Monday, November 14, 2011

Feather Picking

This summer my small backyard chicken flock was afflicted by a problem called cannibalistic feather picking.  It is not uncommon to encounter this problem even when you think you’re providing your birds with the best possible care.  Some breeds are more prone to cannibalism, plus stress, molting and dietary issues can all contribute.  The problem can be very severe, even resulting in death.

My small flock was under stress at the time of the first feather picking incident.  The summer heat was relentless and the birds were continuously molting.  At this same time, I decided to change the feed from a laying pellet to an organic feed ration.  Compared to the pellets, the feeding ration was powdery with bits of cracked corn and seeds.  The chickens immediately started rifling through the feed to pick out the best parts.  Most of the feed ended up on the ground.  They were going through feed at 2-3 times the normal rate.  I allowed the feeder to go empty a couple of times thinking they would eat the feed on the ground.  Boy, was I wrong.

Petunia was the unfortunate victim of the feather picking.  She was being pecked heavily on her back and tail feathers.  By the time I discovered the problem, the other chickens had drawn blood and she was scared and half crazed from their attacks.

I immediately removed her to a protected area and soothed her raw back with Vaseline.  I had to keep her separated from the others until she healed. There are special products, such as pine tar and chicken saddles, to help deal with this problem.  I read mixed reviews on these products, so I decided to stick with isolation and Vaseline, which both worked fine.

I read that a protein deficiency might be the cause of the feather picking, so I started supplementing the chicken’s diet with tuna, black oil sun flower seeds, yogurt, and oatmeal.  Luckily, the feather picking stopped almost immediately following the protein boost.

The second victim of feather picking was Cocoa.  Cocoa’s feather picking problem is a little different.  She is being pecked on her neck feathers.  

The only pecking I have observed occurs during roosting and appears to be part of a power struggle for roost position.  I don't think it's diet related, but I am continuing to supplement their diet with extras.  I have also started providing alfalfa hay, which I read that chickens like.

The resolution to Cocoa's problem is up in the air.  Poor Cocoa still has a naked neck, but she doesn’t seem to be distressed about it.  I haven't witnessed any overt attacks while monitoring the flock, so I'll just have to continue to be watchful.   

No comments:

Post a Comment