• Is there such a thing as chicken etiquette?

    by Rebecca Bresnick Holmes

    Every now and then, I’m faced with this particular situation and each time I’m surprised and unsure about how to proceed. What IS the etiquette when one opens the coop and there’s a hen in there, laying an egg?

    The first few times it happened, I actually said, “Oh, excuse me!” and slowly closed the door and stepped away. I felt like I had just walked in on someone in the bathroom. Unlike a human, the chicken had no reaction. I wonder if they mind if another chicken walks in on them?

    While chickens don’t seem to feel embarrassed in this situation, they do, however, seem to mind if I try to take an egg from the coop while they are in there. One actually growled at me (I think).

    So this got me thinking about chicken etiquette or better put, chicken rules. They clearly have rules among themselves. There is an hierarchy that seems to work for them, even though it appears mean to me at times.

    For example, Lola will start digging a bathing hole in the dirt and Fiona will come along and just jump right in and take over the hole. If Gertie gets a good scrap of food, Hester, Harriet, and Fiona will chase after her to steal it even though there’s more good food right on the ground in front of them. Some will peck at others if they get too close to the food at the wrong time, or sometimes, if they just walk by at the wrong time – I can’t figure it out exactly.

    They even have a system for who goes into the coop first and who sleeps where at night. Interestingly, (or maybe not), the youngest two stay out latest. The oldest go in first and the middle ones follow them.

    I know there’s a pecking order and I think I’ve figured out who is where in the order, (Gertie & Hester are at the top, and the two new ones, Ruthie and Pearl, are at the bottom), and it seems like everyone knows her place in the order. It may seem unkind at times, but the chicken must understand the rules and everyone pretty much follows them. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing?

    The hens have been great mothers though. They protect the eggs whether they are their own or someone else’s. When the chicks were young, the hens would scratch the dirt and point out big worms or good finds for them.

    I’m not sure at what point the chicks got big enough that the hens decided to put them in their pecking order, but they definitely don’t point out the good food anymore – they run away with it. The reverse is true in my house!

    • Great chicken story. More information about chickens than I thought I would ever learn. Thanks.

      • Jesse

      • August 28, 2011 at 2:38 pm
      • Reply

      Nice column. I have often thought of chicken etiquette. At our house we try not to bother them in the early part of the day and then look in on them for the eggs at around dinner time. They should be done. If I am out of eggs and need one, I’ll go to the laying box and stick my hand right under their bum and feel around for one. Occasionally I do get pecked, but I guess I had it coming.

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