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Feather pecking problem

PUBLISHED: 09:32 26 March 2014 | UPDATED: 09:32 26 March 2014

We are new to keeping chickens. We built a run 2.5 metres x 1.5 metres x 1.8 metres high, complete with perches and nest-box, plus a bedroom area for them to sleep during winter. Our six chickens have now started feather pecking. We put this down to boredom and have extended the run to 4.5 metres, but are still having to isolate hens. Anti-peck spray doesn’t work, and we would appreciate any advice

Anne Perdeaux says:

Feather-pecking can be caused by boredom – and also by stress due to overcrowding! Commercial caged hens are allowed 750 square centimetres per bird, and your first run didn’t even provide that. The extended run is still barely large enough. The minimum is one square metre per hen, with two square metres each being preferable.

Feather pecking soon becomes a habit and has serious repercussions. Chickens are attracted to blood, and will attack a wounded bird.

Try to enlarge the run further, and let the hens free-range as much as possible. Separate wounded hens, but also remove the main bully to where she can see the others but not attack them. This will reduce her status and the flock will appreciate the break. Supply extra feeders and drinkers when she returns to reduce squabbles. Add a few distractions too. Hang up bunches of vegetables and maybe some old CDs – chickens are fascinated by shiny objects. Branches provide both entertainment and hiding places.

Dietary deficiencies can lead to feather eating - feed only good quality layers’ pellets, cutting out grain which can cause aggression.

If none of this works, you may need to reduce the size of your flock.

The run you describe doesn’t sound adequate. Chickens require a proper hen house with nest-boxes and perches. Not having a safe place to roost and lay their eggs can lead to stress-related problems – like feather pecking. To avoid a build-up of disease in your small run, you should cover the base with a suitable material (i.e. hardwood chips) which can be regularly cleaned and changed.

The Your Chickens bookshop: www.yourchickens.co.uk/bookshop has a good selection of beginners’ books on chicken keeping.

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