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Hens Plucking other Hen Feathers, Normal?

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Sunnysidedown, Nov 21, 2014.

  1. Sunnysidedown

    Sunnysidedown In the Brooder

    Apr 13, 2014
    This didn't seem right to me so thought I'd seek advice. Our hens are now 9 months old and I noticed some rough feather patches on a couple of them and wasn't sure if it was early stages of molting or something else. Today I opened up the nest box and found one hen sitting there while another hen was pecking/plucking out the small feathers on the back of the neck of the nesting hen. The nesting hen being plucked just sat there seemingly undistrubed by the pecking. Is this just their way of helping each other with feathers that are hard to reach? or is this a bullying hen picking on her sister? Thanks for any advice!

  2. krista74

    krista74 Songster

    Jun 4, 2014
    Victoria, Australia.
    Common? Yes. Normal? No.

    This is naughty behaviour at it's finest!

    I have read that chickens who feather pick will do so for three reasons: Bullying, A diet deficiency, or Boredom.

    I would make sure that the coop and run are of an adequate size for the number of birds you keep. If possible let them free range each day.

    To alleviate boredom, you can hang up some cabbages just out of reach so they have to jump for them, provide whole melons for them to peck apart, freeze some fruit pieces into ice blocks, and give them some branches and logs to climb on and hide in.

    I would also give them some extra protein like meal worms, meat and scrambled eggs and ensure they have a good quality layer's pellet available 24/7.

    Failing all of that, isolate the bird who is bullying the others for a week or so, and then reintroduce her. Normally the dominant hen will be the one inflicting this sort of behaviour, so if you knock her down a peg or two in the pecking order that might help.

    And if THAT doesn't work you can always rehome her. Sad I know, but it's not fair on the others who are being picked bare.

    Best wishes,

    - Krista
  3. Sunnysidedown

    Sunnysidedown In the Brooder

    Apr 13, 2014
    Wow Thanks Krista!
    Lots of good advice there! Some things I have already done such as a roomy coop and run for the 5 hens (1 Leghorn, 1 Wyadnette(sp), 1 Black Sex Link, and 2 BuffO's. It's one of the Buffs that's the pecker and it has plucked a few feathers off of all of the others except the leghorn (who's a little pecker too when it comes to food & snacks). I built them a grand palace of a coop and10x space needed for the attached run area, we visit them often during the day with scraps and have a portable run we use 2x a week. They kill for mealy worms and I fear that I may have spoiled the little buggers with a little daily snack. :).

    I'm wondering now if it is the protein as they get lots of vegs from our gardens but no real meat source. Our bagged layer feed is 100% veg based but now that winter has hit here with a blast I'm thinking about getting a small bag of feed that contains animal protein products, same 16% protein content on the bag but maybe this one hen's taste for blood (no bleeding yet) will be quenched with a change in diet? If this idea sounds like a bad one do let me know, anyone!
    Thanks again for your advice!
  4. azygous

    azygous Free Ranging

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    There are many causes of feather picking, and many we really aren't sure of. The sad thing is there's no real cure. As with other chicken behaviors, feather picking might begin due to a specific cause such as lack of sufficient protein, but it can then proceed as a habit long after the cause has been remedied.

    Do introduce a source of additional protein if you feel the flock may not be getting enough. But you might try something that could stop the habit from developing into a long term problem.

    I've discovered that if I sit for a few minutes in the run as a quiet observer and just watch the hens as they interact, I'm in a perfect position to interrupt bad behavior.

    This week I discovered the four Sussex in the secluded run in the rear have a picker that is fraying the saddle feathers that have just grown in after molt on sweet little Judy, the most docile one of the four. As soon as I see Sylvia, who is the culprit, start drilling Judy's back, I holler, "NO!" And each time she begins again, I holler, "NO!"

    During one session, Sylvia appeared to ignore me and kept right on with her predations. So I got down on her level, on my hands and knees, and yelled, 'NO!" right in her ear just as she was going for Judy's feathers. That did it.

    She stopped. And the behavior is appearing to taper off as she has associated being hollered at with her compulsion to pick feathers. Something seems to be wiring itself differently in her brain, interrupting her compulsion.

    This approach has already succeeded with another serial feather picker in the main run, so it's already got a proven track record of success. You don't have to be present all the time around the chickens for it to work. Simply spend a little bit of time observing and interrupting the behavior. After a while, it seems to change things.

    You have nothing to lose by trying it.

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