Can Different Chicken Breeds Get Along?
All different breeds of chicken have been developed from the same ancestor, the Asian Jungle Fowl, and so most chickens get along, regardless of the variety. However, there are some exceptions to this chicken chumminess.
Any new hen introduced to a flock will need to be separated from the other birds for a week or so until all the birds get used to each other. She will then find her natural place in the chicken pecking order, and that may involve a little bullying and squabbling in the early days. That’s all very natural, and has nothing to do with feuds between specific breeds.
Occasionally, one hen will fall out with another for no obvious reason, and the weaker chicken will sometimes be pecked and harassed by the more aggressive bird. If this situation continues for more than three days after introducing the new chicken, the two combatants may need to be separated.
What breeds of chickens are aggressive?
Some chicken varieties are more confident and assertive than others, but this does not make them aggressive. Aggression is usually the result of environment – poor living conditions – or visual stimulus. The chicken bullying only usually persists beyond the first few days if the new hen has unusual plumage on its head. The fancy crown of feathers on the Araucana, Houdan, Poland, Silkie and Sultan breeds, for example, is like a red rag to a bull for some hens.
The reasons for this aggression are purely instinctive. Chickens respond to the size of their fellow birds’ combs, and there is evidence that larger-combed chickens tend to dominate the pecking order, and will challenge any large-combed newcomer to assert and retain her dominance. No one is entirely sure how the visual stimulus works with feather-crowned breeds. A chicken with feathers on its head is judged by the other hens to be one of two things – either a bird with a very large comb, and therefore a threat, or one with no comb at all, which makes it fair game for some bullying. Whichever way a hen looks at it, the feather-headed newcomer is a direct challenge to the dominant birds.
Birds with fancy head feathers are additionally vulnerable because the plumage flops in front of their eyes, impairing their vision, and so they may not spot an oncoming attack. This can result in pecks and injuries.
Other causes of chicken bullying
Other unusual feathering will occasionally inspire bullying amongst chickens, such as the feathered ‘trousers’ of the Faverolles. This is not generally a problem, though, and this breed should get along well with your other hens.
Sometimes, new chickens with no unusual feathers or peculiar combs may be picked on if they are a different breed to all the other hens in the flock. The bullying appears to take place simply because the new chicken looks different to the others. This is an unusual issue, though, and clearly the problem disappears if your existing hens are a mixed breed flock.
Do chickens bond with each other?
In general, mixing breeds actually assists with the pecking order and the general bonding, as different varieties have different temperaments. There is more likely to be squabbling in a run that has chickens of a single breed – they may all be assertive and dominant, or they may all be shrinking violets, depending on the breed, but they still need to establish a pecking order.
The body size of the hen does not affect how it is treated. A dainty bantam can rub along fine with a hulking Sussex, and a cockerel will be respectful of all his hens, regardless of their breed, and in the vast majority of cases the birds will all get on well together.
There are other practical considerations when keeping a mixed flock. Some chickens thrive in cold weather, while others are not as robust. Age may be an issue too, if you want to minimise the number of changes in your chicken flock. If your hens all have a similar lifespan, and if you buy them at the same time, you will probably be buying all your next generation of point-of-lay hens in the same year. This prevents constant new introductions and the accompanying fluctuations in the pecking order.
What chicken breeds get along best?
Some breeds are naturally friendly, and these varieties are far less likely to start pecking and bullying each other. Super-chilled backyard chickens include Australorps, Cochins, Easter Eggers, Rhode Island Reds, Silkies, Sussex and Wyandottes.
Another key to keeping all the different breeds happy and non-aggressive is making sure they have plenty of space, thus avoiding the chicken version of cabin fever. The more chicken enclosure space you give them, the less likely they are to bully each other, and the more likely it is that your chickens will get along.