Exploring Backyard Chicken Behavior

The pecking order is a natural and healthy form of communication which helps chickens establish and maintain dominance.


| August 2017



Flock Behavior

Chickens are known for pairing off within the flock to create small friend groups.

Photo by © 2017 Chris Cone

Learn all about raising backyard chickens from small beginnings with chicks and eggs to identifying problems within backyard flocks and how to fix them in Pam Freeman’s Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics (Voyageur Press, 2017).  Freeman’s practical advice makes chicken keeping easier with these guidelines. The following excerpt is from Chapter 2, “Flock Behavior."

You can purchase this book from the GRIT store: Backyard Chickens Beyond the Basics.

Until I started raising my own backyard flock of chickens, I never thought much about chicken behavior. Yet after I got my birds, I found myself entranced. It started with the chicks in my brooder. They were fascinating! I spent hours watching them scratching, pecking for food, grooming, and even learning to perch. Once they were grown, I loved going outside and interacting with them.

My Barred Plymouth Rocks were the best foragers. Any time I dug holes for planting or turned over a rock or log, they were there to get the best goodies. My White Leghorns, contrary to their breed profile, were so docile I could hold them in my hand and pump them up and down like I was weight lifting.

Hoppy, our Partridge Cochin, formed a special bond with us. She loved to talk to us and come over for pets. One day our dog, Sophie, got out of our fenced-in yard. We needed to get her back safely so we split up places to find her. I went to the bottom of our driveway to make sure Sophie didn’t get out onto the road. My husband stayed in the backyard area calling for her and monitoring the front of the house too. I had been gone a while so I came up the hill to report my lack of progress. There I found my husband calling for Sophie and right next to his feet was Hoppy. Every time he would call, she’d call out too. (I definitely think Hoppy helped since Sophie returned to the backyard on her own!)

Now, years later and with much more experience, I confess I’m still fascinated by chicken behavior. I’ve found chickens are definitely smarter than people think. They are capable of learning basic routines and adjusting to meet their needs. Our New Hampshire named Big Red knows that we have food inside the house. She’s well aware of where the door closest to the kitchen is located and will make her way there as much as possible. Once there, she’ll call loudly until someone hears her and either shushes her away or lets her pop into the mud room to grab a treat. She learned this because each time she came to the door we gave her a treat. We thought the whole thing was fun, and we unknowingly established a routine. Red can also figure out where voices are inside the house and knows if she creates a ruckus then we’ll come outside and check on her, usually resulting in a treat being given. I first noticed this when my husband was in our bedroom on the phone. Big Red was smart enough to walk around until she heard his voice and then stand below that window and call loudly. After he got off the phone, he went out-side to see if she was OK and, sure enough, she got a treat. Smart girl!





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