Me, like many other BYC’ers, have experienced or are going through a feather picking problem within their flock. In this article I’m going to cover three main points about feather picking: What Is It, How to Prevent It, and How to Cure It.
What Is It?
Feather picking is an action chickens perform when they have a nutrition deficiency, not enough space in their living quarters/coop, or just out of habit. When feather picking, chickens will pull the feathers off of their other coop mates. Usually, the bully (chicken performing the action of feather picking) will start pulling the feathers around its coop mate’s tail/vent/butt area. Then, once all the feathers are gone from that particular area, the bully will start working it’s way up it’s coop mate’s back. Of course, a bully can start feather picking anywhere it pleases on it’s coop mate, but this is normally the way it goes.
You can tell when a chicken has been feather picked because typically their tail/vent/butt area will be missing feathers, the skin where they no longer have feathers is red and sometimes bloody, and other chickens may come over to them and pull out more feathers. Here are a couple pictures that show what a feather picked chicken looks like:
A severe case of feather picking, this chicken is missing all it's butt and tail feathers.
A mild case of feather picking, this chicken is missing a few feathers at the base of its tail. Often times, before a chicken starts to get severely feather picked, it looks like the chicken above, just a few feathers pecked and almost having a "fluffy" appearance where there are no feathers.
How to Prevent ItIf you are reading this article because you want to prevent having a feather picking problem within your flock, this is the place to be! Below are ways that you can prevent feather picking from entering your flock. Some of the ways are things that I learned during our flock's feather picking problems and others are ways that I learned when reading about feather picking online.
1. Don't buy birds with symptoms of being feather picked or symptoms of being a feather picker.
Never buy birds that look like they have been feather picked or birds that are feather picking when you are looking at them. Once you introduce a bird that has been feather picked into the flock, your previous members of the flock will continue feather picking that chicken and then start feather picking the other members of the flock. If you buy a bird that does feather pick, it will introduce this habit to the rest of your flock, and before you know it all your chickens will have bare butts and will be feather picking others.
2. Cull birds immediately that show symptoms of being a feather picker.
While it may seem harsh, the best thing to do once you start to see a chicken feather picking others is to kill the feather picker. If you don't kill the feather picker immediately, the chicken will pass on this bad habit to other members of the flock. Never sell or give away a chicken you see feather picking, all you're going to do by doing this is pass on the problem to someone else.
3. Provide your flock with a nutritional diet.
One of the main reasons that chickens feather pick is because they have a calcium deficiency. If you own a flock consisting with just laying hens and laying pullets, feed them a layer-type feed which will have enough calcium for your girls. If you have a flock consisting of many different ages and genders, feed them a flock-raiser type feed with crushed oyster shell or crushed egg shell on the side for the chickens to eat as needed to provide them with calcium. Even if you feed your hens a layer-type feed, provide them with crushed oyster shell or crushed egg shells to ensure your girls get enough calcium.
4. Make sure your chickens have enough room in their coop.
Another reason chickens feather pick is because they do not have space in their coop. It is recommended that each chicken has 2-4 square feet of room in a coop, but more is always better. Each chicken should also have at least 1 foot of room on the roosting pole. If your chickens do not have this much room, you need to consider selling or killing some birds in order to provide enough room for your chickens and preventing a feather picking problem within your flock.
5. Allow your girls enough nest boxes.
This prevention measure relates to the making sure your chickens have enough room in their coop. In order to keep your chickens from feather picking and fighting it is recommended that you have 1 nest box for every 2-3 chickens in your coop.
6. Provide your flock with toys and occasional treats.
This is a great way to prevent feather picking within your flock! Toys and treats will take your chickens mind off of feather picking and make them focus on something else. Two easy toys you can provide for your chickens are strings tied around your chickens run and pen area and a chicken swing. A yummy treat you can provide for your chickens is a suet cake, often fond in the wild bird area in outdoor/farm stores.
How to Cure ItIf you already have a feather picking problem within your flock, you are in the right place! Below are multiple ways to cure feather picking. Some of these cures may be more effective than others.
1. Cull feather pickers.
One way you can try to cure feather picking is by killing all of the feather pickers in your flock. Once all of the feather pickers are killed, the non-feather pickers will not know how to feather pick and therefore won't. Never sell chickens that feather pick though, because then you are just going to pass the problem on to someone else.
2. Smear "No Pick" on chicken's bare spots.
If your feather picking problem is not yet severe, this cure might work. "No Pick" is a paste widely available at farm stores in the chicken aisle. It is supposed to smell and taste bad, which prevents the chickens from wanting to feather pick. If you decide to do this, make sure you get the "No Pick" paste all over the bare spots on chickens and areas that are not yet bare, but are missing feathers. We used this, and had no effect, it actually seemed to make the feather picking problem worse, but if your chickens are not yet badly feather picking, this method may be worth a try.
3. Change your flock's diet.
The reason your flock is feather picking might be because your flock has a calcium deficiency. In this case you may consider changing your flock's food to a higher calcium feed or providing them with crushed oyster shell or crushed egg shells.
4. Provide more room in your coop.
One very common reason chicken's have a feather picking problem is because they don't have enough room in their coop. Each chicken needs 2-4 square feet of room in the coop and 1 foot of room on the roosting pole. A nest box is needed for every 2-3 chickens in the coop. If you do not have this much room for your chickens in your coop, there are two things you can do. Either expand your coop or kill some of your chickens to provide enough room in your coop. If the chickens aren't feather pickers or haven't been feather picked before, you can sell them or give them away to someone to provide more room.
5. Invest in a rooster.
Another cure for feather picking is investing in a rooster. Rooster's will be able to know who started feather picking who and will scold that bird. Rooster's aren't fans of their girls getting hurt, but they also aren't afraid to scold their girls when they get into scuffles.
6. Quarantine birds that have been feather picked.
Often times birds that are missing feathers and have blood on their bare spots attract other birds to pick them. By quarantining these birds and allowing them to grow all their feathers back will make it so that there are no targets for the feather pickers, not allowing this habit to spread to other birds.
7. Smother "Pine Tar" all over chicken's bare spots.
Head to the store to buy "Pine Tar", glove up, and head out to the chicken coop! "Pine Tar" is a substance used to polish and shine horse's hooves. It stinks really bad and tastes horrible! This worked very well with our chickens. At first it may seem like it has no effect, but within about a week you will start to see a difference and your birds will start to grow their feathers back. When applying "Pine Tar" definitely wear gloves because it can get messy and just make sure that you get the "Pine Tar" all over the chicken's bare spots and feather picked areas. You will probably have to apply the "Pine Tar" every 1-2 days.
8. Provide toys and treats for your flock.
While it may not fix the problem for forever, it will be a temporary fix while you arrange for a more long term cure. By providing your flock with toys and treats, it will take their mind off of feather picking and allow them to focus on something else. A few toys to entertain your chickens are strings placed around the run/coop area, a chicken swing, and a flake or two of hay to root around in. A couple treats to provide are forage cakes, suet cakes, and mealworms. Just be careful not feed your chickens too many treats!
9. Cull entire flock and start over.
While this is very sad, sometimes feather picking gets so bad the most humane thing to do is cull your entire flock and start over. At least you won't have to deal with feather picking at all if you do this.
First of all, thanks so much for reading! Second, please feel free to comment with your feather picking experiences. Please share more cures and preventions and I might even add them to this article! And please, if you have any questions about feather picking, comment or PM me and I will answer as best as I can. And feel free to PM me with pictures of your flock if you are suspecting a feather picking problem. I'm pretty good at guessing if birds are getting feather picked.
I hope you've learned something,
(The pictures in this article were both mine!)