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Cooped up hens getting pecked badly!

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by nutmeg1980, Jan 15, 2010.

  1. nutmeg1980

    nutmeg1980 In the Brooder

    Jul 6, 2009
    Madison, WI
    I've got six laying hens in my backyard coop. I've given them access to their run every day except for the really cold days (under 10 degrees) and I've shoveled the snow out of the run as best as I could. Despite this, they haven't gone out ever since we got our first snow (about 2 months ago now.)

    Their coop is pretty large, but recently I've noticed a few of the hens have been getting pecked really badly. The pecking seems to be exclusively by their tails. I wouldn't think too much of it, but you can see some bare skin now, and I'm nervous they will get bloody and I've read that chickens really like pecking at red things and blood can lead to canibalism. When I first got them this summer there was quite a bit of pecking, but they got over it quickly and did fine when they were out in the run all day. I think they're getting bored and irritable in the coop, yet they still don't want to go out into the snowy run.

    I've been giving them black oil sunflower seeds every day, and I'm planning to get a bale of straw this weekend to spread over the snow in the hopes that they'll decide to go out. Does anyone have any suggestions for other things I can do to cut down on the pecking?


  2. lalaland

    lalaland Crowing

    Sep 26, 2008
    Pine County MN
    Try checking at night with a flashlight to see if you have mites.

    Usually indoor pecking is at the comb area in my experience, so I wonder if something else is going on.

    To avoid indoor pecking:think of activities (hang cabbages, apples, greens in the coop), toss the boss in the coop so they can hunt and peck, provide a physical barrier that hens can hide from the others - a box, a bale ofhay, etc. if you can do without artificial light, do so. If you can't, use red, not white lights.
    Definitely get that hay and lure them outside with treats, etc. Even force them out if necessary if it is nice enough - snow is new, and therefore evil to them

    good luck! if you don't have blue kote on hand, get some in case the pecking leads to blood.
  3. gryeyes

    gryeyes Covered in Pet Hair & Feathers

    I recently tried a suggestion by some BYC members (I don't have a pecking problem, but I wanted to give the chickens something interesting to do) so I bought a head of cabbage, used an apple corer on it to make a hole through it, strung it on a bit of cord and hung it in the run.

    At first they were scared of it. [​IMG]

    Then I pulled off a couple of leaves and tore them up so there were pieces under the Tether Cabbage. That got them interested. The bravest pecked at a piece on the ground, looked up at the cabbage, then pecked off a piece from it. Then she pecked another. Pretty soon other chickens gathered 'round to peck at it.

    They work on it intermittantly; it's not a constant pecking process. But it does give them something at which to peck, which they also enjoy eating. And it's not expensive at all.

    I have 7 chickens and in four days, most of that cabbage is gone. I'm gonna put another up when all of this one has been gone for just a few days.
  4. henney penny

    henney penny Songster

    Nov 21, 2009
    Northern Maine
    Get a flock block for them to pick at,its made by purina and weighs about 20 lbs. and is full of seeds a good thing for them to pick at instead of one another.I do the cabbage thing to and also throw in a leaf of hay and they go crazy over that,they need to be busy,also throw scratch on the coop floor a couple times a day so they have to scratch around for it.
  5. patandchickens

    patandchickens Flock Mistress

    Apr 20, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    Yup, that's why I keep trying to convince folks in the north to have *lots and lots* of indoor space per chicken.

    Have you (maybe you *have*) tried winterizing your run to make it more appealing to them? Don't seal it up entirely, but the more wind-blocking you have (without making it dark in there, or humid) the better. Also many chickens are more willing to walk on straw or hay than on snow; also also, you can scatter some sunflower seeds or corn or scratch or whatever across the outdoor footing, with them watching you, to give them some motivation to hang out there. Finally it can be worth chucking them out the door, repeatedly during the day if necessary, in combination with all the above... chickens are not big on change so sometimes they just have to DO something repeatedly to get used to it enough to want to do it on their own.

    If there is graceful room for another roost in the coop, you could also consider adding that, to let them space themselves out more so peck-ees can get further from peck-ers.

    Good luck,

  6. Lesa

    Lesa Songster

    May 28, 2008
    Upstate NY
    Had the same experience last winter. How can they "free range" if they won't step in the snow!! So, on a dark December night we built a "sun room" with the windows I was saving for a green house project. This is the best thing we ever did. The chickens have double their space, fresh air and possibly sunshine. Covered the dirt with hay and put up a few tree limbs for perching. This really changed their winter worlds and brought me a lot of peace of mind...
  7. Baymen Moe

    Baymen Moe Songster

    Jan 17, 2009
    Pembroke, Ma.
    During a few heavy snow storms in the past month my birds were afraid to leave the coop and step on snow. I shoveled the run and forced them out of the pop door. Of cousre they didn't have much choice because their food and water is in the run under a shelter. Now they will go out without any hesitation whatsoever, snow or not.


  8. Mrs. K

    Mrs. K Crowing

    Nov 12, 2009
    western South Dakota
    I put hay rather heavily in the outdoor run, I just throw a pile in there, and they scatter it out, then if snow is predicted, I repile it up in a corner, and then after the snow, just spread it back out on top of the snow. I am willing to stir the hay up a bit, as I have an alternative plan for that hay in my garden next fall.

    I also have a "sun room" where they can get out of the wind, behind a window, which is a lot warmer, and some old tree branches. Mine only go into the house in the day time to lay their eggs. Even the day it was snowy and -30 degrees they were outside, pecking and scratching away. Hope that helps. mk
  9. WisconsinGardenChick

    WisconsinGardenChick Songster

    Jul 30, 2009
    Quote:Hi, Nutmeg---

    I'm in Madison, too! We're having pecking problems, too, except that they're pecking combs. We have plastic over the north and west sides of their pen, so they have a windbreak and no snow in there. They spend the whole day out of their little coop and in their pen (except when they're laying an egg) - the pecking appears to happen when they go up to the coop for the night.

    I see people are saying give them BOSS to hunt for, cabbage heads, etc. We're doing all kinds of stuff. They get greens in suet cages daily (several, so they won't crowd around and fight), different treats - tomatoes one day (they love those), corn on the cob the next, hanging seed balls, popcorn, scratch to dig for in the hay - you name it. Not all the same day, but trying for enough variety to keep them busy, yet still they squabble. I'm at my wit's end.

    We got rid of the worst bully, and things settled down for 6 or 7 weeks; now it's starting up again with someone else taking her role. This week-end I'm either going to buy some crickets (read here, I think, that you can get these in pet stores, and it's going to be 39F so maybe they won't die right away) or stop by a bait shop and get some worms. Maybe if they have some other creature to peck to death they won't harass their roomies...

    Last edited: Jan 15, 2010
  10. nutmeg1980

    nutmeg1980 In the Brooder

    Jul 6, 2009
    Madison, WI
    Lalaland, you mentioned that I might have mites? I never thought of that. When I first got these chickens, and they were pecking each other quite a bit, most of the damage seemed to be near their tails. When they started getting along better the damaged feathers grew back. I just assumed that this issue was pecking, but perhaps I should check for mites just to be sure.

    How do I check for them at night with a flashlight?

    Thanks everyone for the good advise!

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