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Feather Pecking and Cannibalism are Heritable Traits

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by The Yakima Kid, Nov 27, 2013.

  1. The Yakima Kid

    The Yakima Kid Cirque des Poulets

    It has long been the custom to suggest lack of adequate space and poor management as the causes of cannibalism and feather picking when the tendency to cannibalism appears to be heritable.

    http://www.organicvet.co.uk/Poultryweb/disease/feath/feath1.htm


    ~~Feather pecking has been shown to be heritable and the first genetic regions (QTL) involved in feather pecking have been identified (Rodenburg et al., 2004a). There can be significant breed differences in tendency to feather pecking and cannibalism (Hocking et al, 2004). Schlolaut and Lange (1977) showed differences between strains of White Leghorn hens. When birds selected under cage systems are raised on floors due to a change in consumer demand from cage-produced eggs to eggs from birds on floor production systems, as is the case in Denmark, there is increased cannibalism and feather pecking. Sorensen and Christensen (1997) discuss how this situation may have been the result of selection for egg production in fowls kept in cages which in turn may have resulted in a loss of genes for social interaction. Birds from a low feather pecking genetic line may show greater sociality (motivation to be near companions) and a passive 'coping' style although social transmission of gentle but not severe pecking can occur when lines with opposite feather pecking tendencies are housed together (Hocking et al, 2004). Gentle feather pecking and open-field behaviour may be used in selection against feather pecking (Rodenburg et al., 2003). Birds from high and low feather pecking lines that show differences in feather pecking have also been shown to differ in other behavioural and physiological characteristics and this may reflect line differences in coping strategy (Rodenburg et al., 2004a).
     
    1 person likes this.
  2. SunnySkies

    SunnySkies Chillin' With My Peeps

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    But...read that carefully.

    The picking was problematic in birds kept in confinement. Floor system refers to chickens kept in very high density. This is not a "normal" or typical system and cannot be applied to a backyard flock, where hopefully the owner is not keeping their hens crammed into a space with 12-14 inches per bird. At that density, yes, a chicken with the genetic propensity to not cope well with stress will pick to the point of death and beyond.

    Most backyard owners also do not have access to the genetics discussed. You can't buy those birds from a hatchery that sells to the general public. Those are usually reserved for the commercial producer. The chances of you getting birds with those genes are less. Leghorns are Leghorns, but different lines exist, and the lines are often owned by the company. I'm not sure I am explaining this well, but if you are Big Name Egg producer, and you have hens that can lay an egg every 21 hours, you guard those genes carefully, even if they pick, as you can control that with some different management practices, anything from caging to trimming.

    This is also 10 year old research. Things change quickly in the poultry world.

    I am NOT saying that you are strictly wrong, but I am saying that the average BACKYARD flock, if good management practices are followed (keep the birds at a low density, provide adequate feed with sufficient protein, allow for typical chicken behavior of scratching, etc) the typical backyard owner will not have trouble.

    I don't often read here about a lot of picking, as can be observed in commercial flocks, other than some feather picking, so I'm wondering what drove this post? IME, this isn't a problem for backyard flocks. I'm a veterinarian and a long time chicken owner of about 20 years experience. If there is someone who is looking for some help, perhaps helping us find their thread might be of some use.
     
  3. The Yakima Kid

    The Yakima Kid Cirque des Poulets

    There are over 2,000 threads here on Backyard Chickens that explicitly discuss cannibalism, so that suggests that it is a problem that does exist in backyards and pastures.

    In a quick search I can find multiple hatcheries offering ISA-Browns (more cannibalistic on pasture than most White Leghorns), Hy-Line White Leghorns, Babcocks, W-36, DeKalb Amberlinks, Hubbard Golden Comets, and other commercial strains for sale to the general public. I can also find behavioral studies showing how DeKalb whites are less cannibalistic than LSLs.

    Recent research has proved that if one selects more cannibalistic hens and breeds them and at the same time selects the least cannibalistic hens and breeds them, creating two separate strains, that within seven generations the incidence of cannibalism between the two new strains is enormous.

    Jull's first edition came out in 1925. In several editions he discusses using pasture as a treatment for feather, vent, and toe picking, and notes that it *usually* worked - but not always. He was dealing with stocking densities of about 100 - 200 birds per acre on long term pasture.

    Or you can read www.plamondon.com; Robert is one of the very few people who has been able to send his children to college on the income from pastured poultry. His first rule is to select the least cannibalistic strains you can find because even on pasture cannibalism losses can be significant.

    I understand you have your opinion based on your own experience; I have mine based on a combination of poultry science and personal experience. I also find numerous biddies being offered for adoption by owners unable to deal with chicken vices. My goal is to ensure that more biddies have good lives, and that begins by selecting the right biddy for the situation.

    Feather pecking can lead to vent pecking, and open sores, which attract further pecking. It generally needs to be addressed.
     
  4. The Yakima Kid

    The Yakima Kid Cirque des Poulets

    47,000 plus theads on feather picking.
     
  5. SunnySkies

    SunnySkies Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I have never experiencing feather picking, nor have any if my clients. However, we don't keep our birds in too-small coops, heat them, all the silly things I read about here that people do that stress their birds out

    I am NOT saying it doesn't happen. But I am saying be sensible and don't stress your birds out, and you won't have trouble.

    I have a huge science background, more than I have ever mentioned here. I know many poultry people. I worked in poultry houses. What I say encompasses both my experience and my scientific studies.

    The commercial strains usually discussed in studies are not the ones sold via Ideal and places like that.

    I'm glad you are trying to help people, but you are kind of coming across poorly, like "this is gospel." There are many people who would likely do well with some of these breeds and your recommendation might deter them, make them find a breed that doesn't meet their needs and then those birds are in trouble.

    I choose to not keep Leghorns because IME, they are flighty and I didn't like them jumping all over the place when I went in to pick up eggs. I had these birds for almost 20 years, as they are excellent egg layers. For someone willing to put up with the silly birds and perhaps keep a closer eye on their birds, these might work out just fine.

    I think I'm done here. Good luck to you.
     
  6. The Yakima Kid

    The Yakima Kid Cirque des Poulets

    Please feel free to read additional research. It has also been observed as a problem on range - you did not the section that suggested observing bird behavior on range?

    It isn't simply management; and very few agricultural researchers have made that claim since the turn of the 19thC-20thC as it was observed that birds kept under identical conditions could have very different behavior, and that in some breeds cannibalism was very rare; in some strains the birds were not only rarely cannibalistic, but had minimal reactions to caretakers entering the area;; while other breeds and strains seemed to respond to life in general by jumping up and down and eating each other.
     
  7. The Yakima Kid

    The Yakima Kid Cirque des Poulets

    Commercial stock is highly available to the backyard chicken keeper.

    Murray McMurray sells "the Pearl white Leghorn", the result of forty-five years of crossing selected strains to maximize egg production.
    Hoovers Hatchery offers ISA-Browns.
    Townline.offers both AmberLinks and ISA Browns.
    Dunlap Hatchery uses both DeKalb White and Bovans white in their breeding program. They also sell the Bovan Brown, Bovan Nera, Amberlink, and the Sagitta. They offer one old style laying hybrid, the Austra White.
    Mt. Healthy not only sells Babcock whites, but a range of production bred birds.
    Healthy Chicks and ore offers Babcock whites,
    Purely Poultry offers industrial Leghorns along with a range of commercial brown egg layers.
     
  8. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Overrun With Chickens

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    We keep white Leghorns, ISA Brown, AND Dekalb Amberlinks. We do not have any problems with feather picking or cannibalism in these breeds. We have had some feather pickers in our flock, however. Our worst offender ever was a Buff Orpington, and the one winter we had cannibalism we were keeping all heritage breeds.

    What you seem to be missing is that both you and SunnySkies can be right at the same time. I agree that cannibalism and feather picking can be heritable. I also agree that these behaviors are more likely to be seen in intensive production situations and less likely to be seen with low-stocking-density backyard poultry and that if you see these behaviors in your flock, the very first thing to do is reduce stress by reducing stocking density.

    I guess I'm trying to figure out the point of what you've posted, as you seem very... intense about this. Are you telling people not to get these breeds? Are you trying to get hatcheries to be more careful in their bloodlines? Yes, aggression is heritable in poultry. Don't breed your most aggressive birds. Anything else?
     
  9. The Yakima Kid

    The Yakima Kid Cirque des Poulets

    There are more than 50,000 posts on this site regarding feather picking alone. Once again, the fact that you have had no problems combining different breeds in your environment is irrelevant.
    There are ways of tilting the odds in favor of not having problems - and they begin with choosing the least cannibalistic strain or breed, and trying to minimize the differences between the biddies. From time to time I keep mixed flocks - but I don't advise it unless you pay close attention and can recognize the early signs of problems. The real issue here is that people starting to keep chickens often do not recognize the early indicators of problems because they have not had the opportunity to observe very many chickens in many different types of interactions.

    The other thing is that for many people biddies are intended partially as pets; and an aloof or flighty bird is not what they want.

    I have two objectives. The first is to advise those starting out in poultry to minimize their risk of problems by selecting non-cannibalistic, quieter, less flighty birds if they have a backyard situation. In our local area we have way too many people who get biddies, have problems, and are trying desperately to rehome them. Due to zoning restrictions, most of their fellow chicken keepers can't help, and we wind up with biddies in miserable situations, and with biddies at the animal shelters and calls for poultry bans. (I don't understand why the people calling for the poultry bans aren't calling for cat and dog bans, since both of those species are at least a couple of orders of magnitude more likely to wind up at the animal shelter or otherwise abandoned.) I am also tired of hearing how the Easter Eggers pecked the Silkie to death, or the Leghorns blinded the Polish, or the Jersey Giant just decided to stomp the bantams. I wish that hatcheries would do for the commercial white Leghorn temperament what they have done for production.

    The second is to point out that not all backyard flock situations are the same, and some are more constrained than others. Some breeds tolerate more constrained and limited conditions than others; some do best in laying cages; while others adapt to floor raising. There are some that simply do not do well when allowed out on range - which does not include loose in a backyard. Some neighbors are more upset than others by excessive chicken noise or birds flying over the fence. To talk about how one has "never had a problem" is to ignore the very different realities every keeper faces.

    My opinions are directed to the well being of the biddies more than anything else. People like having a variety of different chickens - but variety is more likely to lead to cannibalism, feather picking, and noisy fights - and these are factors that are major contributors to people trying to rehome biddies or simply abandoning them. Some strains and breeds are inherently more prone to feather picking, cannibalism, flightiness, etc. There is a woman who lives not far from me who decided to keep chickens as a retirement project and was advised to keep Marans for their dark eggs. The birds are flighty and unfriendly, and the experience has been miserable for her; she intends to care for the biddies until they die - and then no more chickens, ever. I doubt the biddies are having much fun either, spending their time alone in the coop, with little environmental stimulation. Had she opted for a cuddly Orpington, or a social Cochin, her attitude might be very different, and whatever birds she had obtained would have had a better life. It breaks my heart when people with problem flocks come over and watch our flock and our interactions with them and then realize how different it could be. It breaks my heart when I see the look of yearning when my husband opens the coop door and the Black Star immediately seeks out my husband for attention, while I find myself being followed about a bit by the Dominiques who are very optimistic about the possible presence of a few treats and do not erupt into fights when the treats come into view..
     
  10. WalkingOnSunshine

    WalkingOnSunshine Overrun With Chickens

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    It seems that you are using your personal experiences to color your view of the research--the very mistake you say I am making. If I can't use anecdotal data, you can't either.

    You want to use a survey of threads here on BYC to prove your case, but you're cherry-picking the data you use. Where are the threads on BYC from people having problems with mixed flocks? Where are the people complaining about their flighty Marans? How about threads from people having cannibalism problems even though they have adequate room AND the birds are the breeds you say should be avoided? And again, it's one thing to assert the number of threads on feather picking, but unless you look into the data and see if those incidents of feather picking are attributed to those certain breeds/hybrids you have problems with and/or mixed flocks, then your citing the number of threads means exactly diddly-squat in relation to your hypothesis. You can't talk all sciencey and then not follow through in a scientific manner.

    Once again, why are you fighting so hard to be THE ONLY RIGHT ONE? Why can't you AND SunnySkies be right? I can tell that you've had many negative experiences with people who were inexperienced chicken keepers/bad managers/bad people who shouldn't be allowed to have a gerbil, much less a chicken, and I'm sorry that you feel so frustrated. But lashing out at people who point out that there are other factors at work with cannibalism and feather picking other than genetics hurts your case as it makes you seem unwilling to consider views other than your own.

    Again, no one here has disagreed that aggressive behavior has a genetic component, or even that people should choose their breeds carefully, or that some people should not be allowed to keep chickens. We've simply said that there are easy ways to mitigate these aggressive behaviors should they show up in your flock, and that not all members of a breed/strain/line should be tarred with the same brush.
     

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