I read through several threads on this subject and still have a few questions. First, my situation...
I noticed about a month ago some broken off feathers on the sides of one of my chicken's neck. And since then more are showing missing feathers in their neck area, particularly where a muff or beard would be if they had one - one of my ees (boss hen) and my crevecoeur have no beard anymore. Altogether it's about 6-8 hens. I have no idea who the culprit(s) is/are - I have about 15 LF and 10 banties. Almost all the birds missing feathers are LF except for my red frizzle cochin banty - she had finally grown in all her neck feathers and now some are missing.
My chickens have plenty of room (450 sq ft in an L-shape with rose bushes and bamboo for cover and variety), plenty of feed, and I give them only high protein treats (mostly meat and occasionally spent grain or a BOSS/seed mix). One of the hens being picked is the top hen, so I'm at a loss.
There are a few environmental events that may or may not have affected this. First, my broody hen hatched some babies five weeks ago and has been raising them, first in a hutch in the coop, then two weeks ago I let them out and she has been raising them among the other chickens - the big girls ignore the babies - momma chased anyone off who got too close initially, and they are an intergrated part of the yard.
Secondly, we have had a very wet spring here in the PNW, so that may be preventing them from ranging in their run as much - they tend to stay in the coop or under the eaves when it rains harder than a sprinkle. The run is down to dirt/straw, but it's been like that all winter and the picking just started a month or so ago. It rains harder in the spring than the winter because of the warmer temps.
I vary their food between brands/formulas and about two weeks ago, I started with a game bird/wet COB mix, because I found a bag of game bird food half off (it was older than the other bags - could it be too old?). Combined, it should be about an 18% mix, but maybe it's not. It's pretty much gone now, so if that's an issue, it's taken care of.
I can get a flock block or suet cages to give them something more to do, although a flock block doesn't last long with my crew. I just added a bunch of new straw which always keeps them occupied for a bit. I really don't want this to turn into a bigger problem. If it is only one or two girls, I'm willing to rehome or take them out of the flock and reintroduce as a lower level chicken.
So, all you experts out there, please help - could it be stress from the broody and her chicks? Boredom from the wet weather? Could my 'good buy' on food have turned out not to be so good and low protein is exacerbating the problem? All of the aboe (perfect storm?) How do I find out who's doing the picking other than sitting out in the rain? What has worked to stop the picking when you don't know who it is?
If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading!
4 whippets, 10 chickens
4 whippets, 10 chickens