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keeping chickens: all you need to know

How to stop feather pecking?

December 13th, 2011 at 19:53

Some of the hens are pecking out the tail and back feathers of the other chickens. One is getting an open sore and I have no idea why they are doing it or how to stop them. Andi


The very first thing you must do is get the chicken that is bleeding separated from the others without delay. Keep her separate until the sore has healed up and no red is showing; you need not wait for the feathers to grow back as this may take a long time. Keep a close eye on her because during the summer months there is a chance the wound will become flyblown or infected.

Once the wounds are healed, reintroduce the segregated chicken back into the flock at night-time when they are all safely tucked up in bed. When everyone wakes up in the morning she will smell of everyone else and hopefully the others will not even realise she has been gone.

I’d also recommend treating the wounded bird and any other of your pet chickens who are showing signs of losing feathers to pecking with an anti-pecking spray. They work by combining an anti-bacterial agent that will promote healing with a strong odour that discourages further pecking. If your local agricultural store doesn’t sell an anti-peck product, you can get it online here.

Chickens begin feather pecking for all sorts of reasons, the most common of which is simply establishing a “pecking order” within the flock. Whether you have a cockerel or not, there will always be one hen who is dominant over all the others, more often than not she will be the biggest and oldest. Having a cockerel, however, can reduce bullying.

The boss chicken will make sure that the others know she is in charge by pulling out a few of their feathers when she finds them in her way, be it in front of the feeder, drinker or in the favourite dust bath. There is nothing unusual about this and it occurs in nature all the time.

You can lessen the chances of chickens being caught out by her by putting down more than one feeder, drinker or whatever it is she gets possessive about. I’d also recommend making sure that your chickens have lots of space to enable them to get away from the dominant chicken should they need to.

Other reasons for feather pecking can include curiosity (unusual coloured feathers can invite experimental pecks for example), or boredom. To reduce boredom amongst your chicken flock I’d suggest moving them often so that they always have fresh grass to peck around in and regularly throwing down the odd handful of corn or mixed grain for them to scratch around and find, though not too much as any left on the floor will encourage rats.

The problem is, once a wound is opened, the other chickens will see it and become curious enough to give it an experimental peck. This will lead to the wound becoming worse which encourages further pecks. It spirals out of control fast and if left unchecked will result in a dead chicken. To make things even worse, once your chickens get a taste for chicken they are highly likely to become cannibalistic. This is a very bad situation to get into!

Hopefully this will solve your feather-pecking problem but if it persists there is one last thing you can do to remedy the situation. Unfortunately some chickens are inherently mean and persistent; they will doggedly clobber the lowest chicken in the pecking order until they are either dead or removed from the flock and then move on to the next chicken. If this is the case then the best thing you can do is promote the offending hen to the position of Sunday lunch for the good of the flock, and hopefully the new dominant hen will have a better temperament.

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