Mature Hen Behavior

Fortunately for owners of small flocks, hen behavior has been extensively observed and documented by researchers around the world.

Chickens are actually one of the most studied of all animals.

They’re quite entertaining to watch, and you may find yourself rather intrigued by their unique behavior, mannerisms and habits.

If you’re new to the world of raising chickens, however, you might see a few things that surprise you.

Chickens do some odd things, and to the uninitiated, this normal hen behavior can be a bit alarming.

In most cases, the funny things you see will be absolutely normal and just a part of your hens’ social behavior.

A flock of hens having a social gathering.

Social Behavior

A flock of chickens will quickly develop a pecking order or social hierarchy. Chickens recognize each other by sight, based mainly on the appearance of the head, wattles and comb.

Through this visual recognition, each hen is able to identify which members of the flock are above and below her.

Hens have a very short memory, so if the flock is broken up, the members will have forgotten each other within a matter of weeks.

In addition, if a hen’s appearance is altered abruptly, other hens in the flock may not recognize her – suddenly placing her in new spot on the pecking order.

Hens will communicate with each other through a variety of sounds. By watching your hens, you may learn to distinguish between the different sounds they make.

For example, a food call will sound quite different from a distress call. You may even notice a difference between the calls hens make pre- and post- laying.

Your flock will also communicate through different postures and displays. A simple change in the position of the head, raising or lowering the tail, or spreading of the feathers allows a hen to communicate with other members of the flock.

This is particularly noticeable when it comes to mating.

Once your chickens are established, they’ll get along pretty well. Just remember that you may have a few fights on your hands until the social structure is established.

In addition, you can expect a bit of upheaval whenever you introduce a new bird into the flock.

Hens on the lookout for predators!

Hens and Pets

Unless your other pets are extremely docile and non-aggressive, you may have some conflict on your hands.

Chickens will naturally see a dog or cat as a predator, so they are not typically suited to co-existing with other pets.

If you have a very calm dog or cat, you may be able to make the relationship work; however, in a small backyard, pets and hens aren't usually a good mix.

The exception to this rule are ducks.

Keeping ducks and chickens together will often help your chickens to be calmer and more docile.

Unique Hen Habits

There are several aspects of normal hen behavior that you’ll notice right away:

  • Foraging takes up over 60% of a chicken’s time. They’ll spend much of their day scratching and pecking around for food and sampling potential food sources.
  • Perching habits develop at about three weeks of age. Chickens like to roost, so they’ll always find low branches and other spots to perch. Their strong claws help them stay on their perch even when they’re asleep.
  • Preening is how chickens groom themselves. A chicken’s feathers provide insulation and waterproofing, so a bird will spend many hours running its feathers through its beak.
  • Dust Bathing will seem odd, but by rolling in the dirt, chickens cleanse their skin and feathers from pests and irritants.
  • Flapping and Panting help chickens to cool down since they can’t sweat.
  • Fighting starts at just a few weeks old and will continue until the pecking order is well established.

All chickens and especially hens have their own unique behaviors and personalities, just spend some time with them and you'll be amazed!

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