Q: My flock is pecking one another! What should I do?
A: Pecking, also called picking, is almost always the result of high stress levels. When that happens, the birds will sometimes pluck each others' feathers out, and can really hurt one another. Those lowest in the pecking order may have bare spots on their backs or their heads.
Here, feathers have started to re-grow on a bare back.
Address the root cause of pecking in your flock
Since we know happy chickens don't pick one another to the point of terrible feather loss, to deal with this problem you'll have to figure out why they're not happy. You may not be a pet psychic, but consult this list of common factors that lead to the chicken blues:
- Do they have enough space? Insufficient space is the number one reason for excessive picking.
- Are they getting enough protein? Insufficient protein is the #2 cause of chicken-pickin', and that is usually caused by one of three things:
- Worms, lice or other parasites can cause a nutritional deficiency--not enough protein! This, in turn, will encourage your chickens to eat feathers in an attempt to get what they need for their bodies.
- A poor quality feed. Make sure you're feeding your flock a good, high protein layer feed. (We only sell the best!)
- A diet too high in low-nutritional treats. Here's where you may need to tuck your tail between your legs... We know you all love to treat your beloved chickens, but too many treats is always a bad idea. That includes "leftovers" from your dinner like pasta, bread, or heaven forfend, cakes and sweets. Too much scratch or cracked corn is a no-no, too. If you want to ingratiate yourself with your flock, look for treats with dried bugs and/or mealworms that have a 16% or higher protein content.
- Are there enough feed and water containers to go around, or are some members of the flock getting blocked out?
- Are there enough nesting boxes?
So, if you've got feather loss due to pecking in your flock, consider each item on this list and ameliorating the issues you identify: Try giving your flock more protein, letting your chickens free range, or treating any parasites you find. Give them additional feeders and waterers if you think that's the problem, so your chickens don't have to compete for them. Talk to your vet if you can't figure out what's going on. If you don't take care of the problem, you run the risk of escalation to the point of cannibalism (seriously).
Whatever you do, don't debeak!
Many "experts" recommend you de-beak birds with this behavior problem. Debeaking means to trim the pointy end of their beaks so they can't injure one another. BAD idea! First of all, it's cruel: it prevents the birds from preening naturally, from being able to properly forage for small bugs, and it can be painful. These things will absolutely increase their stress levels. Lastly, it only addresses the symptoms (picking) but not the underlying problem.
Consider a Saddle or Apron for feather picking
While you are solving your mystery, it would be a good idea to purchase or make a saddle or apron to help protect your hen's bare spot and give her time to heal. These products also prevent the type of feather loss due to excessive mating.
And if you've addressed all these issues and you STILL have a problem, it's time to consult a veterinarian.