Topic of the Week - Feather Pecking/Eating

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by sumi, Jan 15, 2017.

  1. sumi

    sumi Égalité Staff Member

    Jun 28, 2011
    Rep of Ireland
    The topic of feather pecking/eating is one that comes up fairly often, so this week I would like to hear you all's thoughts on this dilemma and what step(s) you've taken to help stop/prevent it. Specifically:

    - What causes the flock to start pecking/eating each others' feathers?
    - What level of pecking is normal is what is not? (For new chicken keepers)
    - How can you prevent/stop feather pecking/eating?

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    Last edited: Jan 27, 2017

  2. aart

    aart Chicken Juggler! Premium Member

    Nov 27, 2012
    SW Michigan
    My Coop
    Am only posting as I very recently observed some of this behavior.
    I think there can be multiple causes, that can be hard to pinpoint and 'treat'.
    After crowding stress and aggression, I think lack of animal protein I think may be one of the major causes.

    Have had several bearded/muffed birds lose those facial feathers.
    This winter I have more birds than I should in the space that I have in the climate I live in, so some crowding stress maybe-tho no real violence that I have seen. I also have switched back to a 'vegetarian' feed and have not been providing as much meat scraps as usual. I do use a higher protein crumble and they get about 18% with roughly figuring in the other foods they get.

    A couple birds have bare throats and I observed the 'cause' first hand yesterday.
    Stood and watched 2 hens calmly peck and pull feathers off another's neck and face while she also stood calmly and allowed it. I had suspected this was happening due to her bare throat and missing beard/muff, but this was the first time I witnessed it first hand.

    Don't know exactly why, but will be providing them some animal protein asap.
    Last edited: Jan 15, 2017
    2 people like this.
  3. Pork Pie Ken

    Pork Pie Ken Flockless Premium Member

    Jan 30, 2015
    Africa - near the equator
    As a pre-cursor to the content below, I do not have any experience in dealing with feather pecking, feather eating or cannibalism. I live on the equator, so we have no winters or changes in daylight hours. As consequence, my flock ranges in the garden from dawn till dusk every day, thus having no break in routine. I am however, interested in chicken behaviour and I've done a little reading on the subject. It is only intended as background information. I have included the sources consulted as links.

    - What causes the flock to start pecking/eating each others' feathers?
    Temperature changes
    Temperament (individual / breed)
    Sudden changes in feed composition
    Temporary unavailability of water / food (e.g. frozen drinking water)
    Unevenness of the flock in terms of size (weight) / colour
    Parasite infestation (either of coop or birds)
    Sub-optimal nutritional balance (e.g. mineral, salt or amino acid levels deficiency)
    Use of vegetable protein in feeds

    Inadequate foraging incentives - e.g. the use of pellets / coarsely ground feed reduces time spent foraging
    Significant variations from a flock’s routine - limited ranging opportunities due to weather

    Triggers to feather pecking are most likely to be the result of a combination of potential stressors.

    - What level of pecking is normal is what is not? (For new chicken keepers)
    Gentle pecking – part of the establishment and maintenance of pecking order and an essential part of social behaviour. Usually concentrated on the head / face area. Often observed as part of preening behaviour

    Aggressive pecking – abnormal and persistent pecking and removal of feathers on the head (commonly seen in younger birds) or most commonly seen on the base of the tail, preen gland area, tail feathers, back or vent / below the vent pecking in adults

    - How can you prevent/stop feather pecking/eating?

    Ensuring sufficient coop and run space
    Having sufficient feeding / drinking stations
    Maximising the time the flock spends foraging
    Provisions for dust bathing or use a friable litter than will facilitate it
    Feeding high fibre, low energy diets (read the ingredients and proportions on the feed you buy)
    Installing objects in the run / coop to "entertain" the flock (distractions)
    Providing an object(s) that can be pecked at - e.g. a bale of straw
    Add perches to the housing

    7 people like this.
  4. Beekissed

    Beekissed Free Ranging

    Have never had this problem, so I can only assume it has a lot to do with space and boredom. Since my flocks free range and have plenty to do out there, I am guessing that the need to pick feathers has never arisen....and that's over 40 yrs of various breeds kept, varying ages and types of birds kept, etc. Never had feather picking or cannibalism of any kind.
    1 person likes this.
  5. shelbyw

    shelbyw Chirping

    Jul 1, 2015
    Monroe, Georgia
    My easter egger actually had a very very minor look just like yours. I actually found out that she was doing it to herself. She isn't doing it anymore, but she did do it for a few days around the beginning of December. I really do not understand why, but i guess she just over groomed or something. [​IMG]
  6. Mountain Peeps

    Mountain Peeps Change is inevitable, like the seasons Premium Member

    Apr 23, 2014
    My Coop
    A piece of advice I would offer is to make sure your birds are receiving protein in their diet. Feathers make up 85% protein and if this nutrient is lacking, chickens will often consume feathers to meet their dietary protein needs. You can provide your flock with additional protein in foods such as mealworms, oatmeal, meat scraps, cooked eggs, corn or peas. Be sure to give out extra protein during the molt too.
    1 person likes this.
  7. 3riverschick

    3riverschick Poultry Lit Chaser

    May 19, 2009

  8. oldhenlikesdogs

    oldhenlikesdogs Chicken tender Premium Member

    Jul 16, 2015
    central Wisconsin
    Mine did it back in the day under confinement in a smaller area and not being fed properly. I haven't seen it in years as mine get plenty of room now and I no longer feed layer ration which in my opinion causes deficiencies, especially when extra stuff like scratch is fed.

    I have seen it more in higher production breeds like sex links which I no longer keep because of it.
  9. Teila

    Teila Bambrook Bantams Premium Member

    Sorry, I have nothing to add to this Topic of the Week as I have not encountered this issue. May be, like Ken, our only slight change in climate and routine means that boredom does not set in. However, subscribing as I always enjoy the informative discussions on the ToW and already have some great information for future reference should it be needed.
  10. aswartzalso

    aswartzalso Chirping

    Apr 20, 2013
    What do you feed now?

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