Before we can understand what bullying is and what it looks like, we first need to understand how a flock is organised. All flock owners should understand flock dynamics and have a plan in place for any ‘bullies’.
The Pecking Order
The phrase ‘the pecking order’ refers to the hierarchy within a flock of chickens. As the name suggests, each hen will occupy a specific place within the pecking order. (The dominant hen will be the first to eat and to drink. She will also get to sleep in the safest spot at night. Right in the middle of the perch!)
The pecking order will ‘start from scratch’ whenever a change occurs. (When chickens are added to or removed from a flock and when a flock is moved to a new environment). The moment a change occurs, your chickens will start to establish a new pecking order by squabbling.
Squabbling is when a hen uses just enough force to establish her dominance. (To secure her place in the pecking order). It can be a low growl, a quick peck, a short chase or a brief fight. Squabbling is not to be confused with bullying, which is persistent overly aggressive or dominant behaviour. No blood should be drawn. No feathers should be pulled. Nobody should be persistently chased away from food or water sources.
Sometimes those at the bottom of the pecking order are bullied those higher up. (It is normal to have one or more bullies and victims within a flock). Bullying is different from normal squabbling. It is persistent overly aggressive or dominant behaviour.
Common bullyish behaviours include pecking which causes injury, feather pecking and feather pulling. Bullies may also chase others away from food and water sources. (Please note that this is not an exhaustive list, and bullying is unique to each flock).
Bullying commonly occurs in mismatched or overcrowded flocks, in which one or more chickens are at a big disadvantage. It can also occur as a result of boredom.