It is helpful in managing any flock to understand bird behaviour. Chickens have a well developed social structure based on the “pecking order”. The dominant hen is at the top of this order and can peck all beneath her. The second tier can peck those below them but not the one above and so on. Once established this pecking order allows a flock to co-exist peacefully.

However, introducing a new hen can upset the balance and result in the new hen being bullied. This can be severe and needs to be watched for to prevent injury and suffering. It is a good idea to introduce new hens in a large area where there is room to escape the attention of the bullies. It can also be eased by introducing more than one hen at a time and introducing them into a safe enclosure within the pen, so they can meet the flock through wire mesh from the safety of their own enclosure.

Busy chickens thrive and lay well and are less likely to cannibalise other hens in the flock. Hanging greens in a mesh bag helps kept them amused. Old CDs suspended on string also provide amusement but the most important requirement is to avoid overcrowding and provide grass or fine gravel areas seeded with scattered grain each day to allow the hens to exercise their natural instinct to scratch.

Good management is a matter of observation and taking the time to watch your hens. Changes in behaviour, dullness, not eating and loose droppings are indicators of problems and should be followed up promptly with appropriate action. As you observe the hens you will pick up the different calls made in different situations – a “cackle” after laying an egg; “screeching” when alarmed; “soft growling” sound when broody and a “took, took, took” call to lead their chicks to food.

All hens must molt once a year. This is a natural process essential for their survival. It involves them stopping laying, losing their feathers and then growing new ones. Do not reduce feed at this time – they need good nutrition and plenty of protein during this phase to grow new feathers for the next year.

Antisocial behaviour is rare but some males can be aggressive, especially in the breeding season. If the bird aims it attack at head and eyes it can be dangerous and terrifying for children. Birds exhibiting such aggressive behaviour should be culled.