Orpington feather picking problem - need advice please!

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by caralouise1974, Feb 23, 2009.

  1. caralouise1974

    caralouise1974 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Hi everyone,

    I'm a newbie chicken owner, having recently (a week ago) got myself a bluebelle and two buff orpingtons. I'm so nervous to be doing the right thing for them, and seem to be constanly worrying about the little darlings! (Bella developed a slight limp today, and although it's probably a sprain, I'm very worried. Similarly, I have witnessed a couple of runny poops from Henrietta, but am going to worm her this week and see how things go. Am terrified that it's going to turn out to be cocci...) Having said all this, all three of them seem in good health generally, and pretty active and happy, so fingers crossed that I'm just being over-protective...

    Marjorie and Henrietta are about 17 weeks old, and the bluebelle (Bella) is about 22 weeks old. We are feeding layers pellets and small amounts of corn, plus daily greens (broccoli, cabbage, apple, corn cobs, etc) and unlimited oyster/flint grit. I'll also admit to treating them to live maggots and spaghetti too. None of them have actually started laying yet although we're told that Bella could start any day now, and the buff orps might keep us waiting until April.

    Anyway, my main concern is that the top hen (Marjorie - larger of the two buffs) is plucking away the feathers around the other buff (Henrietta)'s vent and tail stump. She is also eating them with great gusto.

    I've managed to ascertain that this is definitely not an aggression behaviour - Bella the bluebelle, being smallest, is bottom of the pecking order and is completely left alone when it comes to the feather-eating (although the inevitable aggression-pecking to the head and neck occurs when food is around, but she very sensibly behaves submissively and runs off, avoiding confrontation). It simply seems that the lovely soft feathers around Henrietta's bottom are just too much temptation for Marjorie. We can see that at some point before we got her, Marjorie herself has been feather-picked around her tail area, so perhaps this is a learned behaviour...

    We're trying/have tried the following corrective measures:

    1. Extra protein rations each morning - chopped boiled egg and tinned tuna (and as of tomorrow, we'll be mixing this with a pro-biotic powder food supplement we've been recommended by the chap at P&T Poultry). We also have some cat food which we've yet to try.
    2. More stuff to do in the run - hanging up corn cobs, cabbages, mirrors, toys, scattered raisins and corn, etc (although she pecks Henrietta's bottom even when they're out of the run and free ranging, so I suspect boredom is not by any means the whole story here)
    3. Ukadex - we just had this arrive by courier today - we are going to cover Henrietta's back-end with it tomorrow in the hope that Marjorie can't stand the taste/smell
    4. Calcium supplements in the drinking water (plus a general poultry drink supplement)
    5. We tried and failed to fit beak rings from the Domestic Fowl Trust to Marjorie's beak. She simply got so distressed and it was so upsetting, we couldn't do it to her.
    6. Although there's no sign as yet of any broken skin, we have sprayed poor Henrietta's bottom purple with Gentian Violet, just to be on the safe side

    Is there anything else we can do? We have a coop which was sold to us as suitable for six large fowl, and a 6'x4' run, but we try and let them free range for a little while on most days.

    Any advice gratefully received.

    Thanks everyone!
  2. the1much

    the1much Currently Birdless Hippy

    pinless peepers work great.,, and the run should be bigger, i think the rule of thumb for runs is 10sq. ft. per bird,, specially them big-ole-girls.
  3. caralouise1974

    caralouise1974 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Quote:Sorry to be totally dumb, but are these those spectacle things I've heard about? Are they less invasive than the beak rings?
  4. the1much

    the1much Currently Birdless Hippy

    Quote:Sorry to be totally dumb, but are these those spectacle things I've heard about? Are they less invasive than the beak rings?

    ive never seen the rings,, but these are about as "gentle" as you can get [​IMG]

  5. caralouise1974

    caralouise1974 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Thanks lots for the suggestion - it looks like the fitting of these works on the same principle as the beak rings ie you have to insert them into their nostrils, right? I'm just not sure I can do that to the poor little thing, even if she is being a feather-eating-monster at the moment! She went completely crazy when we tried to fit the beak ring, and after ages of sruggling, listening to her scream and cry and sneeze and cough, and feeling completely awful about our cruelty, we gave up!

    Can you possibly suggest a minimally-stressful way of inserting this thing onto her beak? It definitely looks like it has one large advantage over the beak rings, in that it doesn't restrict the use of her beak in any way, just her field of vision.

    Thanks! x
  6. the1much

    the1much Currently Birdless Hippy

    these thing barely go into the nostrils, in fact sometimes you need to sqeeze them closer to get them to fit. and no matter what you use, she aint gonna like it for a day,, just a dab of fingernail polish on their beaks make em go wierdo for a day [​IMG]
    if you dont do something, theres a fairly good chance that she may break a blood feather on another hen, and if not caught in time, the hen could bleed to death in a half day, if not sooner.

    edit: ta add,, the peepers dont stop her from using her beak,, just makes it so she cant see except right in front and down.
    Last edited: Feb 23, 2009
  7. Momo

    Momo Chillin' With My Peeps

    Mar 16, 2008
    Nelson BC
    The pinless peepers have worked really well for me. I softened them up in hot water and put them on with just my hands. The first time I tried it, the poor girl screamed and struggled and I realized it was because I was trying to be too slow and gentle and was poking one side too far into her nostril. When I caught on to just popping it onto the nostrils quickly it was almost a non-event and there was no screaming at all. I have two girls who were plucking feathers and the pinless peepers have solved the problem. They are not invasive.
  8. caralouise1974

    caralouise1974 Chillin' With My Peeps

    Thanks so much for all your advice guys. I definitely agree that hubbie and I were being far too gentle with the beak rings, and had we been swift and decisive about it she'd have been far less stressed.

    I have a bit of an update though - today we have watched her take chunks of feathers out of the bluebelle, and decided that enough was enough. We phoned the breeder we got her from and she has agreed to take her back for a swap. I made sure she wouldn't wring her neck and she assures us she'll simply be putting her in with the older girls and rooster, just to put her down a peg or two. She's confident that this will break the habit of her bad behaviour, esecially the fact she'll be back in a much larger group again, and she can then be rehomed at a later date.

    As for us, we're going to replace Marjorie with another hybrid of some sort, maybe a speckeldy or a goldline. So much friendlier and less inbred/nutty!

    We just came back from a weekend away to celebrate our first wedding anniversary a day early, as we were so worried about the chickens - and that's not an acceptable way to carry on indefinitely. This should solve it once and for all.

    P.S. Bella has completely stopped limping today, phew! Must've been cramp or something silly like that. We should stop being so worried about our girls!
  9. caralouise1974

    caralouise1974 Chillin' With My Peeps

    More to the saga for you all - sorry, we're such fussers over these new girls! Desperate for reassurance!

    Well, Marjorie the almost-cannibal went back today, and we swapped her for a Warren called Audrey (probably about 15 weeks old, so still quite small-ish, and de-beaked).

    Well, of course, she's about half the size of Henrietta the 18 week buff orp, and noticably smaller than Bella the 22 week old bluebelle and so we have the usual worries about introducing her.

    We got back with her at about 1pm today, and tried the breeder's advice of shutting all of the girls up together in the dark for an hour or so and then letting them out and watching them. Big mistake - Henrietta took one look at her and grabbed her by the comb, even in the dark.

    So, we decided to let them see each other gradually this afternoon - initially just letting her roam around the outside of the run, then letting first the bluebelle and then the orp out with her. Henrietta the orp especially, was making an awful racket, crowing and cawing at her as she roamed about outside. She was clearly a bit scared once they were both in the garden with her, preferring to hang around our feet than go anywhere near the others. And there were a couple of pecking and chasing incidents when she did get too near. But the other two seemed pretty happy to pretend she wasn't around, as long as she stayed well out of their way (and she completely did!).

    So, it's now 6.40pm, the two big girls are roosting in their coop, and our new girl (Audrey) is in a box in the side alley of the house. We're now waiting until the others are definitely asleep before trying to put her in with them - we reckon 8pm or so.

    What we're worried about is that she'll be either a) attacked in the night; or b) will spend the whole day tomorrow being tormented and attacked in the run whilst both myself and hubbie are at work.

    Do any of you think this is likely, considering their less than friendly (but not exactly violently aggressive) behaviour today. And is there anything we can do to minimise the awfulness she might have to go through tomorrow when we're not here to protect her?

    Any thoughts much appreciated! x
  10. the1much

    the1much Currently Birdless Hippy

    sorry to say,, but NO MATTER WHAT,, their gonna fight. is the chicken way [​IMG]
    they need to figure out the new pecking order. the new girl WILL get chased, will get flogged, will get feathers pulled, will get run away from the food, and will just plain be tormented for a day or so. ive tried EVERY way of introducing new birds,, and NO MATTER WHAT,, it HAS to be this way, no matter if they've lived next to each other for 6 years,, when the fence is taken down,,, ALL this WILL happen.
    just watch for a REAL beating, sometimes it takes them 2 or 3 tries to do it without getting TOO rough. but,, no matter what,,,, your NOT gonna like it,, maybe throw her in there, and make someone else watch and break it up if theres blood drawn.

    sorry [​IMG]

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