Hen chicken plucking and digging holes in the dirt?!


In the Brooder
8 Years
Jul 27, 2011
We have six hens and a few months ago they started plucking each others feathers out on their backs to the point of bleeding! We sprayed them with chicken bitter uck stuff and put aprons on them and the feathers would begin to grow back ... kind of. The hens would then pick at each others butts and completely break off tail feathers! All of them (except one) look like half plucked hens nearly ready for the stove! All of them lay daily and all seems well in that area. We live in the hills in Colorado in an area with coyotes, bobcats, eagles, owls, etc., so have to lock them in their coop after dark, opening their coop at daylight so they can run around and be chickens. First, we really need advice on the feather plucking. Now, another problem has surfaced. When they are out and about through the day they dig holes, lay in the holes, and circle around in the dirt. Sometimes two hens in the same hole - looking like a push-me-pull-me! Most times one or more of the rest of the hens will even peck at the dirt circling hens, but the dirt circlers don't seem to slow down as they begin to bleed. We're not trying to win any beauty contests with our hens, but they look like it must be painful!

In short ... 1) feather plucking to point of bleeding and, 2) doing circles in self-created dirt holes. Anyone? Any and all comments/help would be very much appreciated! Thank you!
1) How many hens do you have and how big is their area? It sounds like they are way overcrowded if they are picking at eachother OR they are deficient in protein and are wanting to eat the feathers. Investigate both of those and decide which you think it is.

2) That is dust bathing and is perfectly normal and healthy. They do that to get rid of parasites, cool their bodies, and just have fun. They'll do that anywhere they can get to dirt, but if you're wanting them to do it somewhere else dump a bag of sand somewhere and watch them go crazy over it.
Could somebody please tell me why my hen has trouble getting up off the ground? She is 10 to 11 weeks old and she did that when she was alot younger. I noticed tonight when I went to put them in there hutch that she was having trouble again and the other hens were walking on her. I am worried about the poor little girl. She is so sweet and I dont know whats going on.I also have 2 little ones who would be devasted if she was not going to make it. Thanks for your time.
1) We have them locked in their raised 30" deep x 6' wide x 3' tall coop until 5:30 each morning, then we open the door into their 15 x 15 pen until about 4:00 p.m., then they free range until they decide it's time to walk up their ramp into the coop for the night -- around 8:30. Could this be it? As to protein, they have a block in addition to their regular feed and corn scratch. I also give them all of our daily food scraps. Oh, and everything is organic.

2) Thank you!!
Your coop is two and a half foot by six foot and your keeping six chickens in it? How many feet of perch do you have? I'm thinking the issue may be over crowding.

You should first examine them for parasites, I would...and I liberally throw sevin dust in their dust bowls (right after noticing new puppy had fleas) it seemed good as no body got fleas. If they don't have a parasite, they are either bored, over crowded or lacking nutrients., in that order.
That coop is WAY too small for 6 chickens. I think that's your problems. They are fighting over space and don't have enough room to get away from eachother. Recommended amount of space is 4 square feet of indoor space, 1' roosting space, and 10 sq ft of outdoor space. Right now your coop is big enough for 3 (4 if you're pushing it) chickens.
If the hens are pecking at each other to the point of causing bleeding, even when they are out in the run and doing such things as dust bathing, then this picking/pecking has turned into a habit. It will not be easy to break them of it. If you can catch it right away, when it first starts, and pull out the bird who is the instigator then you can sometimes break the cycle. But if most of the flock is now pecking you really have a problem.

I'm not sure what to suggest other then get them into as large an area as possible with plenty to occupy their time, i.e. a Flock Block, some flakes of alfalfa to scratch through, things of that nature. They definitley need more coop space. Watch them carefully, see if there is a bird or two who seem to start this behavior. If so, pull them out, keep them separate for a long time, couple weeks even. Then try reintegrating them. If it's just the whole darn flock and getting them into a larger area doesn't help then you might be best off to give up this flock and try starting over with a new flock and a larger space for them.
Thanks for all the feedback! We've had these hens for over two years and never had this problem until recently. They are literally only in the coop to roost at night and upon waking, are out. There is definitely one hen who pecks more than the others -- at least we believe that to be the case because she doesn't have any feathers broken or missing like the rest. We'll try separating that hen and see what happens. Thanks, again!

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