Feather peck­ing frus­tra­tion

Your Chickens - - Ask Our Experts -

QI have 10 hy­brid hens and they have Small­holder lay­ers pel­lets, fresh wa­ter ev­ery­day and fresh greens ev­ery day. They also get the oc­ca­sional bit of corn. All my hens seem to love pulling out each other’s feath­ers and gob­bling them up, which I find very frus­trat­ing be­cause it re­sults in them having no feath­ers in ar­eas around the vent, breast and back. What I find re­ally ir­ri­tat­ing is that when one of the hens has a dust bath, all the oth­ers gather around and pull out her feath­ers. They have a big run with soil un­der a huge cedar tree.

AChar­lotte Popescu said: This is a very com­mon and dif­fi­cult prob­lem, es­pe­cially with hens that are con­fined. Pos­si­ble causes for feather peck­ing are: pro­tein de­fi­ciency, stress, lack of space and bore­dom. No one has as yet come up with a solution to this prob­lem, which oc­curs, al­most in­evitably, amongst com­mer­cial flocks, so a lot of re­search has gone into it.

You are un­lucky be­cause now that your hens have got a taste for feath­ers it is go­ing to be hard to erad­i­cate it. If one or two hens are mainly re­spon­si­ble for the feather peck­ing, then you could sep­a­rate them. You say they are on soil, but hens do bet­ter on grass as they can spend a lot of time scratch­ing and look­ing for in­sects amongst the grass; you could spread straw over the ground in the run and scat­ter meal­worms through the straw, which would keep your hens busy. The pro­tein de­fi­ciency is un­likely to be the rea­son in your case as you are giv­ing your hens a bal­anced diet – feath­ers are full of pro­tein and so that is why hens eat them. But you could add sun­flower seeds to their diet as these are full of pro­tein. My hens do some­times get bare necks, which I as­sume is be­cause other hens have picked out the feath­ers, but I do not worry too much as they have lots of space to get away from each other and the feath­ers will grow back af­ter the moult each year. My hens, though, and there are a lot of them, never lose feath­ers around their vents, breasts or backs so your prob­lem seems worse. This makes me in­clined to think it could be lack of space; if you could let them out of their run to roam freely, you might no­tice a dif­fer­ence.

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