Feather-Picking! 3-Month Epidemic.

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Debutante, Mar 30, 2018.

  1. Debutante

    Debutante Songster

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    Okay, I’ll admit it. I am COMPLETELY at my wits’ end with an outbreak of feather picking. The whole disaster started in early January when my 18 hens (who are now 11 months old) chose to stay in the coop during extremely cold, snowy weather. They had a large run available, but didn’t like the intense cold and blowing snow. My neighbours were ‘babysitting’ and didn’t realize that this was a serious issue. By the time I returned, a week later, the feather-picking was an epidemic.
    Now, almost 3 months in, I feel like I’ve tried everything I can think of yet at least a third of my hens have horrible, large red bald patches and the problem persists. Most of the damage is around the vent, on the breast, encircling the tail, and sometimes on the legs. Just today, I noticed a bloodied spot near the tail of one of my Easter Eggers, which is a ‘new low’ in this ongoing disaster! Interestingly, I have not been able to identify any clear “bullies” in the flock but the docile Black Australorps and Welsummers seem to be the most severely attacked breeds. In fact, there are only 3 hens who seem “normal” with little or no damage. Here’s what I’ve tried so far: I allow them to free-range ALL DAY from sunrise to nightfall; added more protein to their food; switched from pellets to crumble; offer them high-protein snacks; added another long roosting bar to the coop; ensure they have at least 12 hours of complete darkness at night; added all sorts of mirrors, toys and boredom-busters to the run; painted “Stop-Pick”, Vaseline and Blu-Kote on the picked areas (on separate occasions); and finally, checked for parasites at night with a flashlight and magnifying glass. NOTHING seems to have made much difference! Culling wouldn’t be a great option, since my sensitive little granddaughter has named (and loves) every darned bird. My next tactic might be to isolate the most severely pecked birds in a separate coop for a while but I’m afraid when I return them to the main flock the behaviour will just start over. Thoughts? I would be SO GRATEFUL to hear any advice, ideas, guesses…. anything! I am desperately FED UP. Thank you in advance.
     
  2. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Chicken tender

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    It sounds like things are about to take a bad turn. I would start separating out those that aren't missing feathers. You need to remove the most aggressive before it becomes cannibalism.

    Sometimes pecking becomes a bad behavior that can be impossible to stop. You need to identify the offenders. Nothing worse than seeing a bird pecked to death.

    How big is your coop? How much roost space? How many birds? Just in case there's something that can be done. Pictures would help.
     
    aart, HayDiddlesHens and Debutante like this.
  3. Alaskan

    Alaskan The Frosted Flake

    I once had a similar problem, which is why I am such a huge proponent of close to 9 square feet of sheltered snow free space per bird in the winter time.

    I did get my problem to stop without killing any chickens. I did rehome a few.

    I did have a chicken tractor and I put some birds in there. I also fenced off my garden and put some birds in there.

    I found that some birds did have lice (but only on some birds, not all, which is why I hadn't realized the problem at first) so I treated everyone and the coop.

    I was very careful as to which birds went into which groops.

    I found chicken saddles that covered the problem picking areas, and used those on the girls in greatest need.

    The problem was finally over, and I had pretty girls by the time fall came again... and by that time I had also increased the amount of snow free space my girls had access to.
     
  4. Alaskan

    Alaskan The Frosted Flake

    to give a shorter answer... I would divide them into separate groups now.

    In less than a day a single drop of blood can turn into a half eaten chicken.
     
  5. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

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    Separate out your unpecked birds; they are very likely the culprits. Do it now! Then, make sure there's no bird with wounds, because as everyone mentioned, things can go south really fast. Spend time watching the group to ID any other 'peckers' and separate them too. If you have a game camera, set it up out there.
    I agree about having more space! A bigger roofed space is essential in winter, or anytime they are in lockdown, for any reason.
    About breeds; sex-links and any production reds, in my experience, can be the worst offenders. Are they in your flock? Just wondering.
    Having a peaceful flock is worth it; stressed birds are miserable, and the situation needs to be fixed. Removing difficult individuals is the best plan here.
    Mary
     
  6. Folly's place

    Folly's place Free Ranging

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    Part of good flock management, and caring for your birds humanely, is dealing with this situation effectively. I'd think that this is a good thing for anyone to learn at any age. You could build a separate coop and run for your nasty birds, although they may just start beating each other up there.
    Mary
     
    Debutante and oldhenlikesdogs like this.
  7. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Crossing the Road

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    Important questions regarding your coop and run exact dimensions need to be answered before appropriate advice can be given.

    You might try adding some animal protein to their feed. Kitty kibble would be one option.

    You say you don't want to cull any members from your flock b/c it would be upsetting to your grand daughter. It should be even more upsetting to her that the birds that she has named have been harmed by this spiraling behavior which is leading to blood shed. An important aspect of animal husbandry includes making the hard decisions. Choosing to remove some flock members will have an immediate result in stress reduction within the flock. That may be all you need to do to get this issue under control. The MINIMUM space recommendation is for 4 s.f. in coop and 10 s.f. in run per bird. This is if all is going well. But, the minute behavioral or other management issues crop up, the wise flock manager will adjust the environment, or reduce flock size until harmony is again achieved.
     
  8. Debutante

    Debutante Songster

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    Hi OldHenLikesDogs. Thank you very much for your reply and suggestions! The coop itself is unfortunately on the minimum side of what is recommended... the structure is 11 ft long by 6.5 ft wide. According to the rule of 4 sq. ft. per bird, that would mean that "17.8 birds" could be housed. Inside the coop there's about 22 linear ft. of roost space, and 6 nest boxes. I have 18 hens in the flock. The coop opens on to a secure run that is 17 ft. long by 8 ft. wide, however, they don't spend much time in the run now that the snow has mostly melted. They immediately leave the run to free-range all over the property. My rationale in pushing the space-per-bird limit was that they'd be free-ranging outside most of the day anyway and would only be sleeping and laying in the coop. BIG, STUPID MISTAKE. :-(
    By the way, I used Blu-Kote on the small bloodied wound that the one hen had sustained and as of this morning, it seems okay and has not been pecked further, but I'll keep an eye on it. Our "Easter project" today (my husband and mine) will be to make sure that the old extra coop which we made years ago in a barn stall is safe and secure enough to house a few birds. Then we'll move some around. Again, THANK YOU so much for taking the time to reply to my post!!!
     
    oldhenlikesdogs likes this.
  9. Debutante

    Debutante Songster

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    Hi Alaskan. Thank you very much for your reply and suggestions! It is EXTREMELY encouraging to hear that you were able to tackle and solve the problem without resorting to culling.
    I started out with 25 birds but realized my set-up was FAR too small so I rehomed 6. Now I realize that I should have rehomed many more. Problem is, now, no one would want hideous-looking birds with large, red, naked patches. They are actually very healthy and pretty on top, just very ugly underneath.
    Regarding your chicken tractor… did you use it day and night or only in the daytime/outdoor grazing time? I have a tractor but it’s not safe enough since it only has chicken wire on the sides. Any predator could easily get through.
    I don’t think saddles would work on any of mine because all the damage is underneath… around the vent, circling the tail and a bit on the legs and thighs.
    You are SO RIGHT about making sure they have snow-free space!!! We had installed wind-breaks etc. all around the run but had NO IDEA they would be so averse to getting a little snow on their feet! Blowing in snow rendered the run almost useless at times, especially during that one week when the birds decided they were going to stay inside the whole time. That was the beginning of the disaster. Next year, we will make a snow-proof fortress (if we have any chickens left by then).
    Your point about parasites is REALLY HELPFUL! When I was doing my nighttime examination, I only checked about 4 birds, assuming that if one had an infestation, they all would (and I couldn’t reach the ones on the highest roosts). I think I should dust them all with Poultry Powder, and the coop, just to be sure.
    I’m finding it very hard to evaluate the social structure of the flock in order to divide into groups. There are no “clear” bullies, just subtle hints that a few might be a bit food-dominant. We have one EE who keeps to herself all the time, and one Welsummer who acts strangely independent and has started to grow spurs! The pecking damage affects all the breeds I have (Buff Orps; Black Australorps; Welsummer; Dominique; and Easter Eggers) but the most picked on are definitely the sweet, docile Black Australorps.
    Your insights have been very helpful and again, THANK YOU for taking the time to reply to my post!!!
     
    dunnmom likes this.
  10. sourland

    sourland Broody Magician

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    I would agree with separating out those birds that are in 'perfect' feather. They are most likely the worst feather pluckers. If all else fails, Pinless Peepers (do an on site search) can be applied. They can be removed once the problem has resolved. Good luck in reaching a resolution to this bad habit.
     

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