Flock Leaders – Backyard Poultry

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Flock leaders are alpha hens who protect everyone else. Hail to the Queen!

Story and photos by Erin Snyder

The queen of the flock is an often-overlooked role in the flock, as many chicken keepers view their flock’s queen as being a bossy nuisance. While the queen is often seen pecking flock members to get the best spot on the perch, the most treats, and the right to dust bathe first, what flock owners don’t realize is that she’s critical to the flock. To them, she’s more than another bossy hen: she’s a key to their existence and the most important member. 

Let’s discuss what it takes to be the flock leader, including how the queen of the flock interacts with lower-ranking members, introducing new hens to your queen, the death of a queen, choosing your flock’s new queen, and much more!

What Does It Take To Be a Queen?

Unlike human queens, royal lineage isn’t required to be the flock queen. However, there are some other characteristics that are required to rule the roost. Good health, age, strong leadership qualities, and personality are all important when it comes to choosing the right hen for the role. Bear in mind when the time comes to choose their first queen or replace an old queen with a new one, your flock will choose for you. So, there’s no need for you to fret or worry. Your flock may take their time choosing, but peace will eventually resume when the leadership role is once again filled. Let’s take a closer role at each of these qualities to examine what it really takes to be a queen. 

Good Health: Good health is a key factor for a queen. As head of the flock, she needs to be a strong, healthy chicken able to help watch for possible danger to the flock and keep lower-ranking flock members in line. 

Age: When deciding who will be queen, your flock will often consider age. Choosing an elderly arthritic chicken with poor eyesight could put them in possible danger, as could choosing a young inexperienced hen. Most times, the flock will choose a healthy, middle-aged hen with flock dynamic experience. 

Strong Leader: Like any good leader, the queen must have the best interests of the flock in mind. She must be courageous, strong, and able to stand her ground against other chickens trying to take over the flock. 

Personality: Have you ever noticed that the bullies in the flock are never the queen? While the flock matriarch may peck lower-ranking flock members, she’s never a bully. Bullies don’t make good leaders, so the flock will overlook them when choosing a queen.

Interacting With Flock Mates

How the queen interacts with lower-ranking flock mates depends on where each chicken is in the hierarchy. Lowest ranking members are often not allowed to dust bathe with the queen. However, the queen will usually share her favorite perching spot with them. Higher-ranking flock members are allowed to dust bathe with the queen but aren’t allowed on her coveted perching spot. By not allowing higher-ranking flock members access to her spot on the perch, the queen is displaying her dominance and role in the flock. 

If your flock has a rooster, your queen may act differently to him than other hens. Ideally, both the queen and the rooster should have equal respect for each other, and dwell together in harmony. 

Even though many flock owners believe a rooster in the flock would be the top bird, that isn’t always true. The queen rules will often rule the entire flock, but the rooster will take over the duties of flock protector. 

While your head bird will be dominant in the flock, she shouldn’t bully or target other hens. This makes a good flock leader.

Introducing Hens to the Queen

Introducing new hens to the flock’s queen is usually simple. When new members enter the flock, they start off at the bottom of the pecking order and offer no threat to the queen. Therefore, the flock’s queen will usually peck the new arrivals on the head once or twice to display dominance and will then leave them alone. 

In my own personal experience, it isn’t unusual to find my newly introduced pullets hanging out with my flock’s queen, seeking refuge from other lower-ranking hens who are trying to bully them. 

Protecting the Flock

Did you know that part of a queen’s job is to protect her flock? While chickens in general can’t do much to protect themselves from hungry predators, the queen still plays a role in keeping the flock safe. The flock’s matriarch will look out for possible aerial attacks and will sound an alarm to alert other flock members of possible danger. 

The queen of the flock will also crow to announce to any wandering feral chickens that this is her territory. While many poultry keepers believe that if you have a rooster, your queen won’t crow, from my personal experience, the queen will also crow, especially if there are feral roosters in the neighborhood.

Death of a Queen

The death of their queen can be an extremely difficult and stressful time for your flock, especially if her death is sudden and unexpected, such as from a predator attack or a heart attack. 

If her death is unexpected, the flock will need time to grieve before they choose a new queen. It can take as long as several months for the flock to pick their new queen, and you’ll probably notice several flock members trying out for the role. 

However, if the queen has been sick or is extremely old, the flock will probably have their new queen already chosen. If they’ve chosen a good replacement, your new queen will successfully move the flock through the transition without a hiccup. 

Choosing a New Queen

Before a queen dies, she will often make two final decisions for her flock: the new queen, and when to step down from the role herself. These are the most important choices she can make for her flock. 

Once a queen has made her selection, she will spend a lot of time with the new queen, preparing her to take over the flock and seeming to share the wealth of chicken knowledge only a queen could know. 

When the queen is certain that the new queen is ready to take over the flock, she’ll step aside and relinquish her coveted perching spot to the new one. She will then perch next to the new queen, and the two will become inseparable for the rest of her days.

Being a flock leader isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes courage, ambition, good leadership, and the right personality to fill the flock’s leadership role. So, let’s celebrate these special hens that keep our backyard flocks running smoothly.

To learn more about flock pecking order, read “Chicken Pecking Order — Stressful Times In The Coop” by Janet Garman.

Erin Snyder lives in the Northeast with her family and flock of pet chickens. You can follow her at her gluten-free blog www.kristiscountrykitchen.com

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