Thursday, 18 September 2014

Top Tips for Preventing Poultry Feather Pecking

We have a pecking order here in the office. Anne gets cross that someone hasn't replaced the paper in the printer and moans at me, I moan at everyone else, everyone else moans at Sprocket the office dog and Sprocket goes away and sulks at not getting a biscuit from the office biscuit barrel. While this system is somewhat unfair to the loyal (if not loud and yappy) Flyte so Fancy pooch, it is however how pecking order's work.

The numerous hen houses, poultry pens and even in the FSF chicken field all have their own pecking orders too. There is a chief hen at the top of the order and one hen on the bottom rung. Part of establishing this pecking order, is the actual pecking. Feather pecking is something that hens do, the occasional nip here and there in passing is part of being a hen, however when this moves over into full blown aggressive feather pecking then this is a problem that should be dealt with immediately. Here are a few top tips on how to help prevent feather pecking among your birds.

Annual Moult in Poultry
Feathers in the Run from the Annual Moult

Feather Pecking Causes
  1. It sounds like a simple point, but are your girls getting enough sunlight. Whilst chickens do like a dim relaxed nest box for laying an egg, living in permanent gloom will slowly just get them down, leading to vitamin deficiencies and possible feather pecking. They don't need twenty-four constant daylight beaming down on them, but to feel the sun on their feathers improves their mood no end. 
  2. While the life of a chicken might seem all sunny days and endless grubbing about for worms, it doesn't take much for a hen to get bored. Bored hens can quite easily turn to feather pecking and the quickest and easiest way to cure the issue is to hang some boredom busting treats around the coop to distract them. A busy hen is a happy hen. 
  3. Making sure your chickens diet is healthy and balanced besides helping with the more obvious aspects of your hens well-being can also aid with feather pecking issues. One of the causes of feather pecking is a protein deficiency. Feathers are essentially made of protein and so pulling them out and eating them is a last ditch source of this necessary supplement. Making sure that you have given your girls a good quality feed with a decent percentage of protein in it (16% in the Smallholder Layers Pellets range) will help with the growth of new feathers and hopefully avoid the issue entirely. 
  4. Always make sure that your hens aren't overcrowded. If you have more hens then can realistically fit in your coop then they will very quickly become stressed. They will become stressed and begin to peck at each other as they attempt to secure themselves a spot. Give your hens the appropriate amount of space that they need. 
  5. Introducing a new hen into an established flock can often lead to the bullying of the new hen, feather pecking included. Before introducing new hens, put them in either a separate run or boxed off in an area of the existing run where they will be safe. The important part is that the hens can see each other! After a few days they quickly become acclimatised to each other and you can then introduce the new birds into the flock properly. 
Chickens at Flyte so Fancy
FSF Chicken Field
There are some great products on the market to help your hen who is being bullied, from anti-pecking sprays to gentian violet antiseptic spray to help relieve the pain, although these are not always the answer to the problem. For a more in-depth look at feather pecking take a look at our new information page on the website and if you have any questions or tips why not leave a comment below.

Thanks for Reading

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