on any chicken that is bleeding and pecking at the red wound.  They are very attracted to the color red.  Remove and bleeding chickens and apply an antiseptic wound spray.    Silkies can be very territorial.

When introducing new flock member, fence off an area inside the chicken run for the new chickens.  After a couple of days remove the fencing and let them mingle. For more ideas on how to introduce new flock members,  check out “How to Integrate New Members Into Your Flock.

Humans are also part of the pecking order.  Roosters see you as part of their flock and will seek to overthrow your top position. Aggressive roosters can be dangerous especially if you have small children.  Never leave them unattended with a rooster who has shown past aggression towards humans.

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Doing the chicken wing dance around you and charging towards you are some clear signs that a rooster is challenging you for top spot.  Pecking and jumping at you to claw or spur you should not be allowed.  Never run from a rooster.  Stand your ground or run and chase after him.  Grab him and hold him down to the ground.  Put your hand over his head and back.  Hold him until he calms down and then let up on him.

Segregate any bully birds that you might have. Place them in a crate for a few days.  The pecking order will change while she is in isolation and when she is reintroduced, she will be the “new bird.”

In order to avoid problems in your coop make sure that there is always enough space for your birds and enough hiding places for members of the lower ranks.  The “hen pecked” chicken is always your most submissive and is often a silkie in a mixed flock. Try to keep to one rooster per pen.  A happy, stress free flock will give you more eggs.

For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies go to our weekly chicken blog at VJPPoultry.com

VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul in the city of Forest Lake, MN.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.

Follow us on Facebook for weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria Peterson

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Silkies For Sale – 10/10/17

Cage Training For The Silkie Show

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Fall poultry shows are coming up and hopefully, if you are planning on showing, you have selected your birds that you are bringing and are in the process of conditioning them.

Conditioning means that you have separated your selections from the rest of your flock and have made sure that the boys and the girls are not in the same pen.  Separate areas are important as rowdy boys can break or tear feathering on the females.

You should also be feeding them a diet that is high in protein to keep those feathers in tip top shape.  Showbird food or Feather Fixer are good choices.  I also add vitamins to the water or Roster Booster to improve the over all health and beauty of the bird.

About a month before the show you will want to start training your birds to be comfortable in a small wire cagesmall wire cage.  These are the type of cages you will find at a poultry show.  They are about 24 X 24 in size.  Place the cage on saw horses so that they are about table high.

This enclosed cage will be very different from what your silkie is used to out in the coop.  I would start with short time spans and then gradually increase how much time the bird spends in there.

You will need to teach your bird how to eat and drink inside of the cage.  A good waterer for silkies is the pop bottle waterer.  You buy the bottom where the birds drink from and then place a plastic pop bottle with water in it on top. They provide a spring to secure it on the side of the cage but I use small bungee cords and place something underneath the bottom to support it. I use an empty cat food can.  I like these because they are small and don’t take up much space in the cage and because the silkie is less likely to dunk their heads and get wet and messy.  You will want the judges to see a clean, dry bird.  It is a good idea to remove the waterer before judging starts to keep your bird looking perfect.

The food container hangs on the side.  I like to put food they really like in there while you are training them.  Treats such as mealworms, sunflower seeds and berries, or cracked corn will teach your bird how to eat from the little container.  They will begin to associate treats with time spent in the cage.

Learning to eat and drink from these different containers is very important.  Silkies who have not had their feathers trimmed around their eyes will have a hard time finding the food and water in the cage.  Use pink hair tape or blue painters tape to pin up the feathers in the crest which will allow the birds to see.

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Place the feeders and waterers in the front of the cage.  This will get them used to being on that side of the cage where the judge will be.  A judge does not want to see a bird cowering in the back.  They should be up front where they are easy to see and judge.

The judge will have a little baton that he uses to get the bird to pose properly.  You should practice with a dowel or stick so that your silkie is used to seeing it in the cage and feeling it against its body.

Shows are very noisy places.  You may want to place a radio by your cage so that the bird gets used to loud noises while they are in the cage.  I have the radio tuned to the Oldies station that has lots of commercials.

Practice taking your bird in and out of the cage.  The judge will be taking the bird out head first and placing it in the cage head first. You should practice the same way.  Hold the bird with one hand under the keel one hand on top of the wings.  Birds will struggle if they are not used to being handled.  Judges would rather not work with struggling birds.  Spread the wings out and check all over the bird the same way a judge would.

Give the bird a treat while handling them so that they associate people holding them with treats. Treats include Chicken Crack, Happy Hen Treats, Grublies, and Mana Pro Garden Delights.  Roosters will especially need practice in handling.  Sit with them on your lap when you are watching tv and cuddle up with them.  You will enjoy it and so will they.

I write a weekly silkie blog at VJPPoultry.com where we have tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies.  Check out Silkie Supplies for your basic silkie needs.

VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria Peterson

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Silkies For Sale – 10/2/17

Vitamins, Silkies, and Wry Neck

20161122_152047    Silkies are sometimes described as a more high maintenance breed of chicken.  Owners are known to give them baths and pedicures and to trim around their eyes when they are so fluffy that they can no longer see.  Many live a pampered existence.

Silkies are often thought to need a higher protein chicken food than most other breeds.  We feed all of our adult silkies a Gamebird Conditioner feed which is 20% protein.  But, does the feed contain all of the vitamins needed for outstanding birds?

Most commercial feed companies will make sure that there is the proper amount of vitamins and minerals for the type and age of the bird. For example, layer feed will have the higher amount of calcium that the hen needs to create egg shells.

However, with any product, the age of the feed is critical to its nutritional content. Vitamins are sensitive to changes due to light, heat and moisture and can lose potency over time.

Some people try to create their own feed mixtures and this can leave the birds with incorrect amounts of certain vitamins and minerals.  Corn and scratch are enjoyed by chickens but are empty calories.

Silkies need extra vitamins during times of stress, very cold weather, when they are breeding , when they are chicks and growers and when they are ill.

There are two kinds of vitamins.  Fat soluble and water soluble.  Water soluble vitamins are not affected by the fats in the chickens diet. These would be the B and C vitamins.  If too much is ingested, it is excreted through the urine.  Fat soluble vitamins are A, D, E and K.  More care needs to be taken not to over supplement these particular vitamins.

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Cluck N Sea Kelp is a nice mixture of Kelp meal that can be added to the regular feed with many benefits. Merricks Blue Ribbon Poultry Electrolytes can be added to their water and is a good source of probiotics.  Life Lytes Mega tabs is another product that can be added to the water. It is a good souce for vitamins A, B12, D and E. Durvet Vitamins and Electrolytes   is what I use to add to both my chick’s and adult’s water.   Rooster Booster is a product I would use with adults for show conditioning or if I was having problems with roosters not performing.  Nutri Drench can be used if you have a sick chick and need something fast acting.

Now a word about Wry Neck…. Wry Neck is evident when you see a bird tucking her head between her legs.  It usually hits young chicks but can happen in older birds.  This can be caused by a vitamin E deficiency .  Vitamin E and vitamin B complex are both known to be good for neurological disorders.

Wry Neck is different from a peck on the head, which silkies are very susceptible to. Their vaulted look when chicks is caused by an opening in their skull like a baby’s soft spot. Pecks can lead to head injuries that look very similar to what you see with Wry Neck.  Vitamin E and Selenium (helps animals absorb vitamin E) can be helpful with these injuries.

If you think that your silkie has wry neck or a head injury, the first thing to do is separate  it from the rest of the flock.  Stress will make it worse, so it needs a quiet environment.  Take a vitamin E capsule and squirt it onto its feed or into its mouth.  Take  25 micrograms of a selenium tablet (or break a 50 mcg tablet in half ) and crush that up and add it to the feed.  Give this to the chick two or three times a day.  You may have to hand feed it if it is not eating by itself.  It may take as long as a month before the condition disappears.  Keep giving it the vitamins for two additional weeks beyond where they appear to be recovered. Wry neck affects 8% of chicks across all breeds.  It is not contagious.

Since silkies are more prone to head injuries, you may want to take care  not to place them in a pen along with more aggressive chickens.  Keep them away from bully birds and do not place them in crowded situations.

As a preventative and just for general good health, I place 1/16 tsp of vitamins and electrolytes per 2 quarts of water.  This is at the feed supplementation level.  More could be used if the bird was showing illness.  I also add 1/2 tsp of apple cider vinegar to the 2 quarts of water.  The chicks are given vitamins every day but the adults are given it every other day.  With the adults  I alternate with Red Cell ( one half capful per gallon of water ) and regular vitamins as well as days where they just get plain water.  Use less vitamins on hot days as they will drink more water than usual.

For more tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies,  go to our Silkie Blog at VJPPoultry.com.  Don’t forget to check out the Silkie Supplies for your basic silkie needs.

VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul.  We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available.  Follow us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.

Victoria Peterson

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