Bad Behaviors/possible calcium deficiency?

cmeier7

Hatching
Jun 10, 2020
4
1
5
I'm just going to lay it all out there, and I appreciate in advance any responses. There have been a number of issues with our flock that we have been dealing with for a few years now, but to no avail. In dealing with the issues, I think we're just putting "bandages" over the outcomes but not fixing the root cause, which I'm guessing is a a nutritional deficiency. About our flock: typically ranges from 4-6 hens and is a mixture of a few older birds (3 years) and younger birds (1-2 years), and of a few different breeds (typically wyandotte, rhode islands & americanas). We feed them Nutrena NatureWise Layer 16% and supplement oyster shell. Coop is 4x6 ft and run is 6x8. And we let them out to roam free a few times a week.

Issue 1: Regardless of the current mixture of individual birds & breeds, we always end up with a bird that's pecked to the point of bloody wings, back and neck. Most of the other birds also have minor pecking. We have tried to observe the birds pecking on her but they don't do it much when we're around. The best we can tell is that one of our older birds who has nearly perfect feathers does most of the pecking, and she is actually eating most of the feathers she pecks which makes me think nutritional deficiency. The other birds will also gang up on her but to a lesser degree. We have tried isolation, but then a different bird ends up being the pecked "runt", and when we bring the original healed bird back it happens all over again. We spray medicine which seems to deter the pecking a little but isn't a hard-fast solution. Our next step is going to be to get rid of the main culprit.

Issue 2: Our birds like to peck at and sometimes eat eggs. This would possibly signify a calcium deficiency but we already offer them oyster shell. How fast is it expected the birds go through it? We have a small tin and it goes down very slowly, over many months. Is there a way to train the birds on the oyster shell rather than their own eggs? I have heard of other methods of calcium like old crushed up egg shell, but I'm concerned that will encourage them to eat their eggs even more.

Issue 3: Egg shells are very thin, again calcium deficiency. I have tried to look this up but most of the comments and threads talk about how much thicker farm eggs are compared to the cheep store-bought eggs. However, I find this to be the opposite for us. Our egg shells are very thin with a thick membrane so in order to crack them in a pan we end up having to press thumbs into the egg to break the membrane and pry the eggs apart. It is difficult to avoid shattered egg shell in the pan and to keep the yolks intact (which brings me to the last issue).

Issue 4: Our egg yolks in general do not keep their form and many will break easily. I like over easy/medium eggs which is difficult to do with ours. The yolks tend to spread out thin when they sit in the pan and many times break on their own. And forget flipping the eggs. The store-bought eggs are much nicer to cook this way as the yolks maintain a round ball while sitting on the pan and do not easily break. I'm assuming this is an issue with the vitelline membrane that encases the yolk, so would probably indicate another nutritional deficiency but I don't know enough about this to diagnose.
 

Percheron chick

Crowing
8 Years
Apr 12, 2013
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Hudson, Colorado
Issues 1 and 2 are most likely protein deficiency not Ca. 16% is the absolute minimum they need. If you add any kitchen scraps, the % goes way down. I would ditch the layer and try a bag of game bird, all flock or even chick starter that is 20%+ protein. Give them meat and fish scraps. Give them a handful of cat food, a can of mackerel or sardines, toss them the steak bone... I would also try fermenting at least part of their feed. Adding a splash of acv will also help with Ca absorption.
The coop and run are bare minimums as well. Start a compost pile in the run to keep them busy can help too.
 
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rosemarythyme

Scarborough Fair
Premium Feather Member
Jul 3, 2016
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IMO #1 is boredom and insufficient space. Your run is minimally enough for 4 birds, letting them roam a few times a week does not make up for it. Bored chickens become destructive and can take it out on each other, hence the picking.

#2 may be a combination of nutrition and boredom/opportunity.

I also agree that upping protein % may help with some of the issues, you can supplement it or switch to a higher protein feed. As far as the calcium issue, you mentioned providing oyster shell, but are they all actually eating it or is it sitting there?
 

cmeier7

Hatching
Jun 10, 2020
4
1
5
IMO #1 is boredom and insufficient space. Your run is minimally enough for 4 birds, letting them roam a few times a week does not make up for it. Bored chickens become destructive and can take it out on each other, hence the picking.

#2 may be a combination of nutrition and boredom/opportunity.

I also agree that upping protein % may help with some of the issues, you can supplement it or switch to a higher protein feed. As far as the calcium issue, you mentioned providing oyster shell, but are they all actually eating it or is it sitting there?
I have never seen them take the oyster shell. A small tin of it disappears over months, so perhaps some of the birds are taking some and some aren't? I'm not sure. Also doesn't help that our toddler likes to play with the tin, so over the last year we haven't exactly been able to gauge it for that reason.
Seems like a protein issue is the common denominator, I will look at getting a different feed and see if anything changes.
As far as boredom goes, my wife and I have done a lot of research and talked to folks about the required space and realize this is a controversial topic and everyone has an opinion and different experiences. We believe our birds should have adequate space to not be acting in this way, but agree 6 birds is probably pushing the max, and we concede that many other factors will affect boredom as well, not just space constraints. For the last 8 months we have had 4. Many places you read say you can put 8 birds in a 6x8 space but you should give them things to play with. Which we could also do better about giving them toys, etc. The people down the block have 6 birds 24-7 in a much smaller space and their chickens appear very healthy (I need to learn their secret). The picking doesn't stop even when we have 2 or 3 birds like last year after half our flock was decimated by black flies. We give them lots of garden scraps, and they still will pick even when we let them out every day of the week, like we've done during this pandemic since we're home all day.
A side note, the last month we kept them shut inside the coop due to the black flies. Can't really help this too much without moving. It sucks for them but it keeps them alive. During summer and fall we give them a large area to roam every day. In the winter, they usually don't want to come out of the coop and that is when they're pecked the most.
 
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cmeier7

Hatching
Jun 10, 2020
4
1
5
Issues 1 and 2 are most likely protein deficiency not Ca. 16% is the absolute minimum they need. If you add any kitchen scraps, the % goes way down. I would ditch the layer and try a bag of game bird, all flock or even chick starter that is 20%+ protein. Give them meat and fish scraps. Give them a handful of cat food, a can of mackerel or sardines, toss them the steak bone... I would also try fermenting at least part of their feed. Adding a splash of acv will also help with Ca absorption.
The coop and run are bare minimums as well. Start a compost pile in the run to keep them busy can help too.
Good ideas, thanks! I didn't realize they'd eat cat food, but why not they eat everything. I thought you shouldn't give them chick starter because of the lack of calcium. But I suppose if it is being supplemented and they're actually taking it...
I have also never heard of adding apple cider vinegar to the water, we could try that tonight.
Could you further explain about the effects of kitchen scraps on protein absorption? I wasn't aware this had a negative effect. We give them lots of kitchen/garden scraps and let them eat weeds, especially during this time of the year.
 

Sequel

Crossing the Road
6 Years
Feb 17, 2015
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Kitsap County, Western Washington
You’ve been given very good suggestions. Many of us don’t use layer food at all. The thought is that layer food is designed for light bodied hens such as leghorns who get nothing but that and there is no need or concern for longer term goals of the health of the hens.
Dual purpose birds have heavier bodies to support and seem to do better on feed with at least 18% protein. My opinion and observation. Keep treats to 10% or less of their diet. That’s an easy change to make. Next I would see if it’s possible to give them more space, it really does make a world of difference. Good luck to you!
 

Folly's place

Enabler
9 Years
Sep 13, 2011
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southern Michigan
I'll add some more to what's already been said here; Garden scraps will all be lower in protein, not higher, and so that 16% layer feed is not enough.
In my experience, production reds, which includes hatchery RIRs, tend to be feather picking beasts. Is that who's your problem bird?
You do have them in tight quarters too.
Is your feed pelleted, or crumble, or a seed mix? Many times birds (and pet rodents) will pick out the yummy stuff and not eat a balanced diet, if it's a seed and pellet blend.
Mix a new food with the old, rather than making a sudden change. Chickens hate change!
Mary
 

cmeier7

Hatching
Jun 10, 2020
4
1
5
I'll add some more to what's already been said here; Garden scraps will all be lower in protein, not higher, and so that 16% layer feed is not enough.
In my experience, production reds, which includes hatchery RIRs, tend to be feather picking beasts. Is that who's your problem bird?
You do have them in tight quarters too.
Is your feed pelleted, or crumble, or a seed mix? Many times birds (and pet rodents) will pick out the yummy stuff and not eat a balanced diet, if it's a seed and pellet blend.
Mix a new food with the old, rather than making a sudden change. Chickens hate change!
Mary
Ahh ok so it isn't about the absorption of protein that's the issue with garden scraps, it is the lack of protein altogether. Good to know, thanks for the explanation! To answer your questions, the main problem bird is a golden laced wyandotte, although I have seen some pecking also from the rhode islands (the beaten up bird is also a rhode island). Food is in pellet form so sounds like at least we're doing that right. I did consider mixing to start out.
I also have been told not to mix breeds as this can cause issues, and not to introduce birds to the established flock. This may all contribute but I never thought these things were a root cause. Protein deficiency makes sense.
 
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Folly's place

Enabler
9 Years
Sep 13, 2011
23,172
38,192
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southern Michigan
I don't add cat food or meat here, because my birds all eat Purina Flock Raiser, which is 20% protein, and fresh by mill dates at the local feed stores.
Always check the mill date on each bag of feed before you buy it! I want to get mine within one month of milling, and use it up within another month. Some of the vitamins don't last forever in the feed, so be careful ablut that too.
I've had feather picking birds in my flock in years gone by (and they were all production reds!) and no longer get those types of birds. I also moved the culprits on elsewhere, which made everyone else a lot happier.
Have you looked for mites or lice on your birds recently? Go out when they are roosting, with a flashlight or head lamp, and look at their skin, around vents, under wings, and on backs and necks. Mites are TINY, and lice are a bit bigger, and either need to be treated ASAP.
Mary
 

BigBlueHen53

We will get through this... together!
Mar 5, 2019
15,567
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SE Missouri, USA
You're getting great advice here. Yes, the problem with giving your birds lots of kitchen scraps is that they fill up on them and then don't eat their good, nutritious formulated food. Kinda like letting your kids eat all the cake and ice cream they want and then wondering why they won't eat peas, salad and meat loaf! We made the same mistake with our flock until the great folks here at BYC set us on the right path. Our girls are much healthier now, egg production is up and everyone is happy.
 

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