February 8, 2016

Feather Pecking in the Chicken Coop

A few days ago I noticed that two of the hens have rough and broken feathers on their backs. Since I didn't have a rooster in the coop, it's not from mating behavior. Some of the other hens were pecking at them.


The next day I found one of the black hens pecking one of the Dominiques as she sat in the nest box. The Dom had her head in the corner and her tail facing out. The black hen pecked and pecked, and the Dom had a bloody hole on her back.

This hen was bloodied by the other hens pecking at her.

I held off the other hens until the egg was laid and they all went back to eating, drinking and scratching in the dirt. Then I went in the house to google "feather pecking". I decided:
  1. My hens are probably bored
  2. I might not have enough nest boxes
  3. The nest boxes aren't private enough
My shoelaces provided a bit of entertainment.

So I set out to fix all those problems.

First I tried to put plantain salve on the hen's back. I know that if the other hens see red, they will continue to peck at her relentlessly. The salve wouldn't "stick" to her feathers though and it didn't help. I sprayed iodine on the wound, hoping that it would turn it brown instead of red. Google had recommended Blu-Kote spray but I don't have any.

I did realize that the two affected hens have spots, one of the Dominiques and one of the specked Sussex. I think this might explain why they began pecking: a chicken will peck at a bug on another chicken, or at a speck of feed, a dot of light on a wall, and so on. They probably started by pecking at a spot. Unfortunately I can't fix that, other than giving them more stimulation or enrichment. So now I'm enriching my chickens' environment. Oh my.

A buff Orpington pullet.

Some of the information I'd read suggested that feather pecking (or feather picking) might be related to diet, so I gave them a bowl of spinach, leftover rice, a handful of dry cat food, a banana peel, and a couple spoonfuls of yogurt. I hadn't given them a lot of "snacks" before so they were interested but not eager. Still, it kept them busy for a bit.

I also gave them some suet "muffins". When I have a bit of leftover meat after a meal, I put it in a zip bag in the freezer. It doesn't matter what kind of meat it is because I'm making dog food, or in this case, chicken treats. When I have enough scraps saved up, I put the meat in muffin tins and add melted fat (left over from cooking hamburgers, bacon, etc.) to the tins. Once the fat hardens I put these muffins in the freezer. I give them to the outside dogs on cold, raw winter days, but I gave the last two to the chickens, wrapped in a chicken wire "cage" and nailed to the wall of the coop.

A small brown egg in a nestbox.

There are now three nest boxes. I use empty kitty litter buckets with the lid removed. I replenished the hay inside and leaned a piece of plywood against the tops of the buckets for more privacy. (Plywood not shown here.)

I use kitty litter buckets as nest boxes

Finally I brought in a fallen branch from an oak tree. The girls can look for bugs in the bark or just perch on top of it.

I'll tell you why my coop was pretty "plain Jane" before this: snakes. I dislike giving snakes a place to hide. I really dislike finding a snake behind a board or in a corner. Ick. I guess I'll have to remember to be cautious once the weather warms up.

How do you provide "enrichment" for your hens?


NOTE: Be sure to read the great suggestions in the comments section below!


You might also enjoy:

Chicken Coop - my Pinterest board
News From the Coop
We're So Egg-Cited



This post has been shared at some of my favorite blog hops.


~~~~~

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23 comments:

  1. Jan in NWGA7:16 PM

    Hang a small cabbage from an old net, like a piñata, low enough for them to just reach it. They LOVE it and it will take them all day to eat it, or 2 nights & mornings since that is the only time mine are in the coop. Happy to say I picked up 10 more birds and now have all the Sussex & their man one side, with all the Buff Orps & their man on the other with separate yards. Can't wait for babies this spring!

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  2. Thank you, Jan, I'll give that a try. It sounds like it should be fun for chickens. How wonderful that you now have two flocks!

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  3. Also leftover corn on the cob. When we are done eating we just throw ours out for the chickens to finish. Sometimes I hang it in the coop just to make it more challenging. I am right there with you about the snakes. ICK!

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  4. Jeannette, yes snakes! ::shudder:: We get big black snakes in the coop. I know they are beneficial snakes, keeping rodents down, but that's why I have barn cats, and once a snake gets in the chicken coop he's dead meat as far as I'm concerned. I killed several last year and hubby killed some more.

    Thank you for the tip about corn on the cob. That would keep the girls busy for awhile!

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  5. We just added an indoor dust bath to our chicken coop and they seem to really enjoy it. Good luck to you!

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  6. Cabbage is very inexpensive and a large head will last a long time as will any type of greens or fruits in a netted bag. I have a neighbor that raises field corn and he gives me a feed sack full every year and I hang one or two ears from the ceiling that the hens can reach. Don't put out too much of this type stuff at one time or you'll draw rats or other vermin to the hen house. I also take half a car tire and fill it with grit for them to peck at and it's good for them too. I've learned from a Montana friend that about once a month she spouts greens in a cardboard box lined with a piece of plastic for her hens. Once the greens are gone dump the dirt in the bottom of their house and they'll dig in for days. My chicken house has a dirt floor and I put a 6 x 8 board on the floor and leave it for a couple days and when I remember too I turn the board over the hens find all sorts of bugs and worms that have gone under the board for cover and warmth. The hens love it and cackle their appreciation when they find something. These ideas are great when they're cooped up during a snowfall.

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  7. Rabbit Ridge, I've noticed spots in the dirt floor where they occasionally dust bathe... it wouldn't hurt to give them a special spot though! Thanks.

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  8. Rita, those are all great suggestions, thanks!

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  9. Love the suet muffins idea! Definitely going to try that!

    By the way, your photos are absolutely gorgeous! Do you do your own photography?

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  10. Thank you, Melanie. They LOVED the suet muffins!

    Yes, I do my own photography. :-)

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  11. I love all the changes you decided to try in an attempt to help your girls. Your readers have great ideas too! The recycled cat litter boxes look like they would work well as nesting boxes. Brilliant!
    Thank you for sharing this wonderful outdoor post on this week's Maple Hill Hop!

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  12. Thank you, Daisy. Our readers have chimed in with some great suggestions!

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  13. I don't know if you have a light in the coop, but a regular lightbulb (white) can encourage aggression. If you do keep a light, you might try a red or green light. They still provide some heat but don't mess with the stress of abnormally long (or never-ending) days according to their instinct. Hope that makes sense. I need more coffee.

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  14. That makes a lot of sense, Lady Locust. I don't have a light in my coop - I don't have electricity out there - but it's a good reminder to others too so thank you for mentioning it.

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  15. I know so many people who keep chickens will find this post so helpful, Kathi! I've pinned it to my Sustainable Living board on Pinterest. I didn't realise hens could hurt each other like that. I'm always interested to learn more about things like this. Thank you so much for bringing your post to the Hearth and Soul Hop.

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  16. Thank you, April. Yes, chickens can be ruthless to each other in some circumstances. I hope this will help someone.

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  17. Really interesting. We have roosters in our coops, so I really wouldn't know if someone was getting picked on. My biggest issue is the guineas pulling out feathers, so I'm working on building enclosed pens so they can't fly in and torment the chickens.

    Thanks for sharing on the Homestead Blog Hop. Your post has been selected as one of this week's Featured Posts. Feel free to stop by and grab a Featured button to add to your post. http://www.notsomodern.com/homestead-blog-hop-70.html/

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    1. Thank you so much for the feature, Bonnie!

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  18. I love your "muffin" idea, I'm going to have to start trying that in my flock! Thanks for linking up with Front Porch Friday last week, and feel free to share again!

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    1. They REALLY loved the suet muffins, I bet yours will too!

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  19. I always learn so much from you and your chickens. Thank you!
    Thank you for also joining the March Country Fair Blog Party!
    Laurie - Country Link

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Laurie. I enjoy your very-different hop.

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    2. Thank you, Laurie. I enjoy your very-different hop.

      Delete

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