Feather eating

Winchikn

Chirping
Jan 20, 2020
66
85
79
Slocan Valley, British Columbia
Hello,

I got four approx 20-week old pullets from a hatchery about 10 days ago and am dealing with some serious feather pecking / eating issues. On day 2 after the pullets arrival, I found one bloody around the base of her tail feathers where the others had been plucking pin feathers out. I separated her into a dog crate beside the others for 4-5 days while her tail healed up, then applied something called 'stop pick' (petroleum-based with cayenne, gentian, and aloe) to her and reintroduced her. Two of the hens gave her feathers a nibble when she came back in but clearly didn't enjoy the stop pick.

I thought the problem was solved but just caught the hen I'd had isolated pecking and eating a mouthful of feathers out of one of the other hens who was dust-bathing, and another of the hens soon joined in.

I have them on a 17% layer mash and have been supplementing a bit with meal worms. Do I need a higher protein feed? I read something about toxins in meal worms... is this a concern in Canada? How much meal worm per day is appropriate? Would cooked egg be a better supplement?

The hatchery recommended I try beak clipping, peepers, and adding lots of protein through scraps or bones from the butcher. Any thoughts on this advice?

The hens are in an approx 10x10 run and have access to the little coop they sleep in plus a coop we use for food storage and their nesting box. I don't know if boredom might be an issue but given all the feathers are being eaten I'm guessing it's a protein deficiency. I really want to curb this behaviour before I introduce them to my adult flock - who have NEVER engaged in much feather pecking.

Thanks in advance for any tips!
 

black_cat

♥♥Lover of Leghorns♥♥
Premium Feather Member
May 21, 2020
19,033
59,644
1,086
Connecticut
I would not recommend beak clipping- my hens came with their beaks clipped, and it makes it more difficult for them to eat and peck at bugs.

If it's one hen bullying, you can isolate the bully, but it sounds like it is an all around issue. I'd put them on a grower feed or all flock instead of a layer feed, and offer oyster shell on the side. You can continue with the mealworms, and I'd also add some scrambled eggs. Try to add some stuff to do in the run, and try to break up the line of sight a little bit- add things for them to go behind and on and under, so that they don't have a straight shot to each other all the time. If the run is just a big empty box, then they have nothing to keep them busy.
 

Winchikn

Chirping
Jan 20, 2020
66
85
79
Slocan Valley, British Columbia
Thanks, @black_cat. I've got a couple of follow up questions:
  • What % protein should I be aiming for in their feed - 18% or 20%? We're in a small, rural spot and I'm not sure what I'll be able to find apart from medicated starter feed and given they're laying I don't want to do that but I'll see if one of the larger stores in town has more variety.
  • About how much egg or meal worms is appropriate per hen per day?
  • What do you think about the peepers?
  • I've been throwing leftover fall greens from my garden into them - collards and some other brassicas. Are those a problem at all?
I've now only seen the behaviour during dust-bathing when the softer side and belly feathers are exposed - so they aren't completely harassing each other in the run but I will add some stumps and dangling CDs for variety given they will be in there for another couple of weeks.
 

black_cat

♥♥Lover of Leghorns♥♥
Premium Feather Member
May 21, 2020
19,033
59,644
1,086
Connecticut
Thanks, @black_cat. I've got a couple of follow up questions:
  • What % protein should I be aiming for in their feed - 18% or 20%? We're in a small, rural spot and I'm not sure what I'll be able to find apart from medicated starter feed and given they're laying I don't want to do that but I'll see if one of the larger stores in town has more variety.
I think that 18% should be sufficient. You can also order feed off of chewy.com, and they'll give free shipping on orders of 50 pounds or more.
  • About how much egg or meal worms is appropriate per hen per day?
I'm actually not sure- my girls are molting and I've been feeding each one one egg per day, but I'm not an expert on nutrition
  • What do you think about the peepers?
I have not used them, but to my understanding, they are more effective if there is one bully than having to manage them on all four at once.
  • I've been throwing leftover fall greens from my garden into them - collards and some other brassicas. Are those a problem at all?
I don't believe so.. one time when I ran out of feed I made them a big salad for dinner that had some collards in it. I think that they're fine. If there's doubt,I usually look for ''is [insert food here] ok for chickens"
I've now only seen the behaviour during dust-bathing when the softer side and belly feathers are exposed - so they aren't completely harassing each other in the run but I will add some stumps and dangling CDs for variety given they will be in there for another couple of weeks.
If there's a specific dust bathing area, you can try creating a visual barrier there- some wood or something so that a lounging chicken won't be so visible to the others.
As it's fall, I find that leaf piles are great, as they add to the run litter, are readily available, and have all sorts of tasty bugs in them. I just rake leaves right in the door.
 

rosemarythyme

Scarborough Fair
5 Years
Jul 3, 2016
18,193
36,894
1,062
WA, Pac NW
My Coop
My Coop
Since you're currently having issues, I'd try 20% if you can get it, but 18% should be ok for *most* birds if you can't get 20%.

I wouldn't bother with the egg or mealworms. Maybe not even the greens at this time. A little is ok as a treat, and it gives them something to do, but right now I'd want them to eat a higher protein feed and know that that's their main intake, to ensure they're getting all the nutrition in it.

Yes boredom can definitely be a contributing factor so adding boredom breakers will help - clutter to break up the space, roosts or stumps to jump up on, piles of dried leaves or hay for them to dig through.

Peepers might be worth trying in this case. Far better than beak clipping which is usually permanent, as you're cutting through the beak to deliberately damage it so it doesn't regrow.
 

Winchikn

Chirping
Jan 20, 2020
66
85
79
Slocan Valley, British Columbia
Thanks so much.

I was pretty hesitant to try the beak clipping and hadn't done any research yet - permanent damage is not a fit for me. If I have to put peepers on them all for a time then so be it. I need to get these issues sorted so I can get them in with my main flock and I really don't want these behaviours coming into the flock!

I'll see if I can get some 20% feed, and will boredom bust away. I love the idea of leaves in the run- and stumps and some kind of shelter around the dust bath area are great suggestions too.

Kinda wishing I'd never got these pullets. I think they spent too long at the hatchery in less than ideal conditions. Will rehab them as best I can... At least they are all laying sweet little eggs!
 

Winchikn

Chirping
Jan 20, 2020
66
85
79
Slocan Valley, British Columbia
Follow up and some questions...

These girls are now on 18% layer crumble supplemented with BOS for added protein and calcium. I've doubled the size of their run and added stumps and leaves - though now we have snow so that creates different challenges/limitations!

I haven't been able to monitor them closely for a bit but caught them in the dust bath today and they are still grabbing big chomps of feathers from each other when dust bathing. Outside of the dust bath I'm not seeing any pecking behaviour and all of the hens look okay (aren't visibly bare).

I think peepers are the next step to try to rehab this lot. I have some peepers questions:

- how long can we/do we need to leave them on to ensure the behaviour has been eliminated?

- these four are still isolated from my main flock and my gut is NOT to integrate them until I know this behaviour is 100% resolved. Is that logical?

- are there any brands of peepers that are better than others?

- will they still be able to eat out of a trough feeder or a feeder made from PVC tubing like this one?:

1637355088054.png
 

New posts New threads Active threads

Top Bottom