Dominant or Domineering?

All flocks of chickens have social structures. There are hens that get the food first, and others that eat on the fringes. Some chickens sleep on the top roost, others just below. But on a daily basis, the dynamic should be peaceful. If you watch my Gems, you’d be hard put to know which hen is the highest in the pecking order. It was all sorted out when they were chicks, and now, as a mature flock, there are no squabbles that you can see.

The new group of pullets have already figured out who is dominant (Veronica) and who is not (Twiggy.) There’s no bloodshed or overt aggressiveness, just a bit of body language. I carefully raised them so that this would be the case. Early on, they had things to peck, like dirt clods and winter squash, which kept them busy and taught them to peck at things other than each other. They have plenty of room and resources so that they can move off instead of fighting.

The old hens, Buffy, Edwina, Twinkydink and Betsy, did not have such upbringings. Buffy came here as an adult, she had been bullied by her flockmates, and rehoming was a reprieve from certain death. Edwina and Twinkydink arrived as older chicks, Betsy came as a pullet. Twinkydink and Edwina were always dominant hens. That’s okay. But, Edwina is also domineering. When she can, she pummels others. I have had her for eight years and she has always been a bully. I’ve seen her pin down a chicken and peck at the head, not letting up when the other cries uncle. A dominant hen will chase another away from the good food, and then go on eating. A domineering hen will keep chasing and physically attack. That’s Edwina. Because my pens are spacious and have outside roosts and several feeding areas, I’ve been able to keep Edwina’s behavior in check. But, she’s been attacking Buffy. Buffy, old and weak, can’t escape. Edwina has also been terrorizing the pullets, which is why you rarely see them on the cam – they’ve been hanging out around the back of the coop, avoiding the Barred Rock. I’d had it with Edwina. I put her in with the  Gems.

Edwina and the Gems know each other. They’ve walked past each other when free-ranging. Edwina is familiar with their coop because she lived there before the Gems arrived. I set Edwina in. LIke the dominant hen she is, Edwina started eating immediately.



The Gems looked in the pop door. They had a loud discussion about what to do about Edwina on their turf.



Edwina strode outside.



Onyx, the lowest status hen of this group, huffed up. She chest-bumped Edwina, who backed off.



But, Onyx, who was trying for dominance is not domineering. That one chest bump was enough for her. The Gems turned their backs on Edwina. Edwina is fortunate that this was the case. Not all flocks would have been as welcoming (and this is very welcoming for an established group to allow an interloper onto their turf.)



The Gems went back to scratching around in the compost. Edwina was left to stand around the bare, boring part of the yard. Too bad, Edwina. No one feels sorry for you.



If you have a  domineering hen, one that is endangering the lives of others, and you don’t have a flock of Gems to toss her in with, you can still change the dynamics. Put the bully into a coop out of sight of the others. Leave her there for four days, (with food and water, of course.) When returned to the flock her status will be lowered. This often works, and is worth a try.


  1. Great article, Terry! Thanks for the info. I’m raising my first flock of chickens, who are now 12 weeks old. It’s extremely interesting to just sit with them and and watch their behaviors. So much to learn!

  2. Great solution to the problem, Terry. I’m going to pin it to be sure I have this info when I need it.. Amazes me, everyday, how beautiful your chickens are.

  3. I have to admit as I was reading I did not think it was going to end the way it did. I was expecting a “blood” bath. Glad it worked out.

    • I don’t think the Gems would have attacked Edwina, not after they accepted stupid feather brain Siouxsie. At least with Siouxsie it’s just her being stupid, one would think Edwina would know a bit better.The Gems though might find Edwina more annoying than Siouxsie if she comes up with any more tricks to pull. Terry has Edwina ever tried to attack you or any other humans in her bullying ways ?

  4. Edwina is just a hen that needs to be in a larger group where she can’t get away with her bullying. I was worried about Buffy who was being held down every day and I’ve seen the pullets pecked at and run off. So glad you are the caring person you are and glad to see the pullets back on the cam and Buffy having good days again.

    • At least Twinkydink won’t attack her, nor do I remember Betsy ever attacking another hen either. Hopefully the babies will ignore Buffy too as they age.

      • Bea, it didn’t matter the size of the group, it’s Edwina’s status in it. Moving a chicken to a new flock always demotes her.
        Kit, no, Edwina has never been aggressive towards people.

  5. I’m so happy you have the same situations with hens I do. At times I feel like a lousy chicken Mom when I have to separate one of the naughty ladies. We have an area called “The Outback”. It’s for the aggressive ill-tempered chickens. They are not “user friendly”…

  6. Terry I didn’t know that. I’ve raised a lot of chickens and had to move one from time to time. I knew that putting the aggressor in a larger group put her in her place. I didn’t realize she lost her status. Edwina does have Siouxsie in this barn who she’s lived with before. I hope she doesn’t become aggressive towards her to try to hold onto her status. Even if Siouxsie is a dumb bird and a small bird, I’d hate to see her bullied.

    • Lol, Edwina and Siouxsie are haning out in the barn know. I don’t think even Edwina’s bullying ever got through to Siouxsie ever anyway.

  7. I’m glad it’s all working out! I raised my chicks the way you did so I am hoping they are a peaceful group. Though I am nervous about integrating them with my older hens. They will certainly have had plenty of time to get used to each other through the wire separating them, so it should be ok. * crossing fingers * One quick question….I checked your archives/facts but didn’t see anything specific on this……Are your chicks already eating layer pellets? If not, how are you keeping them on grower food and the older gals with the layer when they are in the same coop? Thanks!!

    • The old hens do fine on the chick crumbles, but the chicks can’t eat laying pellets. Anytime after 14 weeks or so (when I’ve used up the crumbles) I’ll switch over to laying hen pellets.

      • I think I would go through a bag a day if I let my older girls eat the crumbles. They think it’s candy! :) Thanks for the info! I was thinking I had to wait until 20 weeks for the layer, but 14 sounds even better.

        • You can wait until they’re at point of lay, which is anywhere from 16 to 24 weeks. But, you can feed a tad earlier, but I wouldn’t earlier than 14 wks.

  8. Great post. I was lucky to be online last night and catch you moving Edwina. I saw her push Buffy down. I had this problem recently. One of my bantams went broody. The lead bird- a new hampshire red got really physical with her. Removed the nhr to the dog crate in the house for 2 days per your older posts. It did the trick. She integrated right back in but to be 2nd from the top in the pecking order. And she seems to have mellowed out! so used to be very greedy about the food. Love your site and posts!

  9. Thats great Terry, I’m going to remember this info for future chicken issues. However the husband will need to build me a small coop area for any naughty girls – he’ll be thrilled – NOT!

  10. I love posts like this. The photos really help a lot! I am trying to learn everything I can about chickens and their body language. Thanks so much!

  11. I am such a fan of Onyx, I love her coloring and I LOVE hearing her talk on the Youtube video! Thanks for the great post Terry, such good information you have provided. My coop/run will be about 15 by 20 feet and I plan on 6 hens. From what I have read that should be plenty of room, and of course, about 6 feet tall! Most of the fun of having chickens will be sitting inside or outside of the run with them.

  12. This was a great post, Terry. Thanks so much for the pictures and info. I kept counting hens in the little barn last night and found that Edwina was missing. I figured you had moved her. Then, yep, I found her in with the Gems. So glad to see that your remedy has made things better for the little barn, if only a minor inconvenience for the big barn’s girls. Twinkydink and especially Buffy deserved this. What a wonderful, caring henkeeper you are!

  13. I love Onyx, too. She is beautiful and I bet she was doing a lot of the discussing. I think all the Gems were encouraging her to stand up for herself. ;-)

  14. Onyx is truly a beautiful chick!! I never knew there could be so many dynamics in the chicken yard. I just like to look at them and read your commentary!!

  15. Hi Terry,

    I’m new to your site as I’ve been looking around for some chicken blogs. I’m hoping to build a coop this fall/winter and start with some chickens next year. Your website has been incredibly helpful and I find myself watching your hencams much more than I thought I would. (“Make your own dang supper. I’m watching the hencam!”) It’s been fun to read about your chickens and all the “drama” going on. It looks like Edwina is sleeping in a nest box right now, is it true?