Dealing with vent feather-picking during/after moulting

CakNH

In the Brooder
Mar 13, 2018
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Tilton, NH
Our 12 girls are now 6 1/2 months old, and we’re now in the 30 degree (F) range at night here in New Hampshire.

I have a few “chicken friends” here in my small town, and their girls lost a lot more feathers than mine did, but they’re now growing back.

Our girls either lost nothing at all, or just a few around their tail feathers. What concerns me is that the ones who lost feathers around their tails are being feather-plucked now, in the area right around the tail, including around the vent.

Over the summer, we had some feather-picking issues with some girls, on their lower backs. We countered this with Blu-Kote, Pick-No-More, Hot Pick spray, and hen saddles.

We have 12 girls in a 4’ x 12’ coop with 24’ of roosting space. Their run is 4’x24’. We also built them a 6’x6’ additional modular fenced yard, which we will add on to next year.

We can’t free-range because although we are rural, we live right on a scenic route. We also have hawks, fishers (fishercats to my fellow New Englanders) and mountain lions on our property. Plus the usual raccoons, neighborhood dogs, snakes, rats, etc.

I have no clue why my girls are feather-picking their sisters around their vents. They have lots of room, and we visit them 3-4 times a day for pets, treats, etc.

When the weather changed, and we thought they might be moulting, we changed their feed from layer to feather fixer. We also give them two cups of mealworms each day for protein. Alongside that are daily treats, like cut up grapes, bell peppers, or scratch.

I honestly have no clue what else I could be doing for these girls, outside of putting diapers on all of them and letting them live in the house.

I can’t use my tried-and-true methods of stopping the feather picking around their vents. I also don’t want to put anti-picking chemicals near their sensitive vent areas. Are there any other methods that work?
 

oldhenlikesdogs

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Your girls are too young to molt. That will happen next year in the fall. Your birds sound crowded. Your coop is too small and things are gonna get worse as winter settles in. It also sounds like picking has become a habit in some of your birds. Chickens need to run, scratch and peck all day to burn off energy. You may have to lower you numbers before your birds do it for you through cannibalism. Pecking can quickly turn deadly.
 

CakNH

In the Brooder
Mar 13, 2018
34
42
49
Tilton, NH
Your girls are too young to molt. That will happen next year in the fall. Your birds sound crowded. Your coop is too small and things are gonna get worse as winter settles in. It also sounds like picking has become a habit in some of your birds. Chickens need to run, scratch and peck all day to burn off energy. You may have to lower you numbers before your birds do it for you through cannibalism. Pecking can quickly turn deadly.
 

staceyj

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Jan 1, 2017
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I’d have to agree that space is likely a large part of this equation.

Your run is long and narrow as well, so if you have one or more bullies in your group that width doesn’t allow for the hens who’re targets to dodge past without being accosted.

Also you might want to reappraise your feed plan.
Feather fixer is only 18% protein which is just 2% higher than a layer feed.
You are giving a massive amount of mealworms daily.
20ish % protein yes,
But also a whopping 12% fat.
A high fat diet doesn’t seem like a big deal until you lose a couple of your favorite birds to fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome at 18 months of age.

Then add fruits, veggies and
Scratch on top of that.
Scratch is fun to eat but absolute negative nutrition.
Like you eating popcorn at the movies just dripping with the fake butter.

*Always provide oyster shell even if your feed has calcium in it.
Grit is essential in digesting their food.
 

rosemarythyme

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Can you expand the run space any? For 12 birds you'd want a minimum 120 sq ft, and since there's already picking issues more would be recommended. More space also means you can put in obstacles which picked on chickens can hide behind or on top of. Also as staceyj noted above the run is extremely narrow, I would aim for a minimum of 10' wide, since that seems to be just enough for a bullied/pecked chicken to put between themselves and the bully even without obstacles.
 

CakNH

In the Brooder
Mar 13, 2018
34
42
49
Tilton, NH
I’d have to agree that space is likely a large part of this equation.

Your run is long and narrow as well, so if you have one or more bullies in your group that width doesn’t allow for the hens who’re targets to dodge past without being accosted.

Also you might want to reappraise your feed plan.
Feather fixer is only 18% protein which is just 2% higher than a layer feed.
You are giving a massive amount of mealworms daily.
20ish % protein yes,
But also a whopping 12% fat.
A high fat diet doesn’t seem like a big deal until you lose a couple of your favorite birds to fatty liver hemorrhagic syndrome at 18 months of age.

Then add fruits, veggies and
Scratch on top of that.
Scratch is fun to eat but absolute negative nutrition.
Like you eating popcorn at the movies just dripping with the fake butter.

*Always provide oyster shell even if your feed has calcium in it.
Grit is essential in digesting their food.
StaceyJ, thank you for taking the time to reply.

I have grit and oyster shell, both as free choice, always. Also free choice pellet feed, and a five-gallon waterer that we change out for fresh water every other day.

What do you suggest we do otherwise?
 

oldhenlikesdogs

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Ive read so many of your posts, I feel like I know you. Thank you, thank you again @oldhenlikesdogs. I appreciate your wisdom.

But....they didn’t moult.

And they’re feather-picking.

So what do I do? I can’t get rid of the predators?
I just mentioned molt because I thought you did. :hmm

Your girls are reaching maturity and with that come an increased desire for more room. Feather picking often starts out as one bird trying to move one but can quickly escalate into a behavior done just because they can. The vent is a common spot due to birds being able to sneak up behind each other to pluck a feather. It also can happen on the roosts as birds below pick at birds above.

With your current coop size 6-7 birds is all I would keep in it. Certain breeds need more room mentally than others. Higher production breeds seem to get more agitated by being crowded.

I think your current options are a bigger coop, less birds, or even trying the pinless peepers on your worse offenders, at least for the winter or until you can figure stuff out.

You coop length is good but the width leaves birds too close together. In my observation 5 feet seems to be the minimum distance for a submissive member to stay away from a dominant member. Yours can't quite get away enough.

Breaking the habit is important, or removing those birds. I unfortunately have seen birds pecked to death from my confining my birds one winter. I always take it seriously and now give my birds plenty of room.

I always recommend a higher protein ration so that deficiencies never develop, though generally yours are too young to be seeing that.

I know @aart is really good with space vs birds so hopefully she will add her wisdom at some point.

And thank you. I appreciate your kind words. :)
 

CakNH

In the Brooder
Mar 13, 2018
34
42
49
Tilton, NH
Can you expand the run space any? For 12 birds you'd want a minimum 120 sq ft, and since there's already picking issues more would be recommended. More space also means you can put in obstacles which picked on chickens can hide behind or on top of. Also as staceyj noted above the run is extremely narrow, I would aim for a minimum of 10' wide, since that seems to be just enough for a bullied/pecked chicken to put between themselves and the bully even without obstacles.
In Spring we could, but not now. If anything, their space will be getting smaller as it gets colder.
 

aart

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@oldhenlikesdogs , @staceyj , @rosemarythyme all hit the high points.

Small (especially the narrow part) space.
I can't imagine 24' of roost in a 4' wide coop,
would you post some pics of coop and run, inside and out?
Where are the waterer and feeder?
Got plans for keeping water thawed?

Is your run weather proofed from snow and wind?

Reduce the number of birds by half if space can't be increased.
If you know the main pecking culprits, those would the first to go.
Picking can be a nasty habit,
lotions and potions are rarely a long term 'fix',
you've got to get at the source problems.
Are they just picking feathers or skin too?

Diet... too much fat(mealworms) and veggies.
Cut out everything but main chicken ration, feather fixer is fine.
Reduce mealworms to one cup a couple times a week,
and one cup of veggies on another couple days a week.
 

MANNA-PRO

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