Why are my hens pulling out feathers of other hens?

Back in their wild days, chickens interacted differently with their surroundings and each other. They lived an active live with different experiences. The wild environment helped them deal with stress. They did not live in closed quarters but ran around free and wild. 

With the onset of domesticated chickens, stress levels increased due to being crowded in one place and a limited diet. Chicken keeping processes, especially in commercial settings are geared to maximize production. These processes have led to unusual behaviors. 

One of these unusual behaviors is feather picking and bullying. If these are not dealt with, they affect health and welfare. 

Feather picking is a behavior in chickens where chickens pluck or pull out their own feathers or the feathers of other chickens using their beaks. 

Telling when feather picking is a problem

Chickens will peck on one another as a means of social interaction. This is a non-violent way of registering their presence and requesting space. These social pecks are not brutal and cause no harm or injuries. No feathers are pulled out during this interaction. 

However, pecking can be brutal when two or more chickens gang up against one chicken. This kind of pecking is akin to an attack, uses more force, and leads to feather loss and injuries.

Once blood is spilled, all the other chickens can join in and keep pecking on the wounds. This can lead to severe injuries and can lead to the death of the victim.

It is of utter importance that you observe your chickens once in a while. You can notice that your chickens are pecking on one chicken if you observe the following signs:-

  • Several feathers are plucked or damaged.
  • The skin is raw, irritated, or inflamed
  • Notice bleeding or scabs
  • If the feathers are not allowed to grow back
  • If the victim is trying to escape each time they are pecked at. Other chickens give chase when the victim is trying to escape. 

Feather pecking should not be confused with pecking order fights. Pecking order is the strict hierarchical structure in chicken flocks.

Pecking order fights do not lead to feather loss or severe injuries and do not involve bullying. It is a fight between two equals in order to determine who is more equal than the other. The fights do not take long and the loser quickly submits to the authority of the winner. 

What causes feather pecking. 

There is no single reason for feather picking, but it is believed to be caused by a myriad of reasons. These include boredom, nutrient deficiency, sickness, and annual molting.

  • Boredom

Chickens can pluck each other’s feathers due to boredom. Chickens need to be kept busy, otherwise, they can start pecking each other’s feathers. This is true in the case where the chickens have a small coop and run. 

Chicken toys and swings can be used to keep chickens busy. 

If you keep your hens in a coop and never let them out,, it is best to ensure enough space. 

Chickens are naturally inclined to scratch and peck on the ground as they forage. 

Having too many chickens in a small space, they start getting on each other nerves because of the limited pecking opportunities. 

Overcrowding can also lead to aggression and feather picking.

  • Nutritional deficiency

When chickens lack certain essential elements in their diets, such as protein and sodium, they can start feather picking. 

Providing too many treats for your chicken,  may not feed on their balanced chicken feed, leading to nutritional deficiency.

Chickens with sodium and protein deficiencies will look for sources of nutrients to satisfy their dietary needs. The deficiency can lead to chicken feather pecking.

  • Sickness

Chicken can sense when one of the flock members is sick. 

In the wild, sick chicken would be driven away from the flock because it’s seen as a liability.

In an enclosed coop and run, chickens will pick and pluck the feathers of the sick chicken trying to send her away from the flock.

  • Annual molting

Chickens go through the molting process annually, usually in the summer. 

The period of losing and replacing feathers can take 4-6 weeks. 

During this period, the hen looks bedraggled, enticing other hens to pick on the emerging feathers. If you notice that this is happening, it is good to separate the chickens and let the molting chicken molt in peace. 

Chickens picking at themselves

Chicken may pick on their own feathers due to nutritional deficiency. 

Lacking nutrients such as sodium and protein may cause the chicken to pick on its preening gland and the feathers surrounding it. 

You can stop this by ensuring that your chicken feed on a nutritious diet. 

Additionally, you should reduce the amount of treats you give your chicken because they dilute the nutritional feed, causing feather picking behaviors. 

External parasites such as poultry lice may damage the skin and feathers o chickens. The irritation can cause the chicken to pick their own feathers as they seek relief.

Home remedies for chicken pecking other chickens feathers

  • Feather picking is unlikely to occur in small flocks. You can also stop it by getting a homogenous flock of the same age, breed, color, and size.
  • You can also use anti-feather pecking spray on the feathers of the victim. The spray makes the feathers taste bad and not enticing for the hens.
  • Provide your chicken with the appropriate nutritional diet and limit their treats as much as possible.
  • Monitor the chicken and perform routine checks for external parasites. Ensure the birds have a dust bathing area to maintain the health of their feathers and skin.
  • Your chickens need ample space of at least 4 square feet per bird in enclosed spaces. If your chickens are primarily confined in the coop and their run provides more space for each hen to avoid boredom and feather pecking.
  • Try to alleviate boredom by providing fun activities, such as hanging cabbage, zucchini, or cucumber to peck on and flock blocks or handfuls that they can scratch on and eat.
  • During molting, use anti-pecking feather spray to make the emerging feathers taste bad to hens that try to pick them. Ensure the molting birds get enough calcium and protein to make the process quicker.
  • If one of the hens is unwell, you may need to isolate her for a few days as she recuperates, especially if she is being picked on severely.
  • Remove the injured bird immediately because the sight of blood draws chickens, and it can lead to a frenzy.
  • You may also consider getting a chicken saddle for the victim, especially if the feather picking came from a rooster.

Conclusion

Feather picking is a common problem that, if left unchecked, can lead to cannibalism and the death of your chicken. 

Luckily, solving these issues is not difficult. You need to identify the root of the problem and remove it. 

Most times, the real solution to feather picking is thinking out your flock or providing more space than they have.

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About James

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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