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Feather loss

Moulting, Pecking and Feather Damage

Cause

Several possible causes:

  • Moulting is a natural annual process where your chicken replaces its entire compliment of feathers over a few weeks. In a moult you will see new feathers beginning to appear.
  • Stress such as extreme heat, water deprivation and illness can induce moulting.
  • Pecking by other chickens usually around the vent or on the back is usually caused by stress, boredom or protein deficiency.
  • Cockerels can damage feathers on a hens back during mating.
  • Mite or lice infestation

What to look out for:

  • pecking one another
  • bald batches around the head, back or vent
  • feather eating, sucking and pulling
  • a cockerel preferentially and excessively mating with one hen causing bald patches

Treatment

Depends on the cause.

Moulting

Administer Chicken Vet Poultry Multivitamins as this helps provide the bird with additional protein whilst it’s trying to replace its feathers (feathers are more than 80% protein). Administer in drinking water for up to 5 days, with fresh solution made up daily.

If dietary Protein deficiency

Ensure you are providing a correct and balanced diet; feed a good quality layer pellet from a reputable supplier. Provide additional protein to the diet via the drinking water in the form of Chicken Vet Poultry Multivitamins

If pecking from other birds is the cause then you can also provide additional protein in the form of Chicken Vet Poultry Multivitamins. The pecked chicken will need to replace lost feathers. The addition of Chicken Vet Oregano + in their daily drinking water for about 5 days will help - it can be given with Chicken Vet Poultry Multivitamins to calm the birds down. Oregano is a natural product that has a relaxing effect on birds.

Vent pecking

Vent pecking can lead to the offender causing severe blood loss and death.  This type of pecking starts out of curiosity and is non aggressive, however chickens like to peck at red objects.  When birds lay, their vents are often swollen and red for a few hours after laying.  This causes other chickens to begin pecking.

Vent pecking can be avoided by darkening the shed so the red does not appear as vibrant.  The light intensity in the chicken house should not be brighter than the minimum level at which a newspaper can be read in the shed. Painting the windows can reduce the light level too.

We would also recommend not letting the birds out until after 10am.  The chickens should have laid by this time and their vents will have returned to normal.

Aggressive pecking

Initially birds can develop feather sucking or pulling due to boredom. The main reasons for this are:

  • lack of space
  • unsuitable environments
  • being shut in for long periods or
  • ullying from birds higher up the pecking order

A patch of feathers in a certain area will usually be targeted.  If the bird draws blood or damages the skin then it will act as an attractant to other birds.

Aggressive pecking is instigated by dominant birds asserting their authority. It is often directed at the victim’s head and often consists of one hard peck, the victim retreats and so the natural order is resumed. Often this is a one off peck and isn’t a real problem.  However, this can get out of hand and eventually cause death and cannibalism in extreme circumstances.

Pecking can become a problem when new birds are introduced to a flock; try putting the new birds in a cage within the coop.  The other chickens can see you rnew introductions but not peck.  After a few days they can be let in together. Alternatively, add new chickens at night,carefully placing them on the perch.  Usually all the birds settle down with only minor upsets.

Other aspects to be aware of that can induce feather pecking are:

  • high light levels when spring approaches
  • poultry rationing needs top meet the nutritional requirements of the chickens

Chickens need specific levels of protein made up of a combination of amino acids and it is imperative these are met otherwise they will seek protein from elsewhere – the feathers! Chickens will pick them up off the ground and eat them, this leads on to the chickens plucking them out of themselves or their flock mates. 

Feathers are made up of 80% protein so they need additional protein during the regrowth phase. Ensure you feed a good quality ration to your poultry and do not make up your own ration or feed excessive corn and titbits, as it can lead to deficiencies and obesity. Low salt can also cause a similar problem.

Prevention

Prevention is always better than a cure; distractions such as cereal blocks, hanging up fresh greens, nailing up a Swede cut in half and giving the chickens plenty of area to range and forage will all help.

Chicken Vet Anti Peck Spray can be sprayed on the affected areas of pecked birds for 7 days as this has an unpleasant taste, discouraging the other birds from pecking one another.

If cockerel damage is a problem then it’s best to separate the amorous lovers and again give the suffering hen some Chicken Vet Poultry Multivitamins to encourage feather regrowth and aid her often slightly traumatic recovery.

 
 
 
 

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