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Please help. Alpha rooster - tail feathers being pecked out and broken

Discussion in 'Emergencies / Diseases / Injuries and Cures' started by basicliving, Oct 18, 2008.

  1. basicliving

    basicliving Keepin' the sunny side up

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    Mar 20, 2008
    Shenandoah Valley, VA
    I have 21 hens and 2 roosters of various breeds. They are all 22 weeks old.

    The alpha rooster, Duke, is a Silver Gray Dorking and very large - probably twice the size of the rest of the chickens. The other rooster is a Phoenix, Bobby Lee.

    The hens seem to love Duke - they follow him around and groom around his face and in the past two weeks, they began pecking at the base of his tail - where the back feathers meet the tail feathers. At first I thought it was just a form of grooming him and didn't give it much thought, as he didn't seem to mind.

    Yesterday, I noticed while he was standing up and pecking at the ground, a couple of hens would run up behind him, and put their heads UNDER his tail feathers and peck. I looked closer and realized he was bleeding.

    I caught him, wrapped him in a towel and looked closely at the area around his vent. The skin is not broken anywhere, but several of his tail feathers are missing or the quills are broken close to his skin. I saw no evidence of mice or lice (I searched through pictures a head of time so that I could identify anything I might see). A couple of broken quills were bleeding. I cleaned him up, applied bedadine, and sprayed the area with blue kote. I left him in the coop alone until night and then let all the other chickens in. I watched for a while and they all settled on roosts and went to sleep.

    I was hoping that when I let them all into the chicken yard this AM, the blue kote would do the trick and they would leave his tail feathers alone. But they won't. The hens started pecking at him right away - and then even Bobby Lee joined in.

    I've seperated him from the others. He acts pretty much the same as he always has. He eats and he drinks. Poop looks normal. The coop floor is wooden and we are deep litter method with pine shavings we shred ourselves.

    As I said - his skin looks normal around the vent - no mites or lice - and that's the area the hens seem to focus on when pecking and breaking off his quills.

    He has seemed to continue being the alpha rooster - but this morning he mounted a hen and Bobby Lee flew over and knocked him off of her. Duke didn't challenge Bobby Lee at all.

    At this point, I just want to know why in the world the hens are pecking him bloody like they are. It seemed to start as grooming - but it's way beyond that now. Is Bobby Lee challenging Duke and the hens are reacting to the possible change in the pecking order? What can I do to restore some order and stop the damage they are inflicting on Duke.

    I intend to build an area in the coop for Duke today to keep him seperated for a few days and see if that breaks this chain. He won't be happy - and the girls seemed lost when I seperated him yesterday - but I left him inside the coop. I'm hoping by fencing off a small area in the run with the others, he will see the hens and they will see him, and maybe everyone will be happier.

    Any idea what is going on - and what I should do?

    Any advise at all is very much appreciated.

    Thanks,
    Penny
     
  2. jhm47

    jhm47 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 7, 2008
    Your chickens have started to become cannibals. This is really hard to break, once they have started. I have seen this behavior several times, and really the only way to stop it is to debeak (and I'm not talking about a total debeaking) your birds. Just take about 3/8 of an inch off the top beak. They will likely bleed a bit, and it looks very cruel, but just imagine having yourself picked to death. You might also take just a bit off the bottom beak, but not as much as off the top. The beaks will grow back eventually, and you won't be able to tell that it was ever done. The advantages of this are that the beaks are sore for awhile, and they won't want to be picking so much, and also if the top beak is shorter than the bottom they can't really get a good hold on the other bird's feathers/skin. Good luck!
     
  3. Jenski

    Jenski Chillin' With My Peeps

    Jun 17, 2008
    Middle Tennessee
    Sounds like your head honcho is indeed being challenged. There is another no-pick spray you can use, or as a last resort you could even try pine tar (this only needs to be tasted once to make a lasting impression, and I have not yet heard of repeated problems once this nasty stuff has been tried). Pine tar can be applied with a tongue depressor, but it is very sticky. You may have to do some searching to find it.

    I am not personally in favor of debeaking in any form as a behavior modification, although it has widespread use on very large farms. I do agree with jhm47 in that picking is hard to stop once it starts. You may have to separate your roo until he is feeling strong again.

    It could also be that your roo has some illness or is a bit under the weather, and the others sense it. Is he molting? That will make them feel a bit weak and poorly sometimes.
     
  4. basicliving

    basicliving Keepin' the sunny side up

    938
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    Mar 20, 2008
    Shenandoah Valley, VA
    This is the first time I've had chickens. I'm not really sure if they are molting or not. They all seem to regularly be losing feathers - and I do know that both of the the two roosters still have fuzzy baby feathers at the base of the tail where it meets the back. At first, that seemed to be where the hens were pecking him and I thought they were grooming and trying to remove the fuzzy feathers. It seemed to escalate from there.

    Duke could be molting. I'm just not sure how to tell exactly?

    I sectioned off a corner of the run with fencing and put him in there. He seems MUCH happier because I had him closed up alone in the coop for a few hours this morning while I was sectioning off the area outside for him and he was VERY unhappy and so were the girls. Everyone was fussing pretty badly. But once I got him in his little fenced area where everyone can see each other, they calmed down - although the girls are really trying to get in there with him and everyone is hanging around his little "prison" area.

    I will keep him seperated during the day and let everyone in the coop together at night to sleep. I guess I'll just have to play it by ear and see what happens each morning. If they go to picking at his tail, I'll put him in his little prison. I hate it - but I can't let them eat him alive! I just wonder why in the world they got started with this - and why it's just Duke. They love him for heavens sake!

    I put electrolytes/vitamins in his water. I have antibiotics - but unless he shows signs of infection, I won't give them to him. He's not bleeding today. Maybe he'll heal up and get stronger and the seperation will break this chain of them pecking him.

    Any suggestions for special food I can give him to help him heal quickly? I also thought I should maybe fry up some eggs and feed it to the hens for the next few morning to give them extra protein. I've read that a lack of protein can sometimes lead to pecking? Although I feed them a layer mix from Southern States, so I would think it's balanced with enough protein. Any thoughts on any of this?

    Thanks so much for the help.

    Penny
     
    1 person likes this.
  5. jhm47

    jhm47 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Sep 7, 2008
    I will be very surprised if this behavior stops. They will go back to picking on him sooner or later, if they don't start on another bird.

    Yes, I think your birds are likely molting. This is a time when it is even more likely for them to start picking. The new feathers have blood in them at first, and now that they have a taste for blood, they will want more.

    There may very well be products on the market that work to stop picking as suggested in a previous post, but I have never seen any that worked very well. I still suggest debeaking, but that's your choice. Good luck!
     
  6. basicliving

    basicliving Keepin' the sunny side up

    938
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    Mar 20, 2008
    Shenandoah Valley, VA
    jjhm47 - I PMed you.

    Thanks,
    Penny
     
  7. basicliving

    basicliving Keepin' the sunny side up

    938
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    Mar 20, 2008
    Shenandoah Valley, VA
    I have started a new thread on what I am learning about this issue, for those of you who may be interested.

    Penny
     

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