Feather picking (kind of long)

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by PtldChick, Apr 4, 2012.

  1. PtldChick

    PtldChick Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 15, 2011
    Portland, OR
    I read through several threads on this subject and still have a few questions. First, my situation...

    I noticed about a month ago some broken off feathers on the sides of one of my chicken's neck. And since then more are showing missing feathers in their neck area, particularly where a muff or beard would be if they had one - one of my ees (boss hen) and my crevecoeur have no beard anymore. Altogether it's about 6-8 hens. I have no idea who the culprit(s) is/are - I have about 15 LF and 10 banties. Almost all the birds missing feathers are LF except for my red frizzle cochin banty - she had finally grown in all her neck feathers and now some are missing.

    My chickens have plenty of room (450 sq ft in an L-shape with rose bushes and bamboo for cover and variety), plenty of feed, and I give them only high protein treats (mostly meat and occasionally spent grain or a BOSS/seed mix). One of the hens being picked is the top hen, so I'm at a loss.

    There are a few environmental events that may or may not have affected this. First, my broody hen hatched some babies five weeks ago and has been raising them, first in a hutch in the coop, then two weeks ago I let them out and she has been raising them among the other chickens - the big girls ignore the babies - momma chased anyone off who got too close initially, and they are an intergrated part of the yard.

    Secondly, we have had a very wet spring here in the PNW, so that may be preventing them from ranging in their run as much - they tend to stay in the coop or under the eaves when it rains harder than a sprinkle. The run is down to dirt/straw, but it's been like that all winter and the picking just started a month or so ago. It rains harder in the spring than the winter because of the warmer temps.

    I vary their food between brands/formulas and about two weeks ago, I started with a game bird/wet COB mix, because I found a bag of game bird food half off (it was older than the other bags - could it be too old?). Combined, it should be about an 18% mix, but maybe it's not. It's pretty much gone now, so if that's an issue, it's taken care of.

    I can get a flock block or suet cages to give them something more to do, although a flock block doesn't last long with my crew. I just added a bunch of new straw which always keeps them occupied for a bit. I really don't want this to turn into a bigger problem. If it is only one or two girls, I'm willing to rehome or take them out of the flock and reintroduce as a lower level chicken.

    So, all you experts out there, please help - could it be stress from the broody and her chicks? Boredom from the wet weather? Could my 'good buy' on food have turned out not to be so good and low protein is exacerbating the problem? All of the aboe (perfect storm?) How do I find out who's doing the picking other than sitting out in the rain? What has worked to stop the picking when you don't know who it is?

    If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading!
  2. azygous

    azygous Flock Master

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    If you've read a lot of threads on this subject, you'll have discovered it's a universal problem. People usually prefer to think it must have an environmental or dietary cause. But it's almost always, from my experience, caused by just one or two hens whose brains are wired wrong.

    No amount of added protein is going to cure it. Usually the only solution is to install "pinless peepers" on the culprits.

    I know it's impractical to sit all day in the run, but you will need to spend at least an hour or two observing in order to see who the pickers are. I've found that this behavior is more apt to occur late in the afternoon. Feather pickers seem to get "wound up" toward the end of the day. Mine are in almost a frenzy during this period, racing around snatching feathers from anyone who stands still for too long.

    I have two out of fourteen hens wearing peepers, and while they still pluck an occasional feather, their behavior is pretty much under control. I have one other old hen who picks a neck feather every so often, but it's not a frantic behavior, so I haven't resorted to the peepers with her. Yet.

    Order the peepers from Randall Burkey. (dot com) They're the most reasonable. Get any color but red.

    It helps to get someone to hold the chicken while another installs the peepers. You need snap ring pliers. It also helps to heat the peepers in hot water to soften them. Have the person holding the chicken cover the eyes so they aren't nervous about having something done to their beak.

    It also may help, but not prevent feather picking, to trim the upper beak just enough to allow a feather being picked to slip through. I usually do both peepers and trim.

    If the rest of the flock descends on the peeper wearers, just scatter a dozen peepers around the run on the ground, and this will very quickly distract and desensitize the others to the new attraction. After an hour or two, they will be ignoring the peeper wearers, and you can then pick up the loose peepers and put them away.

    Some will need to wear peepers forever. Others, if they're very young, may be cured after six months of wearing the peepers. If they're "lifers", the behavior usually resumes within a week or two of removing the peepers, and you will need to put them back on.

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