Plucking and Pecking

Discussion in 'Chicken Behaviors and Egglaying' started by Tikkijane, Jul 30, 2011.

  1. So, I have two things going on. First, the plucking.

    Earlier this week, we noticed one of our 12 weekers had been nastily plucked on her back. She's scabbed over, but it seemed like in a 24 hour period of time, she had lost considerably more back and tail feathers. I have at least 2 others with scabs.

    I don't have anyone crowing, but that doesn't mean I don't have any boys- they are all 12 (almost 13 and 14) to 14 (almost 15) weeks. I have two BOs right now that look like they might be boys.

    One of these is the plucker. The only other one I've had plucking feathers turned out to be a roo.

    As of right now, this one is in the penalty box, removed from the others. This one was removed again (we've tried to put it back in with the others to see how it will behave) just now, because while the others are happily pecking and eating, etc, this one was going around and plucking feathers and then eating them. It wasn't singling out a single bird; by the time I got my shoes out and was out there to intervene, it had gotten to 3 different birds.

    Is there a way to get the behavior to stop completely or is this one I need to get rid of?

    The second issue is the pecking. Nearly every night (except the one night I removed both of the BOs that I think could be the boys and one of which is the known plucker), there is a lot of hockey going on in the coop. There is *plenty* of room, both on the roost and in the coop for my 13 birds.

    The second bird to sleep inside last night is one of my BRs, who is 14 weeks old. She was sitting on the roost, as pecking the others. She did this for about 10 minutes before I finally went and got her out. Some of them who were walking by got pecked on the heads. Even though she had plenty of space on the roost, she was going and moving over (and craning her neck to reach them) to peck them. Most of the time she went for the head; sometimes for the body. She is not plucking; she's just pecking. These aren't little pecks; these are hard hits that usually results in a vocalized protest from the victim.

    The only other thing about this bird is that she's the first one to go to bed. Before we moved them outside and they were still coming inside at night, she was the first one to hang out around the door, doing the panic peep to let us know she wanted in. If we waited, she would try to find something to land on to look in the window, and even the window sill itself. But, because the lip of the window wasn't big enough, this resulted in her flapping against the window and banging into it. Convinced she was going to give herself a concussion, we always brought her in when she would start to panic like this.

    So, what's up with that? The others settled right down after I got her inside.

    In a perfect world, they would leave each other alone and be nice to each other. Comments and suggestions are appreciated! I'd just as soon not rehome anyone, but will do what I need to if it's the only means of keeping the others safe and intact.

    Tikki [​IMG]
  2. Judy

    Judy Chicken Obsessed Staff Member Premium Member

    Feb 5, 2009
    South Georgia
    Feather picking usually means too little space or too little protein. Sometimes people give so many treats, wanting to be good chicken caregivers, that they wind up reducing the total protein intake. A good boost is an animal meat source, such as canned mackerel or a package of chicken or turkey parts for them to pick apart. BOSS have more protein than most feeds do.

    As for the pecking at night, i think most chickens squabble for spots on the roost. Mine do it every night. Sometimes there is a loud squawk or two but nothing really serious. Isolation for a few days is always a good place to start if you identify a single bully, as they return at the bottom of the pecking order.

    Good luck!
  3. Erica

    Erica Chillin' With My Peeps

    Dec 5, 2010
    I've had feather eaters before, and it seems to be mostly a product of overcrowding, especially when young (so it may have been ingrained before you got them). It's a habit that (like egg eating) can be almost impossible to break even if they have plenty of room. And if it continues they can end up with a feather shaft stuck in the exit to the crop. A really ingrained feather eater will prefer eating feathers to eating food, and will get really skinny. You can feel the crop at night and it's almost empty except for a few feathers.

    One option is to use a beak clip, which is a sort of c-clip that fits into grooves at the nostrils and goes under and through the mouth. They can't close their beak fully and are forced to leave feathers alone, but they can still eat pellets.

    The other options would be debeaking or culling. I suppose you might paint something foul-tasting on the other birds' feathers but that's unlikely to work for long.

    best wishes, hope this helps
  4. They have free access to BOSS (and feed/water and grit), fwiw. Given that this is a relatively new behavior, I am going to separate and watch. If they were all plucking each other, I would be inclined to agree that it was a sign of something besides just one with a bad attitude. I really think this one is going to start crowing, though, and my other one that turned out to be a boy had this kind of behavior at one point before I separated him out for a few days. I don't think this is a boredom thing, since it's doing it when they are out loose, too. I don't have any that don't get food (and honestly, they could care less about the constant food and it's things they find like bugs that causes the football to happen), since we watch that and make sure everyone is getting same access to treats, etc.

    This one is not high on the pecking order to begin with, but really acts like a roo- bossy, pushy, steps on the others, etc. So being in the penalty box for a few days will hopefully re-adjust the attitude. I've had all these chickies since they were a day old, so this is not inherited behavior. It's also not skinny, lol, really kind of a piggy. [​IMG] The more I saw today, I really think this could be hormones. Erg, lol.

    The pecking I have not seen before last night and will also keep an eye on that. Not sure what was going on there except to wonder if she was annoyed they were keeping her awake, lol. That's the first time I have seen her do that, and she is usually pretty mellow.

    Thanks all for your suggestions!
  5. azygous

    azygous Flock Master

    Dec 11, 2009
    Colorado Rockies
    I have a one-year old EE hen who is fixated on picking feathers out of backs and tails. A few months back, it was so bad that Flora would race around the pen in a perfect frenzy, shaving feathers off every back she found. It really had me tearing my hair out.

    I decided to approach the problem from both ends - protect the victims while restraining the perpetrator. So I got busy and sewed saddles for all four of Flora's victims who were missing, in varying degrees, feathers from backs, tails, and necks. Then I ordered some pinless peepers and when they came, installed one of the little "specs" on Flora. They are blinders which prevent forward vision, while permitting side, and up and down vision.

    I kept the peepers on Flora for two months, just this past week removing them after observing no feather-picking for weeks. I removed the saddles, too, all the feathers having grown back. However, tonight I saw Flora picking a back feather from one of her victims again, so the problem may be returning.

    I'll put the saddle back on her recent victim tomorrow, and if Flora resumes her old habit, I guess a fresh set of peepers will be in order.

    This problem is similar to a nervous affliction in humans, a psychological fixation or habit rather than anything organic, such as protein deficiency. Flora had weeks of special canned tuna feedings which had no effect on her feather picking.

    Feather-picking is like egg-eating. It's a heart-breaking problem with no really good remedies. I wish you luck.

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