Feather picking suddenly rampant in flock - rooster among victims

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by DocCheechums, Nov 29, 2012.

  1. DocCheechums

    DocCheechums New Egg

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    Nov 28, 2012
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    First-time posters looking for some help and advice!

    Up until this point we've had a flock of seven lovely, sweet chickens (1 buff orpington rooster, which we acquired accidentally but decided to keep, 4 buff orpington hens, and two araucana hens). All are about six months old and have just begun to lay.

    They have never shown any aggression towards each other or feather picking habits until the past week, (specifically, over the Thanksgiving holiday, when we had someone else looking after them). All of the sudden they began picking each others' feathers and won't stop! We came home from our 3-day trip to find one orpington hen's back plucked bald and bloody. We sprayed her with blu kote, and ultimately removed her to our house to recuperate. It's been three days and she seems perfectly healthy (eating, drinking, and not showing signs of pain ... she doesn't look pretty but I'm confident she'll recover).

    The next day, we went into the coop only to find that our roo, who we call Doc Cheechums, has had is butt plucked raw (photo above) and one of the araucanas looking like she had only fluff left on her lower back area. We observed them for a little while, and saw the behavior continuing ... they all seem to be perpetrators and victims of the plucking, to some extent, even poor Doc, who certainly outweighs the rest by a mile. Somehow our ladies have developed a very bad habit.

    We are beside ourselves about the best way to break this habit ... I know it can be difficult to break once it's started, and we can't have cannibalistic chickens! We've tried making modifications to diet (they have a balanced feed, but we started cutting down on cracked corn as treats and upping high fiber/protein foods like scrambled eggs, meal worms, and bran).

    We've thrown a cabbage in their run to try to relieve boredom, but that hasn't seemed to help much. We know that they may be feeling cranky because it's winter and they're in the coop more than usual (they were originally acquired with the intent to free range, but we had to build them a protected run because we have some nasty predators in our area). They have free access to the run all day, but I know they'd prefer to be outside. We let them out with supervision on nice days in the summer and fall, and I feel guilty that they can't be outside as much now, with the weather and shorter days. I'm hoping that they don't feel crowded in there ... the coop has two beams for roosting, and they all sleep on the same one, so I don't know whether they're craving more space from each other.

    At the end of our ropes, we've now ordered hen saver aprons (for the bald chicken, as well as the others) and pinless peepers for the flock. It's our hope that we can leave all this on them for a few months, and hopefully break the habit they've acquired while giving everyone a chance to grow their feathers back. We'd appreciate any feedback on what we've tried or suggestions for things we haven't. We love our ladies (and Doc) and don't want to see them hurt each other. What have others done to stop feather picking?
     
  2. dawg53

    dawg53 Humble

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    Feather picking can be caused by several things: Overcrowding in the coop, pen, or run. Lack of sufficient protein in their diet, external parasites, external injuries can cause picking/pecking as well.
    Expansion might be necessary especially if the birds were used to free ranging most of the day, also make sure there's enough roosting space inside the coop. You can feed them gamebird feed which has a higher protein content than regular layer feed. Visually inspect each bird for lice/mites. Treat external injuries as needed to prevent further picking/pecking and seperate injured birds until they heal.
     

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