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Dominance Within Groups of Hens

THROWBACK TT Aug 17, 2021 | This Turkey Tuesday is about dominance – in this case, within groups of hens. We often think of toms when the word dominance comes up, but dominance hierarchies (pecking orders) also exist within hen groups. Not only does dominance result in hens fighting amongst themselves to maintain order like those in this picture, but it also influences an aspect all turkey enthusiasts care about – nesting and reproduction. First, research on birds that have pecking orders shows that dominant hens breed and nest earlier than subordinate hens. Second, hens that begin incubation earlier are more successful at hatching clutches than hens who nest later – the second image shows predicted nest success from the beginning to the end of nesting season (black line) based on recent work we’ve done on turkeys across a number of study sites. Third, research has also shown that a hen that hatches successfully this year is more likely to hatch successfully next year – in other words, there are some hens that are simply “better” at hatching nests than most hens in the population. So, if you think about it, a pretty small segment of the total hen population produces most of the poults in that same population. The take home is, rank matters in the flocks of hens we observe – and a small segment of them have a great influence on local populations. Photo © Tes Randle Jolly

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