How To Stop Feather Pecking: Chicken Behaviour And Welfare

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As part of normal behaviour, chickens will peck at each other in order to establish a hierarchical ‘pecking order’. This is typically not a real problem, however, if one chicken starts to peck at another’s feathers, pulls them out and causes distress for the victim, this is abnormal behaviour and could be a symptom of other issues. This guide gives some tips on how to stop feather pecking.

Why Do Chickens Feather Peck?

A Lack Of Protein – Chicken feathers are made from protein, so chickens can turn to feather pecking if they have a protein deficiency. Therefore, make sure that you are feeding your chickens a balanced diet with enough protein to help to prevent feather pecking in the flock. For example, when forage isn’t readily available for chickens in the winter, alfalfa is an excellent chicken, sheep, goat, cattle and horse food that can supplement their diet. Alfalfa is renowned for supplying plentiful amounts of protein and fibre, making it a useful way of helping to improve the nutritional quality of the forage ration.

Boredom – Each hen requires a minimum of around 3sq ft of outdoor space to move around and exhibit some natural behaviours, alongside their enclosed space. Reduced areas may lead to boredom and ultimately feather pecking. Make the chicken coop high enough for the chickens to fly, jump and stretch and feed them a number of times throughout the day (without over-feeding) to allow all the chickens to have their fair share of feed without being bullied. There are also a number of environmental enrichments, such as fresh greens around the run or perches, that you could add to a coop in order to help tackle this potential cause.

Stress – Overcrowding is one of the key causes of stress in chickens and can precipitate feather pecking. Each chicken needs adequate space to drink and eat; failure to provide this space could result in dominant birds preventing those who are lower in the social order from accessing the feed and water. Other factors such as a coop that is too hot or lack of nesting space can also contribute to stress.

Annual Moult- During the annual moult hens will look bedraggled and may be more at risk from other hens pecking at the new feathers and the reddened skin, which can sometimes result in cannibalism, so this problem needs to be dealt with immediately. During the annual moult, feed your hens additional calcium and protein to encourage speedy regrowth of feathers and to improve general conditioning of the affected birds.

What To Do For Continuous Feather Pecking

  • Provide hens with more space and ensure they have access to shade when it’s hot.
  • Provide other things for hens to peck at such as bales of alfalfa or toys can be beneficial.
  • Anti-feather pecking spray can also help, as the taste will put the chickens off.
  • If there is one chicken that is continuously feather pecking or there is one chicken that is being picked on, either isolate the pecker from the group, or the victim to allow her to grow her feathers back. Ensure that the segregated bird is still located near the other chickens to avoid stress and to make the re-introduction a seamless process.

Hopefully, this guide has given you some tips for helping to prevent feather pecking and ensure excellent welfare for your chickens.

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