Should I cull the culprit?

ElizabethinNY

In the Brooder
10 Years
Mar 5, 2009
84
2
39
Central NY
I already know the answer, I think, but thought I'd post for advice/encouragement. I have 11 pullets/hens that are almost a year old. I have had a problem with feather picking all winter, and perversely, it's actually getting WORSE now that the warmer days are here, I think because the girls want OUT of their run and are frustrated when I'm at work and can't let them play outside. I know the main culprit--it's Matilda, who is a Production Red. She has absolutely PERFECT feathering and I've seen her going from one chicken to the next during their preening/sleepy time, ripping feathers out of her friends and eating them. In particular, two of my Orpington girls are getting picked on. Bonnie is very ratty looking (she's low in the peck order and very docile) and now has a bare patch on her behind under her vent. Yesterday when I came home at lunch to check on the ladies, they had Prudence, my most favorite one, bleeding from a small 1/4" wound in a bare patch beneath her vent.
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I have applied black salve to it and they're leaving her alone today, but I think I have to do something about this before it escalates into all-out cannibalism. I also have suspicions that two of the snippiest of the Orpingtons are also doing it--they also have near-perfect feathering and they're very pecky at me and at the other chickens. Who do I cull? All three of the suspects or just Matilda? Or should I attempt to separate the suspects for a while first? My chickens are my pets and I hate to cull them, but I will sacrifice one or some for the good of the rest, if necessary. Thanks for any help.
 

al6517

Real Men can Cook
11 Years
May 13, 2008
10,684
153
321
It looks like overcrowding and boredom they just do that when their in a tight spot for a long period with nothing to do. A larger area allows them to get and stay away from the bully's.

AL
 

Montana-Hens

Songster
11 Years
Feb 20, 2008
320
8
143
Buxton, Montana
You don't say how many you have or the size of their area.

I would vote cull and get back to nice peaceful coop.....even the nices birds will get in on it when the bleeding starts and then they are all "rotten" ladied who will do it. Stop it before it spreads any worse.
 

ElizabethinNY

In the Brooder
10 Years
Mar 5, 2009
84
2
39
Central NY
I have two coops with two adjoining runs. One coop is actually the duck coop, but they all use it sometimes. It's 6 x 6. The larger coop is about 8 x 8. The runs are 8 x 12 and 12 x 12. They have free access to both coops and both runs, and when I'm home, they're outside of their runs in a larger fenced area. I'm intending to fence off a much larger area for them to roam and play in when the ground thaws. There are 11 hens and 2 Mallard ducks, who don't really associate much with the chickens.
 

MissJenny

Songster
10 Years
May 11, 2009
974
10
141
Cincinnati, Ohio
I don't know how many birds you have but I would begin with the least drastic measure and work my way up.

Could this be a nutritional issue where they need more protein? Add some eggs and fish to their diet and see if that helps.

Do they need a larger run? Build them a bigger place to play.

Does Matilda need a time out? Often when a bird is separated from the flock for several days she comes back to girls who have reintegrated themselves into a different pecking order.

Try a few options -- there be no need for someone lose her head.

Jenny
 

patandchickens

Flock Mistress
12 Years
Apr 20, 2007
12,520
335
341
Ontario, Canada
On the one hand, it couldn't hurt, especially if you have been hankerin' for some chicken and dumplings lately. It sounds like you may have more chickens than your space gracefully allows.

On the other hand, if she is plucking the feathers and *eating them immediately* I would wonder about a) protein deficiency and b) boredom that might be alleviated by other things to peck. So if you do not want to cull her straight off -- or if you want to cull her but try to address a "cure" towards the others that may be doing it too -- I would suggest the following:

-- increase their protein. Either cook some of their eggs and feed them back; or give them some leftover meat (freezerburned, little scraps you can't fully get off the bones of a roast, etc); or some people would give them a handful of good-quality dry catfood every 2-3 days.

-- give them other things to peck at: some chickens (not mine) will peck at a cabbage hung from a string, or you can scatter black oil sunflower seeds or a bit of scratch amongst the litter.

Good luck, have fun,

Pat
 

ElizabethinNY

In the Brooder
10 Years
Mar 5, 2009
84
2
39
Central NY
Thanks for all of your thoughts. I have increased their protein all winter--they have been getting cottage cheese, sunflower seed, tuna and cooked eggs daily. I have also had hay, straw, cabbage and kale all winter for them to peck at.

I think once the ground thaws, I will definitely increase the size of their run space. I think I will try isolating Matilda for a few weeks and see how the rest get by without her picking at them. I may try re-introducing her first, then if she still picks, I will cull her.
 
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tamelroy

Songster
11 Years
Jan 19, 2009
458
0
152
Mass
I dunno if you cull would solve your problem. I did that and things were fine for a couple of weeks and then a new hen took its place and started doing the same thing.
 

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