Prevent & Stop Feather Pecking

Among flocks of poultry and gamebirds, feather pecking is a very serious issue that leads to as many as 220,000 poultry bird deaths each year in the UK. Feather pecking can be light and inquisitive (something that is not really an issue) or heavier and more damaging (this is where the problems occur). Leaving feather pecking unchecked can cause pain in the bird(s) receiving the pecking, loss of feathers, breaking of the skin and bleeding, which can lead to cannibalism and death. There are many methods for both the prevention and control of feather pecking, it’s a case of choosing which is best for you and your flock.

Prevention

When it comes to prevention, there is no sure-fire method of preventing it though implementing a few of these may go a long way:

  • A uniformed flock; one of the best methods is probably having a flock which has grown from egg to hen together with no outsiders added to the group. When it comes to adding some new blood, this should come in the form of chicks from the girls in the group. If an outsider does join the group, feather pecking may not be limited to just interactions with this bird; it’s a behavioural trait which spreads quickly.
  • Ample space and entertainment; the more space the flock has, the better. Poultry and gamebirds both benefit from plenty of room to wonder and investigate, as well as plenty of shelter for when the weather changes. Entertainment can play a big factor too. When it comes to poultry; hanging up CDs, vegetables and filling their space with objects to explore can make a big difference. For gamebirds, while you’re trying to keep them as wild as possible, utilize mobile feeders or feeder spirals to help keep your birds occupied. Beyond preventing feather pecking, these changes will keep your birds happy and healthy.
  • Light and sound; keeping their coop/sleeping area and nest boxes as light-free and soundless as possible will also reduce the likelihood of feather pecking. Hens disturbed at night are much more likely to peck at one another than ones who sleep all the way through.
  • Protein; some chickens may engage in feather pecking with the aim of eating the feathers as a source of protein. This is due to the hens not getting the protein they need in their diet from elsewhere. This can be achieved by using feed with good protein content.
  • Dust bath; there are few things that hens love more than a good dust bath.  Take some dry soil and mix in some sawdust and anti-mite powder. Use a tray or something similar as a base for it and install in their run.

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Control

When the first signs of feather pecking present themselves, there are a few methods for control that you can implement:

  • Debeaking; let’s get this one out of the way; it is a method but not one I’d recommend while there are plenty of other options available. Debeaking is also set to be banned in the near future for the same reasons why we won’t be going into it here.
  • Beak bits; Very handy when it comes to small flocks of poultry or gamebirds but not used on larger flocks as they require fitting individually. The beak bits clip onto a bird’s beak, stopping it from closing its beak completely. This effectively stops the bird from pulling out the feathers of other birds. These, however, are meant for short term use with long term use prohibited by UK law.
  • Anti-Peck Spray; these sprays are great deterrents for birds looking to peck at its fellows feathers as it makes these taste not very appetising at all. This should quell any feather pecking outbreaks pretty quickly. Some birds will be so determined to peck off another’s feathers that they ignore the spray. These birds are best removed from the flock and placed in solitary for a few days till they learn to play nice.