One hen picking, eating feathers from another - how do you see this ending?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by EmeraldSkye, Jan 20, 2014.

  1. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    Oct 1, 2013
    San Jose, California
    We have 4 chickens (all females), all 16 weeks old. Two are Easter Eggers, one is a Buff Cochin, and one is a Cuckoo Marans.

    One Easter Egger: Lucille
    2nd Easter Egger: Squirrel
    Buff Cochin: Bella
    Cuckoo Marans: Wild Thing

    The last couple of days I've seen Lucille pull out the soft under-feathers from Squirrel's tail area and eat the feathers. Of course Squirrel doesn't like this. Unfortunately, Squirrel is the smallest, slightest chicken of the four and is nervous, skittish, and runs away quickly. So, she will not stand up to Lucille; she just sqwaks and runs. But Lucille keeps going back for more and it's just a matter of time before the upper tail area is bare and bleeding. It hasn't come to that yet. So far it's just Lucille on Squirrel. Lucille isn't doing this to the other two and the other two aren't bothering Squirrel.

    I have been told that this could be a nutritional thing and so I've started giving them a pile of black oil sunflower seeds to see if that's why she's eating the feathers. I don't know how long a nutritional deficiency can take to correct itself if that's the case, and I'm afraid that the habit, even if started because of nutrition, can be continued even after the nutritional aspect is corrected.

    So, what I have done so far is lock Lucille in chicken jail. This is a large (adult Akita-size) dog crate that is placed inside of the predator-proof section of the run. That section of the run has a roof on it so she has shelter, food, water, sunflower seeds, and a perch. While she is in there the other three chickens are relaxed and are quietly going about their business of looking for worms.

    I considered putting Squirrel in the crate in order to see if then Lucille starts to peck on Bella, who I think would be next in line (Wild Thing is very large and I think she is the top bird). But Squirrel is so hard to capture and she's wily and wary - it's more difficult to get her to go into the dog crate. It's not impossible - a handful of meal worms and a helper would probably do the trick but Lucille is so docile to me and easy to persuade that she just wandered into the crate while I was trying to see if I could get Squirrel to go in there. So I shut the door because for now they are separated.

    Do you guys have any suggestions? Do you think if I removed Squirrel from the flock that this will stop? Or will I have to remove Lucille? The best outcome is for it to stop but I need to know if I'm separating the right chicken for that to happen. Lucille, Bella, and Wild Thing are all large, beautiful, healthy looking birds while Squirrel is the smallest, thinnest, and is difficult to handle. I would prefer to give Squirrel away if it's just between Lucille and Squirrel but not if it means that Bella is the next target. I don't want to lose two birds ultimately. Since I have only four I need to make the right decisions the first time.
     
  2. CherishHolland

    CherishHolland Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Canyon Texas
    I had a GLW do that to an EE so like you I added BOSS to their diet and other protein treats. I also provided them with activities like a flock block, cabbage tether ball and put in an old tree stump,after doing all this the feather picking quit. Best of luck
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
  3. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    San Jose, California
    I am going to go get them a flock block today. They have a cabbage hanging (I do that sometimes and yesterday I added a new one). The cabbage, however, is against the side of the run so doesn't swing much. Maybe I can move it to a more central area and also maybe the flock block will help.

    Oh, and they have had a tree stump from the first day outside. :)
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2014
  4. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    In case someone wonders if it's a space issue, here's what they have: They have a 4' x 3' coop that sits over a predator-proof run that is about 52 square feet. Attached to that, perpendicular, is a daytime run that is 63 square feet. So they have the 12 square feet of coop space plus 115 square feet of run space. That seems adequate for four chickens. I will increase their space eventually but I need for the garden to progress enough to harvest it and then give that space to the chickens too. Right now the space I would add on has veggies that are just starting to produce. Once they are done then the chickens can have another 105 square feet of space added on to what they already have, for a total of 220 square feet of run space.
     
  5. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    you are correct in that "protein" in general is not (protein=composed of several different aminoacids) but a lack of a specific amino acid >METHIONINE< is... do not feed catfood to try and correct this (cat food is not formulated for birds and will have throw the balance of nutrients and crucial ratio of each to each other out of whack) but get a bird molting supplement (petstore) which will have extra methionine in it usually.
    http://msucares.com/poultry/diseases/poultry_feathers.html
    "...The most common reason that feathers do not develop is a deficiency of a critical protein constituent (amino acid) from the diet of the birds. The feathers of birds contain high levels of a subunit of proteins called "methionine." Methionine is one of only a few amino acids that contain sulfur, and sulfur is a major constituent of feathers. If bird diets are deficient in any single amino acid, it will most likely be methionine. An adequate level of methionine is required in the diet and a deficiency results in reduced growth and feather development. A methionine deficient bird will tend to eat feathers in an attempt to satisfy a craving for this amino acid. A bird may even pull them from its own body...."

    ETA: I believe I read that the amount of BOSS should not exceed 5%


    Edited by dlhunicorn - 11/6/07 at 2:02am

    https://www.backyardchickens.com/t/847651/is-this-diet-ok-for-chickens

    Okay, the first text is copied from a post in 2007, couldn't get it to copy link for some reason. Then, the longer thread linked has some good info a few pages in about methionine. She was advocating feeding whey (or something else I can't recall at the moment) to ensure enough of it.

    I do believe getting this to stop will be a combination of nutritional changes and behavioral changes. Once the nutritional needs are met, changing the behavior may be more challenging. I'd keep the aggressor out of the flock for a good 2 weeks, while addressing the nutrition. I'd also look into an anti-peck formula to put on the peckee, just as an additional behavioral deterrent. I'm not usually for anti-peck topicals, cause I think they're too often used in overcrowded situations, but sounds like you have plenty of space and a well managed flock.

    Let us know how things go with you flock.
     
  6. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    San Jose, California
    Thank you, I will go look for a molting supplement. And also try an anti-peck formula on Squirrel. I was going to get them a flock block today but the feed store is out of them, but will they get some in tomorrow. In the meantime I did pick up a couple of flakes of hay. I was told the chickens like to tear them apart looking for wheat heads, so it'll give them something to do. So, I put two out, in different areas. They went right to them, including Lucille (who I let out of the dog crate for this). While I was doing other things I saw Lucille taking a nice dirt bath and I also saw Bella (the Buff Cochin) hovering around vacuuming up any soft feathers that came loose. She wasn't picking them off of Lucille, but just eating anything that came loose. So, it looks like in general they need this amino acid.

    I also moved the cabbage head to a more open space to allow it to be more of a tether toy.
     
  7. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    OK, here's what else I have done since my last post: I went to a local feed store and got a couple of things to try. One is a "FeatherGlow" supplement which lists dried eggs as the second ingredient. I also got some "Poultry Booster" mineral and vitamin supplement. It's in pellet form and lists Methionine as one of the amino acids that are provided. I mixed these together and added in some grass-fed whey product that I already had here. I put this mixture into a hopper for free-feeding. I hope they take to it and benefit from these items.

    I also got some pick-stop goo and put it on the target areas of the pickee. I put in on the skin where the picked feathers have come from and also coated what I assume would be the next target feathers in that area. I hope it puts a bad taste in the mouth of the picker to discourage the habit.

    I also scrambled a couple of eggs today and gave it to them. I guess I should hard-boil a batch and put a couple out there each day.

    Whew!! I'm doing everything I can think of. The hay flakes were actually a good distraction today.
     
  8. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

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    Sounds like you're right on it! Please keep us posted and let us know how thing go for your flock.
     
  9. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    San Jose, California
    Well, despite the anti-peck goo on Squirrel, Lucille was at it again this morning. I had to go out for a few hours so I put her in chicken jail with plenty of food, water, and high-protein treats (hard-boiled egg, some of the store-bought supplement referenced earlier, sunflower seeds). While I was out I got some Vick's Vapo-Rub and have smeared some of that on Squirrel's rear area where Lucille is targeting. So far, so good. I saw Lucille zone in on her rump at one time and look away so maybe if I keep Squirrel smeared in Vick's for a few days then Lucille will lose a taste for her feathers. I'll let you know how this works out. So far Squirrel's skin isn't exposed and is intact if I look under her feathers, though I can see where the feathers have been pulled out. I caught this very early and am hoping to nip it in the bud swiftly.

    I also gave them a flock block.That with the tether cabbage and the hay to sift through should keep them entertained. The hard-boiled egg and protein/feather supplements will hopefully curb this and make their feathers magnificent too.

    The one good thing about having the chicken jail inside the run: when not jailing Lucille, I leave the door propped open so there's actually a second feed and water station available if desired by any of the girls.
     
  10. EmeraldSkye

    EmeraldSkye Out Of The Brooder

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    Oct 1, 2013
    San Jose, California
    Also one effect that I can seen from the Vick's is that it has plastered down the downy feathers that Lucille was picking out and eating. I've seen her focus in on Squirrel's tail area and then walk away, so either she doesn't like the smell or the downy feathers are plastered down and therefore aren't visible so she doesn't see anything edible to pick out. Either way, I really hope the Vick's does the trick. I am happy to re-slather Squirrel every morning for the next few days just to make sure she stays undesirable to Lucille.
     

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