Feather pecking can be quite distressful for the poultry keeper, seeing your much loved hens peck out each others feathers. Why does this happen ? There can be several reasons for this...
Hens kept in an enclosure that is too small can stress the bird and they start to attack each other as they have nothing better to do, boredom sets in. The industry standard on outdoor space is a minimum of 1sqm per bird, this really isnt alot of space, try to give as much space as you possibly can, hens that have a large area to forage tend less to peck each other. To try and combat bordom you can try and hang a cabbage up in the run to keep them occupied. Also change your feed from pellets to layers mash, again this takes them longer to eat and therefore keeps them occupied for longer.
Lack of protein in the diet can encourage self plucking or eating other hens feathers, check your feed label to ensure you are feeding your hens on a minium of 16% protein. This can become a habit and even if a hens diet is changed and she longer needs extra protein she may continue to eat feathers.
Lice. Check for lice on your hens, these tend to congregate and lay eggs on the feather shafts around the tail feathers. Colombine Spray is very good for killing Lice on your hens.
Plain and simple bullying, when a pecking order is establised the top hen can pick on the lesser hens, sometimes this can just be a peck every now and again just to remind the other hen who is in charge. Also hen that are unwell can also be bullied.
New hens introduced to the flock -
This can be a tricky one, as your hens already now have a pecking order established. every hen knows its place in terms of feeding, roosting perches (yes they all have their own spot) ect. There are a couple of ways this can be done,
I would always recommend introducing at least two hens to an existing flock unless you only have one original hen. Have temporary pen set up where the new hens are kept apart from your existing hens but they can see each other. Place the food bowls on either side of the pen fence so they are eating together side by side but cannot get to each other. let them get used to each other for a couple of weeks then put them toghether.
Another way is to put the old hens in the temporary pen and put your new hens the the origanl coop, again where they can see each other. Then after a couple of weeks put them all in together. If problems are still happening, mainly with the hen top of the pecking order, just remove her, again keeping her where the others can still see each other for a few days then pop her back in with the others.
When deciding the time is right to merge the two flocks together, its best done at night, wait a good half hour after your last established flock hen has gone to roost and they all are on their own favourite spots then place the new hens in with them. The next day leave them a little bit longer than normal before you let them out, say around 10am to give them chance to get acquainted in a dim and calm environment.
Another tip I have heard about but not tried myself is to rub each hen with a clove of garlic so they all smell the same, then at dusk after the existing flock hens have roosted, place the new hens (smelling of garlic also) in with them, and then let them all out again next day together. This tip may be handy if you do not have a temporary pen available for your new hens.coops.
Cuts and blood will also attract a hen to peck, once a hen has cut that is visible she must be removed immediately, cover with Gentian Violet Spray, this is a purple spray that disguises the red colour and also has anti bacterial properties, once this has dried you should be fine to put your hen back with the others.
We also stock a large range of anti peck sprays, come in and visit us and we can advise the best way to proceed, you can also purchase on-line at www.regencypoultry.com