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chickens plucking each other

 
H Warner
Posts: 10
Location: northern New Mexico
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I have received a small flock of 5 Americana hens that are about 3 years old. They have been together since my friend bought them from the pet store as chicks. They eat well, lay well and have a varied diet of scratch, layer pellets by Purina and assorted greens, fruit cores, etc. I've noticed that they are plucking each others tails and between each others legs. Why are they doing this and what do I do to stop it? They are housed in a chain link dog run that is 10 foot by 20 foot with a coop that I admit is too small for all 5 to roost comfortably but they all fit in there and they have 2 nest boxes, one of which doesn't get used.
 
Adam Klaus
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there are a few reasons they could be doing it- nutritional deficiency, salt decifiency, and 'pecking order'. here are some solutions for each that have worked for me-

1- could try diversifying/improving their diet. kitchen scraps, raw milk, kelp are all good options.
2- put a little salt and raw vinegar in their water. it's amazing what a little salt can do.
3- give them freedom! they dont need a lot of area to roost, it is during the day that boredom can promote the violence of the pecking order. this is the most sure-fire fix if it is acheivable.

my guess is that it is a combination of all three. in heavy layers their feed needs are very high. this time of year their production is peaking so problems come to the forefront. also chickens are not exactly sweet lovely creatures, so lifetime mates or not, they will canabalize each other if the moment is right (or wrong, as it may be). being slightly malnourished or bored only exacerbates this issue. i think sometimes they start the pecking out of boredom, then realize that feathers and/or blood tastes good. its downhill from there...

good luck, let us know how the problem gets resolved.
 
John Polk
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If the hens have been together for 3 years, their pecking order should already be well sorted out.

Two of the most common reasons for this type of behavior are
* Insufficient protein
* Over crowding

This behavior is the beginning stages of cannibalism. If allowed to progress, it will probably end in death.
Once they 'discover' blood as food, they may continue seeking it.


Give them more space - both in the coop, and the run.
Make certain their diet has sufficient protein, and that they have a source of 'free feed' calcium.

 
Renate Howard
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Are you seeing them plucking each other? Just asking because there are depluming mites that will cause feather loss. diatomaceous earth as a dust bath in their favorite dust bathing spot may help and if it doesn't you may need to bleach/sterilize the perches, etc. to get rid of the mites. Mites mostly become a problem where birds are confined to a small area for too long - the population lives in the environment and climbs on the birds when they're roosting for a blood meal (or skin, as the case may be).
 
H Warner
Posts: 10
Location: northern New Mexico
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My girlfriend gave me the birds from her coop, which had a total of about 20 birds in it that was 10x20, which is what these girls now have only with 5 hens. She gave them to me about 2 months ago fully feathered. I will try the salt in the water. I see them all plucking each other, not just bald spots. Their diet is layer pellets from Purina, hen scratch and assorted greens/fruit/veggies as I find leftovers in the fridge. I plan to give them more greens as the garden starts to produce. The layer pellet instructions say this is the only feed they should be given but I don't like that idea either. Unfortunately, there is no way I can increase the size of the run; we have wild dogs/coyotes here that will get the birds and I cant afford more fencing to expand at this time. They are Americana's and lay very well for me.

I will try to add more areas for them to "play" in such as perches higher up in the run. I don't see a noticeable pecking order; it seems everyone is "hen pecked". LOL I'm wondering if, because of the new surroundings and missing "sister hens" they have to re-establish a pecking order. I know horses are like this, perhaps chickens are as well? The Purina food says it's complete, should I add some extra grit/calcium in it as well?

Thanks all, for your replies!
 
Jay Green
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I would take a flashlight out at night and take them off the roost to examine their vent area. Look for anything that crawls. They will do their own plucking if they have an infestation of mites and lice and the other chickens will continue that for them if there are bloody areas left from this irritation. Might try some Blue Kote or Rooster Booster on these areas to prevent further picking and treat any parasites you find.
 
H Warner
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Location: northern New Mexico
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thanks, everyone for their helpful comments! I think I found the problem; the poor things were hungry! I had not noticed before because I was in the yard or next to their fence watching just the chickens. However, I noticed all of the local wild birds coming over and eating all the scratch/pellets I laid down for them as I was walking by one day. Many, many wild birds flew out of the chicken yard as I approached. I have moved things around, started feeding them under the shade cloth (which many wild birds wont go under) and instead of feeding them a large meal in the early am, I switched to several smaller feedings throughout the day. It seems to have worked and I see feathers coming back in on the girls.

I never thought of wild birds eating the chicken food but being in the desert where not much is blooming now, I can realize the error of my ways...
 
John Polk
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I'm glad that the mystery is over, and that your hens are getting back to normal.

Yeah. In the desert the wild birds (and other critters) don't have too many choices.
Word on the street was "Warner's just opened a new restaurant down the street...Try it out!" Chirp, chirp.


 
Curtis Budka
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Location: Currently: Wheaton Labs Missoula, MT; Originally: Southern NH zone 5b
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How can you solve the boredom problem when there is 2 1/2 feet of snow on the ground and around 20 degrees F or lower for the whole day and for weeks straight, not even mentioning the wind chill.
 
Stephanie Meyer
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Location: West Michigan Zone 5
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A lot of people use hanging treat/food during the winter. I throw BOSS around the barn liberally a few times a day for mine, this seems to have solved both the feed and boredom issues. Of course, if I try to walk out of the barn without doing it my Buff Orpingtins will mug me now.....
 
Skjoldr Draugarson
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Location: Western PA
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I agree with Stephanie! You have to come up with some creative ideas to break up the boredom. Hanging just about anything edible will give them plenty of joy and excitement. Tossing treats at random times like BOSS, fruit scraps, toasted egg shells, etc. in random places is also a great idea. Laying down straw and tossing feed/treats with it gives them something to scratch for and we all know how chickens like to search for things. You can also make your own 'flock blocks' or seed treats to hang/place in the run - my kids love making these.

*grins* Also with the 2 1/2 feet of snow you can make fun tunnels through the run which will give them lots of exercise and keep them warm and out of the wind.

I remember when our first chickens went through their first winter, I swear they refused to walk on snow. It was really confusing for them and a bit funny, as they would peek out of the coop and every once in a while one would run out and then right back in. Once they got used to it, it was no big deal and they found plenty of ways to amuse themselves.
 
Curtis Budka
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Location: Currently: Wheaton Labs Missoula, MT; Originally: Southern NH zone 5b
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I did stick a flock block in there and I try to let them out free ranging when I'm home (their run/coop is sort of an evolved situation and the two aren't connected efficiently, so the fenced path between the two is sort of full of heavy snowblowb snow and is broken. I need to fix it, after the snow sort of melts. Their run is also full of snow blown snow, pretty much to the top of the fence.)
 
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