There is some science to the order in which the chickens will put themselves to bed and wake themselves up. You will have heard the phrase “pecking order”. This was first described by Thorleif Schjelderup-Ebbe in 1921 under the German terms Hackordnung or Hackliste and introduced into English in 1927.
The “pecking order” is the pattern of social organization within a flock of poultry in which each bird pecks another lower in the scale without fear of retaliation and submits to pecking by one of higher rank. In essence it’s a dominance hierarchy within a group of social animals.
The ultimate function of a pecking order is to increase the individual or collective fitness of the animals within its formation. Avoiding the need to fight to acquire resources such as food the hens lessen the use of energy and risk of injury. By developing a pecking order, animals determine which individuals will get priority of access to resources, particularly when they are limited. This leads to a reduction in aggression once the pecking order has been developed.
The basic concept behind the establishment of the pecking order among chickens, is that it is necessary to determine who is the ‘top hen,’ the ‘bottom hen’ and where the rest fit in the middle. You can see our hens do this at bed time, at feeding time when one will appear to pick on another (often for no apparent reason). This is that hen demonstrating that it is of a higher rank than the pecked hen. This does of course lead to the “bottom hen” being pecked but having no-one to peck, and while that sounds unfair; it’s better than a physical fight where the bottom hen would possibly be excluded from food and shelter.
We have noticed that the pecking order at Pitt Farm does change over time. At animal feeding the pecking order plays a part in determining which of our hens will leave the coop first. So if you watch the hens when they’re eating and when they’re going to bed; you might get a clue about who will be first out. This helps with the fun at morning animal feeding where we guess who will be first down the ramp.
The hens at Pitt Farm all have names. Some of them make sense and some of them less so.
The runners and riders:
Red Hen – Red Hen is near the top of the tree. A gorgeous legbar, who, when the mood is right (a rare thing in recent times), lays beautiful pale blue eggs.
Toffee (darker) and Ginger – our two classic brown hybrid hens. They are regular layers and very friendly. Toffee in particular is always looking to make new friends so keep your front door shut and your picnic close unless you want to be sharing.
Mayor Goodway is less interested in laying these days, of the large black Orpington breed with the most enormous feet you’ve ever seen on a chicken, she loves to explore the farmyard and cottage gardens hunting for worms and woodlice.
Speckles – a beautiful hen, we think Speckles is a Silver Laced Wyandotte (but we might be wrong). Speckles is a keen adventurer and sometimes prefers to nest in the trees at night rather than returning home to the coop. We once found her sitting on a clutch of 13 of her eggs in a secret hidden nest.
Anna and Elsa are our Blue Marans (bluey grey in colour). They are the youngest in the flock and will grow to be prolific layers of around 300 eggs a year.
Olivia Bolivia and Sunny Jemima are our Bovans Nera hens – black with coppery speckles around their necks. This is a breed which originates from Holland. Another prolific layer producing nearly 300 eggs in a year – we have enjoyed many double-yolkers from these two.
Chickaletta and Daisy are our bantams. We are often asked if they are the youngest because they are small, but this is them fully grown. They don’t tend to travel too far from the henhouse, and can often be found underneath it. Their eggs are small but perfectly formed.
So who’s in charge…? The stakes are high at animal feeding, and we wouldn’t want to be accused of fowl play. You’ll just have to come along and soon enough it will become clear!