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Introducing new hens to a flock

Flock in the Eglu Go Chicken Coop

Having an extra coop, such as the Eglu Go is a great idea for creating a “time out” space for flock members.

In every flock of chickens there is a hierarchy known as the “pecking order.” This social structure is important because it determines who the flock turns to for leadership, guidance, and reassurance. A healthy hierarchy ensures that low-ranking hens have space in the roost and are allowed to eat, while keeping high and mid-ranking hens in check. Find out what’s normal pecking order behavior, how to safely introduce newcomers, and how to recognize when flock authority is being challenged.

How a pecking order is established

The personalities of your hens will determine their position within the pecking order. It might seem like the larger the hen, the higher they will rank – but some flocks are run by a feisty bantam. The process of establishing a pecking order can appear concerning at best, or sometimes downright alarming. But, by understanding the pecking order in chickens, you’ll be able to recognize behavior consistent with jockeying for the top place in the flock.

Determining who is top hen

If you’ve raised your hens together from chicks, they will have already established their pecking order. But, if you add new chickens to an existing flock, you can expect some feathers to fly. Anytime new flock members are introduced, the pecking order will be challenged – no matter how brief the altercation may be.

Younger or higher-ranking hens in an established flock may challenge the top hen for position from time to time. This is normal, and will sometimes result in top hens conceding their position to their rival. These contests can be as infrequent as once a year, or as often as once a day, depending on how many bold hens your flock has.

Recognizing the top hen or hens

The top-ranking hen of your flock will be the first to secure a spot in the roost at night, and will usually be the first out of the coop in the morning. A flock’s top hen will also make sure that lower-ranking hens have space in the roost, and access to food and water. But, the top hen will always be first to the food and water, followed by other higher-ranking hens.

Some flocks have a group of top hens rather than just one at the top of the pecking order. The social structure remains the same, with the group of hens leading the flock and seeing to its needs.

Lower-ranking hens

Hens, no matter their places in the flock, will usually have a best friend or two. You will notice the same hens heading to the dust bathing area together, or enjoying a perch-sit. Higher-ranking hens will band together, just as lower-ranking hens will. These “cliques” within the flock are sometimes tested by individual hens, but will quickly be diffused by the top hen or hens. A healthy pecking order doesn’t tolerate bullying or exclusion.

Roosters change the rules

While not an absolute rule, roosters will usually take up the top position in a flock. This is because they have an innate desire to protect their hens from threats, and hens will naturally fall in line under the rule of a rooster. You may occasionally witness a high-ranking hen duel with a rooster, but these are usually brief squabbles over a minor disagreement rather than a true battle for dominance. Like top hens, roosters should lead their flock with confidence and see to the fair treatment of lower-ranking flock members.

Safely introducing new chickens to your flock

Introducing new chickens to your flock is exciting, but it must be done thoughtfully. Because new flock members will temporarily create uproar within the pecking order, slow introductions will eliminate surprising both your existing and new hens. This is especially important for chicks that are being introduced to a flock, as they are smaller and more vulnerable to rough initiation rituals.

Start by keeping your new chickens in a separate area. This can be achieved by using walk in chicken run partitions, or with chicken fencing. For the first week, keep your new chickens a good distance away from your flock. This will give you time to check for illness in your new chickens before spreading it to your other hens. If you’ve raised your new chickens from chicks, you don’t have to worry about illness, and can proceed to the next step.

Set up your new chickens where they can see your existing flock, but not so close that they can reach each other through wires of their run. After a week of this close proximity, you’ll be able to make introductions on neutral ground. Find an area of your yard where your chickens can meet that has enough space for them to spread out, but not so large that they can ignore each other. You will likely see the pecking order get sorted out right away in this first meeting, but it might not fully be established until they all move into the coop together.

Normal behavior when pecking order is challenged

When chickens vie for the top spot in the pecking order, the resulting skirmish can look dramatic from our human perspective. Chickens have a diverse language – some of which is vocalized, but much is translated through posturing or physical contact. If you notice the following behaviors in your flock, a battle for top pecking order position is underway:

  • Facing off toward each other with raised hackles.
  • Circling, with heads lowered.
  • Jumping and striking at each other with their feet, much like roosters when they’re sparring.
  • Low squawking or drawn-out clucks that can resemble a growl.
  • Chasing or pecking (this is where the term “pecking” order gets its name).
  • Loud bursts of squawking and flapping.

As long as these behaviors are brief when they occur and don’t result in injuries, it’s fine to let your flock work out their differences. There are some circumstances that require human intervention. These include:

  • Fights that inflict wounds or result in excessive feather loss.
  • Lower-ranking hens being kept away from food or water.
  • Hens left out of the coop after dark.

These behaviors indicate something is amiss in the hierarchy. It could be that a new top hen has not been decided, or that the top hen is abusing their position over others. Domineering hens aren’t common, but if any chickens in your flock appear to be bullied, it’s time to see to some separations.

Correcting the pecking order

Having an extra chicken coop and run is a good idea for several reasons. These include:

  • Quarantining new or sick flock members
  • Separating injured or bullied hens
  • Creating a “time out” space for pushy hens

Keep hens separated until illness or injury has resolved. Keep hens that have been separated because of bullying or aggressive behavior apart from the flock for at least 2 weeks before reintegrating them. Be prepared for the pecking order to be sorted out once more, but by this point, the rest of the flock will have turned to another top hen and the aggressive hen will either fall into line or continue their aggressive behavior – at which point, it may be time to consider rehoming them or starting a new flock made up of other bold hens in a new setup.

Omlet and your flock

Establishing a pecking order is a necessary experience for all flocks. And while it can appear stressful, we have the products to reduce the amount of drama your hens dole out. From walk in chicken run extensions to run-height chicken perches, your flock will have plenty of room to sort out their differences. All of our chicken-keeping products are easy to modify to fit the needs of your growing, changing, or divided flocks – giving you the flexibility to adjust on the fly.

Woman and daughter in the Omlet Walk In Chicken Run

Enjoy keeping your flock in harmony with innovative products such as Omlet’s Walk In Chicken Run.

Customer Images

Chicken in garden
6 week old silver spangled hamberg bantam chicks


Kirsteen, 6 May 2017

Interesting information on the history of chickens. Thank you.

Jane, 7 October 2014

We had two hens and introduced two more. It was awful. The first two tormented the new ones, wouldn't let them eat or drink and chased them around the run. We thought that we had made a terrible mistake until the third day when everything suddenly settled down. They now live together peacefully and seem to be thriving.

Julie, 30 March 2012

Help, I have two warrens 1year old. I introduced two more warrens at POL and it's like a war zone. The old ones won't let the new ones out of the roost, but are happy to sleep with them. One of the new birds has had some plucked neck feathers, but no blood just a bald patch. Currently have new girls in usual area and old birds in run adjacent. How long before I can try introducing them again? Do I wait until they are indifferent to each other?

Tina, 23 August 2011

Our oringinal 2 pepperpots were 12 months old when we added 2 newcomers, they were very agressive to these and we had to separate them during the day and only put them together when rootsting.this went on for over 2 weeks and we were just about to give up having tried various sprays etc. Then suddenly everyting was calm and pecking order was in place! The now all get on fine.