Feather Picking In Chickens ~ My Experiences

By henny1129 · Dec 22, 2016 · ·
  1. henny1129

    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 It
    If 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 It
    If 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.

    Final Notes

    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. [​IMG]

    I hope you've learned something,

    (The pictures in this article were both mine!)

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  1. RodNTN
    Nice Henny!
  2. Chicken Girl1
    Very Informative!
  3. Mountain Peeps
    Very well done!
  4. henny1129
    Thanks everyone!
  5. Carolei
    This is very good advice! I had a feather picking problem that is finally resolved. I had read that the nutritional problem that caused feather eating was insufficient protein, particularly the amino acid methionine, so I tried to increase that in their diet. I also used pinless peepers on the main culprits, but as reported in the article, other chickens learned the bad habit. My birds are pets, so culling didn't seen like a good option to me. I finally gave away the main victim, which was sad. But I think I found the right home for her. I found a man who had built a coop, but hadn't yet gotten any chickens. He took my victim as his first bird, and waited until all her feathers had grown back before adding to the flock. The combination of strategies that seemed to work for me were: getting rid of the main victim, increasing protein, temporarily using pinless peepers on the main offenders, and letting the chickens free range in my backyard whenever I was home. They had been confined in their coop and run when the picking started. They had adequate room, according to the space rules, but there was no grass left in their run and I think they were bored, even with toys and treats. This combination of strategies finally worked for me. And I am so so grateful not to have that problem any more, although I do miss the chicken that I gave away -- she was a sweetheart. I hope she is enjoying her new flock!
  6. henny1129
    I'm so glad that your feather picking problem has been resolved! Thank you for mentioning protein, that is another aspect I would like to add to the article.
  7. Pork Pie
    From what I have read from research based on the layer industry, feather pecking is most commonly associated with chickens either not being able to perform innate behaviour or getting no reward from it. Foraging in run bedding, but finding no food is an example. There are additional stressors, as you mention, e.g. space / over crowding. As long as a flock is getting proprietary feed, I would put diet at the bottom of the list of possible causes, if at all.
  8. henny1129
    Thank you CTKen for your information! As you know, the setting in a layer factory is much different than that of a backyard setting, making the different cures and prevention methods different all together and different in how effective they are. This is why some of the cures may be different to that of the cures for the laying industry.
      Chicken Girl1 likes this.
  9. Pork Pie
    Innate behaviours are a constant and prevention from expressing them will have the same results, regardless of setting. Free range layer farming has many parallels to keeping chickens in a backyard - its really only a question of magnitude. Guess we will have to agree to disagree on the subject.
  10. Ravynscroft
    Sorry, but calcium levels have no correlation to feather picking... increasing calcium is to replace what is used when forming egg shells... if it's a cockerel that is being picked, for instance, increasing his calcium could be more detrimental to his health as he has no proper outlet for that extra calcium...

    Also, the 2nd pic is much more accurately associated with being over treaded by a cock bird...
  11. henny1129
    CTKen, I guess we will have to agree to disagree, but I do appreciate your input and respect your opinion.

    RavynFallen, when we had our feather picking problem (it was very severe) we provided a supplemental calcium for our hen's and we found the feather picking was reduced. I've talked to others with feather picking problems and they say adding calcium helped them too, so this is why I added a calcium definciency to the article.

    And I know that hen was being feather picked because at the time we owned her we didn't have any cocks or roos. I apologize if I sound like a jerk, because that's not what I want to sound like at all. [​IMG]
      Chicken Girl1 likes this.
  12. Ravynscroft
    Then that's your experience... and I'm not trying to be a jerk as well, but my point is the title of the article... "all you need to know"... a more apt descriptive title would be "My experience with it"...

    Feather picking can be caused by a large number of factors... one of thkse could be the issue or any number of them... that is all I was trying to convey...
  13. henny1129
    Thank you for your advice RavynFallen. I will try to contact a mod soon and get them to change the title. I agree with you, that "my experiences" would be a better fit. It might not happen immediatly because I'm really busy with the holidays, but I will change it. You didn't sound like a jerk by the way, and I hope I didn't either.
  14. HeidiN
    I'm very frustrated with feather picking. First of all, I. Was given a pair of birds, not knowing they gave me the offender. The victim will finally start getting her feathers back, then next day, they're all gone again. They are my kids' pets, so culling is not an option, rehoming might be, but again, e kids are attached to both birds. Should I figure out how to isolate the offender till the victim fully recovers? Which would mean two solo chickens for a while. But I have 3 young pullets were raising, and don't want them to become victims when they are introduced.
    1. Ravynscroft
      Given that she sounds like one that has developed it into a hardcore habit, I would look into 'pinless peepers' to put on her... should keep her from picking and also within the flock... hope you can get it resolved...
    2. HeidiN
      Can you use pinless peepers on a leghorn with the big floppy comb?
      RavynFallen likes this.
    3. Ravynscroft
      I don't see why not. I believe they clip into the nares?
  15. abcdriver
    Thanks for the tips! I have a RIR that just started pecking her sister RIR. The other girls get in on the fun when the pecked girl is taking a dust bath. I think I haven't been providing enough calcium, even though there is oyster shell in their feed. Don't want to cull the pecker so I think I'll go straight to the pine tar. I think if I cure the problem RIR and put egg shell in their diet, we'll take care of the problem.
  16. chickafila
    Very helpful. I think it is time to get tough.

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