Hen Saver – When Do You Saddle Up??

HiEverybirdy

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May 5, 2020
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East TN
Our big Brahma cockerel (9 months) is causing feather damage on one of our Easter Egger pullets (6 months). Is this bad enough for her to wear a saddle, or would you wait? Should her back be more bald first?

IMG_5025.jpeg

IMG_5024.jpeg

I'd prefer not to make a chicken wear anything other than her own feathers (and this pullet does NOT like to be picked up, so putting the saddle on, as well as checking under it weekly, will be dicey), but while it took a month to get this bad, it’s progressing faster now that it's closer to her skin. In 2 days since I took these photos, he’s caused a small bald spot. It won't take many more "activities" to pull a lot more of her feathers off.

I searched this topic before posting so want to tag a few people who've commented on saddles and share details people will probably ask about:
  • His claws are reasonable, not overly long or sharp, and he has no spurs yet.
  • He's a good flockmate and protector otherwise – just too heavy for his girlfriend – so I have no plans to fully separate him from the flock.
  • I have been working out ways to separate the 2 lovebirds at dusk, when the damage is occurring. She stays glued to his side long after the others go to roost, and he takes advantage.
  • I have 3 styles of apron on hand that match her coloring (impulse buys after a wet snow last week made me stress about her exposed back).
So should I put one on her now or wait to see if I can slow the damage down with selective separation? Thanks.

@azygous
@aart
@coach723
@OneMountainAcres
 

aart

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I have been working out ways to separate the 2 lovebirds at dusk, when the damage is occurring.
He mostly mates her at dusk?
Does she submit or fight it?
Does he mate the other birds?

just too heavy for his girlfriend
I'd say it may have more to do with is technique than his weight...
...or some birds have more brittle and weaker feathers that break easily from treading.

I've never used saddles, thinks the ragged feathers or bare backs bother keepers more than the birds, so can't advise on that.
 

3KillerBs

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I had a Brahma rooster with my in-town flock and I noticed a lot more damage on the non-Brahma hens, who weren't provided with such thick feathers by nature.

I tried saddles but the hens were very much upset by them and the rooster's weight actually stretched the elastic to the point that the saddles came off.

Others have had better experience with them.
 

azygous

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Some hens will not tolerate a saddle. Period. You can try it, but design it with the fasteners going under the wings and over the shoulders, fastening in the back. But chickens have necks that will travel anywhere, so Velcro is best. Even then, if the hen refuses the saddle, she will get herself out of it.

The better way is to keep the two apart during his most horny periods.

Another way that back feather get that frayed appearance is when another hen gets fixated on raking her beak across them. Not really feather picking, but a sort of ritual. Usually it's a hen that is a close friend but higher in rank. Same strategy applies. Keep them apart during the loafing periods of the day, usually afternoon.
 

HiEverybirdy

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May 5, 2020
405
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East TN
He mostly mates her at dusk?
Does she submit or fight it?
Does he mate the other birds?

I'd say it may have more to do with is technique than his weight...
...or some birds have more brittle and weaker feathers that break easily from treading.

I've never used saddles, thinks the ragged feathers or bare backs bother keepers more than the birds, so can't advise on that.
Thank you for responding.

Yes, mostly at dusk. Over the summer, he'd mate whenever. Now, he's a crepuscular lover boy: dawn and dusk. She acts aggravated but hops up and keeps following him around. He's either a talented tidbitter, or she just likes him.

He does walk on other birds, particularly if they're close to him at dusk or dawn. They spend days in a protected yard with lots of places to hide so can easily elude him. He's extraordinarily fast, but as he's grown in size and confidence, he's sort of like "whatever" if they run from him.

That's interesting about the weaker feathers on some chickens. It makes sense. Even the EEs he's not as excited about have more feather damage than the Brahmas or Langshans ever have, and they grew up with him. Another reason this pullet may be seeing more action: 3 of the older ladies are molting, and he won't touch them, so his pool has been smaller for the past month.

Edit: added a photo of the pullet glued to the cockerel.

LightBrahma-EE-snow1220.jpg
 
Last edited:

HiEverybirdy

Songster
May 5, 2020
405
1,132
196
East TN
I had a Brahma rooster with my in-town flock and I noticed a lot more damage on the non-Brahma hens, who weren't provided with such thick feathers by nature.

I tried saddles but the hens were very much upset by them and the rooster's weight actually stretched the elastic to the point that the saddles came off.

Others have had better experience with them.
That's what I'm seeing here. Our Brahmas and Langshans never looked this ragged even when they were among his favorites.

Thank you for sharing your saddle experience!
 

HiEverybirdy

Songster
May 5, 2020
405
1,132
196
East TN
Some hens will not tolerate a saddle. Period. You can try it, but design it with the fasteners going under the wings and over the shoulders, fastening in the back. But chickens have necks that will travel anywhere, so Velcro is best. Even then, if the hen refuses the saddle, she will get herself out of it.

The better way is to keep the two apart during his most horny periods.

Another way that back feather get that frayed appearance is when another hen gets fixated on raking her beak across them. Not really feather picking, but a sort of ritual. Usually it's a hen that is a close friend but higher in rank. Same strategy applies. Keep them apart during the loafing periods of the day, usually afternoon.
Thanks, that's interesting and helpful.

I haven't noticed any of the flock bothering her feathers but will keep an eye out in case that needs to be addressed as well.

In my first year with chickens, I've been thrilled at how much behavioral modification is possible by re-routing their attentions at key times and getting them un-habituated to doing troublesome things. Just takes discipline and learning on my part, sigh. Wish me luck!
 

OneMountainAcres

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Our big Brahma cockerel (9 months) is causing feather damage on one of our Easter Egger pullets (6 months). Is this bad enough for her to wear a saddle, or would you wait? Should her back be more bald first?

View attachment 2440903
View attachment 2440904
I'd prefer not to make a chicken wear anything other than her own feathers (and this pullet does NOT like to be picked up, so putting the saddle on, as well as checking under it weekly, will be dicey), but while it took a month to get this bad, it’s progressing faster now that it's closer to her skin. In 2 days since I took these photos, he’s caused a small bald spot. It won't take many more "activities" to pull a lot more of her feathers off.

I searched this topic before posting so want to tag a few people who've commented on saddles and share details people will probably ask about:
  • His claws are reasonable, not overly long or sharp, and he has no spurs yet.
  • He's a good flockmate and protector otherwise – just too heavy for his girlfriend – so I have no plans to fully separate him from the flock.
  • I have been working out ways to separate the 2 lovebirds at dusk, when the damage is occurring. She stays glued to his side long after the others go to roost, and he takes advantage.
  • I have 3 styles of apron on hand that match her coloring (impulse buys after a wet snow last week made me stress about her exposed back).
So should I put one on her now or wait to see if I can slow the damage down with selective separation? Thanks.

@azygous
@aart
@coach723
@OneMountainAcres

I'd put one on her now before it gets to her skin. Her natural protection is already thin and you don't want to risk an injury if it can be avoided. I make hen saddles (sell tons of them on Etsy) and have found that with most hens, a well designed and well fitting one will not bother a hen at all, especialy after the first 10 minutes or so. All of my turkey hens wear them year round and favorite chicken hens too.
 

azygous

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This is Alice, an SLW I had years ago. She had a condition where her feathers refused to grow back and future molts were incomplete. She went an entire year with no back feathers and was getting badly sunburned. She also had naked wing shoulders. I made this saddle with shoulder ruffles that covered all her bare spots. She went berserk when I first installed it on her, but it was nothing compared to the hysterics of the rest of the flock when she burst out of the coop wearing the thing. She and the others adjusted to it quickly, though.

She was one of just a few hens that tolerated wearing a garment.
 

SueT

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Thank you for responding.

Yes, mostly at dusk. Over the summer, he'd mate whenever. Now, he's a crepuscular lover boy: dawn and dusk. She acts aggravated but hops up and keeps following him around. He's either a talented tidbitter, or she just likes him.

He does walk on other birds, particularly if they're close to him at dusk or dawn. They spend days in a protected yard with lots of places to hide so can easily elude him. He's extraordinarily fast, but as he's grown in size and confidence, he's sort of like "whatever" if they run from him.

That's interesting about the weaker feathers on some chickens. It makes sense. Even the EEs he's not as excited about have more feather damage than the Brahmas or Langshans ever have, and they grew up with him. Another reason this pullet may be seeing more action: 3 of the older ladies are molting, and he won't touch them, so his pool has been smaller for the past month.

Edit: added a photo of the pullet glued to the cockerel.

View attachment 2441051
I love the photo! I have a little hen that is attached to our rooster like that, she won't leave his side. And tho her feathers started getting broken and thin, with bare spots beginning, after molting she has grown them all back. So far, 2 months later, she still looks good. I am following this thread to learn from the experts' advice.
 

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