Overbreeding and Feather Picking

Chwicks

Chirping
Mar 14, 2018
74
92
71
North Wisconsin
Hi everyone. I’m in a bit of a pickle and could use some help/advice. Please bear with me while I give some history. The question is at the end...

We have 13 pullets (age 31 1/2 weeks) and 1 cockerel (same age). Well, my cockerel has obviously been heavily breeding several of the ladies and the downy feathers around their saddle areas are starting to show.

I went out on Tuesday and noticed that one of the girls had all of her feathers picked off her saddle area and it was bare, red, and bloody. I immediately scooped her up, treated the wound after cleaning, and separated her from all the other chickens.

Since these are my first chickens, I didn’t have any aprons on hand, so I immediately starting sewing up some using the fabric I have here (we live in a very rural area). I got one made on Tuesday and put it on her.

Wednesday I separated my cockerel from the ladies and left the one with her apron on with the other girls. I’ve been cleaning her up every day. I continued making aprons Wednesday and Thursday. Thursday I put aprons on two of the other girls with lots of the downy feathers showing. I continue making aprons Friday because there were a couple of other girls that I was concerned about, but weren’t severe.

Saturday I go out and two other girls (not yet wearing aprons) had been picked clean, and one was pretty severe. They broke through the skin and she has an open gash. I cleaned them all up, put aprons on the ones that just had feathers picked away and isolated my worst pullet. She’s in a large dog kennel in the garage. It’s going to take her a while to heal.

I clean their coop and run every day, which is usually an hour long process, so they aren’t without visual daily checks. I couldn’t believe how quickly things unraveled. I decided to sit in there and watch what was happening.

The girls are pulling one another’s feathers out!

I don’t know what to do!! It’s like their curiosity was peaked by the downy feathers and now their just obsessed with pulling one another’s feathers.

They don’t get to free range because we have WAY too many predators here, and we have about 2’ of snow already on the ground. I have little trails I’ve shoveled in the snow for them, but when I let them out to roam while I clean each day they just eat snow right outside the run door.

What can I do to stop the feather picking? Do you think they will stop? Is it hopeless?

We feed them a grower/finisher crumbed (all day access) and throw out about two cups of a corn (not cracked), black sunflower, oat mixture twice a day (a.m. and p.m.).

Any help or advice would be greatly appreciated.
 

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Acre4Me

Crowing
Nov 12, 2017
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Western Ohio
Pinless peepers are reported to have good success at limiting or stopping feather picking.

In addition, you may want to supplement with extra protein. Feathers are mainly protein. Give them a higher protein feed or supplement with: scrambled or hard boiled eggs with the shell -chopped up, chicken, fish, beef, or pork, but keep in mind sodium levels. Some use fish food flakes. Also DRY cat food, but crush it or wet it to soften it. Catfish feed pellets. Mealworms are ok, but keep the amount low bc they are also high in fat which can cause other problems. These would all be supplemental to their main chicken feed.
 

Acre4Me

Crowing
Nov 12, 2017
3,250
6,799
497
Western Ohio
Two examples of pinless peepers found on the web. They can see, but not well enough to target some specific like a feather. They can still eat fine.

544BD3F4-5A9F-40C4-ADB1-32A698AA74BF.jpeg
E4335AAD-9ED0-4FFB-9778-1BCB811ADF04.jpeg
 

azygous

Crossing the Road
Dec 11, 2009
17,818
20,788
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Colorado Rockies
How much space do you have in the run or where the flock hangs out most of the day? It should be ten square feet per chicken or more.

Also, a cluttered and interesting run with numerous perches and flat surfaces to hop onto when a conflict arises can help a lot with aggression. So can a run broken up into partitioned spaces.

The corn and BOSS can be a problem. Your chickens may be filling up on that and not eating enough balanced feed, resulting in a dietary imbalance. You may need to examine the way your chickens are fed. Too much scratch and BOSS can result in fatty liver disease, too.

Years ago, I wrestled with this problem, and still am to an extent. Feather picking is an issue with different causes and not many good solutions. I began a thread https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/i-think-i-found-a-miracle-cure-for-feather-picking.697052/#post-9455600 that turned into many pages of many different experiences of chicken keepers. We all had tried many things only to discover that most didn't work and the ones that did, had limited success. (Before you run and order Forco, read more of the thread. It didn't work.)

Now the way I deal with feather picking is one-on-one discipline. I poke the bad girl on the back when I see one nabbing feathers. Real incorrigible offenders have their own run and coop. Pinless peepers work on some hens but not all. Some wily pickers learn to rewire their brains to see with the peepers on.

To sum up, space is number one. Adequate diet is number two. Vigilance and discipline are a third option. Segregation is a last resort this side of culling.

I wish you luck.
 

Chwicks

Chirping
Mar 14, 2018
74
92
71
North Wisconsin
Pinless peepers are reported to have good success at limiting or stopping feather picking.

In addition, you may want to supplement with extra protein. Feathers are mainly protein. Give them a higher protein feed or supplement with: scrambled or hard boiled eggs with the shell -chopped up, chicken, fish, beef, or pork, but keep in mind sodium levels. Some use fish food flakes. Also DRY cat food, but crush it or wet it to soften it. Catfish feed pellets. Mealworms are ok, but keep the amount low bc they are also high in fat which can cause other problems. These would all be supplemental to their main chicken feed.
Thanks so much! We give them egg shells from about 1 dozen eggs once a week - at a minimum, once every other week. We haven’t been giving them the egg, but we can start doing that too. How do I know how much egg is too much? I do give them mealworms, but only as an occasional treat. I’ve had the same bag of mealworms since they were 8 weeks old. There’s about half of it left because I use them sparingly due to the high amounts of fat.

I’ll have to order some of the pinless peepers and give it a try. It surely can’t hurt.
 

Chwicks

Chirping
Mar 14, 2018
74
92
71
North Wisconsin
How much space do you have in the run or where the flock hangs out most of the day? It should be ten square feet per chicken or more.

Also, a cluttered and interesting run with numerous perches and flat surfaces to hop onto when a conflict arises can help a lot with aggression. So can a run broken up into partitioned spaces.

The corn and BOSS can be a problem. Your chickens may be filling up on that and not eating enough balanced feed, resulting in a dietary imbalance. You may need to examine the way your chickens are fed. Too much scratch and BOSS can result in fatty liver disease, too.

Years ago, I wrestled with this problem, and still am to an extent. Feather picking is an issue with different causes and not many good solutions. I began a thread https://www.backyardchickens.com/threads/i-think-i-found-a-miracle-cure-for-feather-picking.697052/#post-9455600 that turned into many pages of many different experiences of chicken keepers. We all had tried many things only to discover that most didn't work and the ones that did, had limited success. (Before you run and order Forco, read more of the thread. It didn't work.)

Now the way I deal with feather picking is one-on-one discipline. I poke the bad girl on the back when I see one nabbing feathers. Real incorrigible offenders have their own run and coop. Pinless peepers work on some hens but not all. Some wily pickers learn to rewire their brains to see with the peepers on.

To sum up, space is number one. Adequate diet is number two. Vigilance and discipline are a third option. Segregation is a last resort this side of culling.

I wish you luck.

Thanks so much! You’ve given me lots of great information, and I’ll definitely read the thread you linked.

We have the 14 birds in a 150 sq ft run and their coop is also 150 sq ft. The inside if the coop has a brooder space, as does the run. We have a log for them to hop onto and loads of perches in the run for them to perch on too. We put a xylophone in there, but they don’t seem to mess with it too much.

We only feed them the corn in the winter to try and keep them a little warmer. We were only feeding it to them in the afternoon before they went to sleep to help them keep warmer. We may go back to that approach. They seem to be eating their food pretty well. We have (2) 3-gal feeders hanging in their coop and I fill each one up half way every other day - at a maximum every 2 days (and it’ll be almost dust left in there at that point). I feel like their eating their feed decently. It seems like their eating more of it now than in the summer. We also give them egg shells and a little bit of kiwi each day. I think we’ll cut back to giving them the BOSS with oats in the a.m. and the corn before they roost. We’ll cut down the amount we give them too.

I really think they’re bored. :( But, aside from the perches, xylaphone, scratch, and letting them out for recess... I don’t know what else to do... I used to hang a cabbage in there, but they get the runs. :sick

Do you think reducing the number of chickens would help? The breeds we have are Black Austrolorp, Partridge Wyandotte, Easter Eggers, and Gold Laced Cochins. The Austrolorps and the Cochins aren’t having any issue with their feather being picked, nor are they picking feathers of other birds. The Wyandottes seem to be the worst with the EEs coming in second place. The Wyandottes and the EEs are the first ones to the door when the run is opened for them to come out and play. The Cochins and Austrolorps don’t seem to really care about the open door. They’re content to roost or stay in their dust bath. Perhaps certain breeds do better than others when they can’t free range. :confused: I’ve been doing the one-on-one discipline, and if I see feathers I pick them up right away. I’ve also been known to chase them around if they have a feather in their mouth because I don’t want them eating them and thinking, ‘yum, I need another one of those’. Sometimes I catch them... others.. not so much. Having separate runs and coops is just not an option, so I may end up having to cull some. :hit

Good luck with your feather pickers too.
 

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azygous

Crossing the Road
Dec 11, 2009
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Colorado Rockies
My worst feather pickers have been EEs and Speckled Sussex. I do believe some breeds are worse.

One issue I didn't mention was bullying. That's another complex issue that can coincide with feather picking. Are you starting to think you could use a degree in chicken psychology?

Anyway, I strongly suggest sitting quietly and observing the flock, taking names of the aggressive ones, noting the chronic victims and how they react to being feather plucked. You may conclude that the worst feather victims are chronic victims of bullying and are not standing up for themselves. If you identify those victims, then there is a way to treat that problem successfully. Another article to read. https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/chicken-bully-chicken-victim-a-two-sided-issue.73923/
 

Eggcessive

Enabler
Premium member
Apr 3, 2011
48,447
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southern Ohio
You have received good advice from @azygous and others. Stop the corn , since it does nothing to keep them warmer at night. Someone started that myth hear a long time ago. Chickens do not need all the extras. They need their balanced chicken feed as 90% or more of their intake. Sunflower heats or chopped scrambled eggs are good treats, but that is because of their high protein. Think possibly about switching to a higher protein flock raiser feed with 20% protein. You have a lot more snow that we get, but I shovel paths out so mine can go out some each day. When I had wyandottes, those were my bullies, so I rehomed them to a friend who needed some extra layers. You might try making some swings or ladders to climb on. Love the xylophone, and I think I remember seeing a chicken pecking at one once. Some use pine tar (from the horse aisle at feed stores) on bare spots to prevent pecking, since it tastes bad and has some healing qualities. Hopefully, your chickens will calm down a bit as they get older and stop the feather picking.
 

Chwicks

Chirping
Mar 14, 2018
74
92
71
North Wisconsin
My worst feather pickers have been EEs and Speckled Sussex. I do believe some breeds are worse.

One issue I didn't mention was bullying. That's another complex issue that can coincide with feather picking. Are you starting to think you could use a degree in chicken psychology?

Anyway, I strongly suggest sitting quietly and observing the flock, taking names of the aggressive ones, noting the chronic victims and how they react to being feather plucked. You may conclude that the worst feather victims are chronic victims of bullying and are not standing up for themselves. If you identify those victims, then there is a way to treat that problem successfully. Another article to read. https://www.backyardchickens.com/articles/chicken-bully-chicken-victim-a-two-sided-issue.73923/
Great article! I spent about 6 hours out there today doing a full clean and setting up the chicken jail/brooder so it works better when I have a chicken separated. It was initially meant to be just for chicks, but it’s been used far more to separate disturbers of the peace, or those needing protection. I’ve always do the same as you... letting the isolated chicken roost with the flock at night and getting up early to re-separate it for the day. Right now my cockerel is in jail because the girls need a break - especially while some of them are healing. They have their aprons on, but I don’t want him trying to breed them with injuries underneath the aprons.

I didn’t get to observe much today, but I’m going to make it a point to sit out there tomorrow. I know for a fact that I have a Wyandotte that is a bully. Once I’m able to get my girls healed and my cockerel back into the fold, I’ll separate her to knock her down a peg or two. I’ve got my other sassy butt in the garage. She’s the one with the pretty bad back wound. She’s a Wyandotte too... and the sass on her is unlike any other chicken I’ve every encountered. She’s so independent and bossy! She drives me nuts! And, she loves to dip her beak into the water and fling water everywhere... All. The. Time. :rolleyes:

Do you have any recommendations on how I can entertain them better. I’m kinda’ at my whits end.

Indeed! I feel like I’ll know the nuances of chicken behavior by the end of this escapade. Lol
 

Chwicks

Chirping
Mar 14, 2018
74
92
71
North Wisconsin
You have received good advice from @azygous and others. Stop the corn , since it does nothing to keep them warmer at night. Someone started that myth hear a long time ago. Chickens do not need all the extras. They need their balanced chicken feed as 90% or more of their intake. Sunflower heats or chopped scrambled eggs are good treats, but that is because of their high protein. Think possibly about switching to a higher protein flock raiser feed with 20% protein. You have a lot more snow that we get, but I shovel paths out so mine can go out some each day. When I had wyandottes, those were my bullies, so I rehomed them to a friend who needed some extra layers. You might try making some swings or ladders to climb on. Love the xylophone, and I think I remember seeing a chicken pecking at one once. Some use pine tar (from the horse aisle at feed stores) on bare spots to prevent pecking, since it tastes bad and has some healing qualities. Hopefully, your chickens will calm down a bit as they get older and stop the feather picking.
Interesting. I had read in several places that corn was good for them. Once we get through this bag we’ll put a stop to it. I’m all about saving money on feed. Lol

We are already feeding an organic crumble that is 20% protein.

The Wyandottes and EEs are definitely the prominent peckers, and the ones that are getting pecked the most. My Austrolorps and Cochins may be getting feathers pulled, but they seem to have denser feathers than the EEs and Wyandottes. Perhaps that’s why they aren’t need aprons and look great. :confused: I’m honestly regretting the Wyandottes. I got them because they seemed to be a good fit for what we were wanting in our chickens, but they are the most trouble making breed of the bunch. They’re so feisty.

We did try a swing, but it never got used. Perhaps we’ll give it another try. We have lots of large branches at different levels, a stump and a rock in their run. I don’t know that we have much room for more than that in there and still allowing them room to jump down off the run roosts.

I have some Rooster Booster, but the dang Wyandottes aren’t deterred by it. :he I’m going to order some of the peeper things and try those out. If that doesn’t work we’ll just have to thin the flock once everyone is healed. They’re all sporting their fancy aprons right now. My husband picked up some more fabric today, so I need to make a few more.

Is there any risk to keeping my cockerel from the girls for a prolonged period of time (while the girls heal)? I let him out of his area today. One of my girls was in a laying box, so I figured she’d be in there for a while, but she came out when she heard him trying to woo. As soon as he saw her he grabbed her and bred her. He’s a sweetheart of a cockerel... a true gentle boy, but he seemed a little more aggressive than he normally is when he bred her... I just don’t want to set the girls up for more issues by trying to protect them. My husband thinks he’s going to come out of chicken jail sexually frustrated. :hmm
 
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