The phone rang: “Help! All my chickens are going bald”. This has been a major problem since Noah confined his birds on the Ark. Major chicken headaches, such as our lead in picture illustrates with mites, are manageable. But do you also have birds pulling their own feathers and pulling each other’s feathers. Oh, what to do?
I wrote an article for a leading Chicken Magazine but they did not want to publish it, not because it was not true, but it would offend the advertisers who make all sorts of gizmos and potions for chickens with this problem. Since commercial industries are co-dependent and competitive in their products I will bow out and thank Rose Bowen at NRV News Publishing for an approach to solving this problem through this article. Big Ag Business take heed.
This is what happens in the life of a chicken. The first stage is the baby chick ball of fluff who starts to feather out in a few days. The first feathered out birds are males, females being a bit slower. This is a good way to learn to sex birds sold enmass at farm stores.
Soon everyone is feathered out and starting their own group- male and female behaviors become evident, which are separate and identifiable if you will take a few minutes each day; sit down with your birds and learn from them. This will also take your mind off of daily stresses as you move back through eons of time as a poultry raiser extraordinaire.
There are two groups of hens-female birds in the developing sexual stage of pullet egg laying: those that are normal and those that are not normal. The difference appears to be a hormone deficiency (my thinking) so we will say the normal group is #1. The non-normal chickens are group#2.
Healthy pullets have a rush of small eggs early in their life, small eggs at best. They are young virgins who are seeking a male to fertilize their future offspring and develop specific identifiable behaviors.
For example in Group # 1, there is a # 1 hen that is the first peck chicken. She can peck in dominance, without hurting another bird or any other hen she chooses. Some hens will peck a male, but in general what determines her status among the hens is the males courting her. Apparently she has the right hormonal essence that drives males wild. Within this coterie of hens is #2 bird that can peck other birds, but not # 1. And so on down the line, each hen having a “pecking order”. This was identified back in the 1920’s by a young scientist who gained his PhD for this published discovery.
I do not think the chicken industry will award me with as PhD over the following but I can wish…right?
Now PECKING is not PICKING. I was engaged in communication with a behaviorist in the chicken industry in Holland some years over this but I had a hard time breaking the Dutch/English understanding of the two distinct and separate words. A PECK is a closed beak quick pop against the other bird- a dominant gesture. A PICK is an open beak grab at a feather and snatching it out of another bird.
So we have normal birds in Group # 1 who just have a pecking order of dominance, the one bird lowest on the pecking order has the least male attention and usually has less opportunities for eating and grooming and generally looks like a “bag lady”. This is all normal and is reminiscent of all groups of animals including humans- some are on top and some are on the bottom- but they are normal people.
Now enters the mentally ill, dysfunctional, unbalanced hen chickens of Group#2. These hens that I label as hormonally deficient in some capacity of maturity are completely envious of the Group# 1 chickens. The Group# 2 birds are not thrifty, seldom laying an egg and just do not look right in growth. They have circular walking postures and darting in and out to snatch a feather of a Group# 1 bird. At night the conventional roost platform supports the # 1 hen and number #2 hen (etc) in alignment with the dominant rooster. These are his favorite girlfriends. But the rows of healthy hens are all facing east in the roosting poles to catch the first red rays of sunlight. All their butts are facing west. The Group# 2 bird, or birds, will slink about at night nuzzling the under parts, or backs of the Group#1 birds, and pick them clean.
This is where the comparison comes in about human females in Jr. High School. Remember ladies there was always, no matter where you lived, a clique of girls that were nasty, back biting, lying and scheming wenches the good girls tried to avoid. Their hormones or other brain functions were messed up but no matter what school you went to, they were there. Well with chickens it is the same thing. In the wilds of Borneo with original wild chickens on up to the present if you range feed your birds you will see these dysfunctional birds circling on the outer edges of the flock feeding in the field. These, God Bless the Coyote, are easy prey, and probably nature’s offering to the predators. However, the confines of the coop indicate very unhappy Group # 1 birds.
The attack point of feather pulling is usually at the vent- where the egg and waste is excreted. I will address backs of chickens in a few paragraphs once we dispense with these Group # 2 birds that need to be identified and placed in a separate run who are destined for Sunday dinner. You will note these Group # 2 birds do not pick each other but just mill around. Put them in the pot.
I would suggest from my years of working with children in a specialized foster care ideal, that the dysfunctional girls in school had a “Borderline Personality Disorder”; identifiable by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders # 4. (DSM4). I have yet to come up with a label for the dysfunctional chickens other than they are bad news and have to be separated from the norm. Perhaps Dear Reader may have a name?
Once the hen has a feather pulled it hurts and a bit of an infection sets in. This irritates the bird, so she starts to use the inside of her beak and shave her self down along the back to rid herself of the itch.
Once you have rid your self of the evil hens and rejoice about them for dinner you can help your disfigured birds with a hand rub of aloe. You can buy pure unadulterated Aloe lotion at your favorite Apothecary, or Wal*Mart in the drug section. It runs about $3.00 a bottle. This will sooth the red inflamed skin and feathers will sprout quickly-hopefully the hen has lost the habit of shaving herself. Keep rubbing it in. Tickle her under the chin. Try Chicken Hypnosis.
The first rush of pullet eggs is followed by maturity, then prior to fall time the birds start to loose their feathers and egg production nears a halt. This is normal and the feathers all regrow for wintertime. The winter feathers are heavier under down and warmer. This is why you, the home producer need to start your baby chicks about May15th, not in the dead of winter, or later in the summer as feathering time is important to the birds’ health.
Also you need to arrange your roost poles on a 45-degree angle a foot apart in height so that the butts are not easily exposed to the creatures of the night.
There is another reason why birds pick out their own feathers: that is mites.
Mites can be found in the nest boxes where the hens lay eggs. I usually use hay as a nest material, coiling it in a tube and making a nice nest for the hens. If I suspect mites I and other chicken raisers will buy a 5 lb. bag of .5% SEVIN dust and use ½ teaspoon dribbled about the nest. This works the best and is no danger to the birds that are grown.
Most likely the hens and roosters will pick up mites from outside in the beginning and bring them in to the roost poles. These very tiny insects that are bloodsuckers that come out of the roost pole cracks and crevices at night, climb up the birds legs and commence the blood sucking. Quite often in irritation you will see tail feathers pulled. Roosters are more stoic, and tough it out, but you can notice that their legs get scaly/scabby. Time for treatment.
If you have access to sassafras wood poles you will want to use them as a first option as insects do not like sassafras. The next option is to have a rain gutter, capped at both ends and ½ filled with kerosene. Rotate your roost poles with a dip in the gutter bath every week, especially in the warm seasons if your birds are ranged out.
The last option is to take a can of kerosene and a paintbrush and paint the poles-especially at the ends joints, or any dropping boards, or wall space that rubs on the chickens. There are various substances sold for this purposes, but some are or may be toxic if used with heavy infestations. Kerosene smothers the insects.
You probably have a floor scratch area and it may be covered in grass hay like I do. It is good to clean that out every other week as mites drop and hatch. The birds really need a floor with hay, especially in the wet and cold seasons as it helps them dry off. Another advantage is exercise. But eventually the chickens will pick the floor hay clean and leave only little stalks and chicken manure- keep it clean for healthy birds.
The male birds, the roosters, as developing poults are a separate distinct group of birds from the hens, both Group # I, and Group#2. Most of their activities is squabbling like young teen males and assuming who is the dominant bird. Their fighting is normal and not to get excited about. The “Cock-of-the-Walk” will be brightly feathered, aggressive: clearly the “boss”. He keeps the hens busy as he matures, commanding the most hens. From a reproduction count he can mount most all hens 12 times each in a day. Lesser dominant birds may acquire less valuable birds as their girlfriends, perhaps three or five. Quite often these less valuable birds are usually poor producers and refuse to come into the chicken yard in the late afternoon when you are throwing out scratch feed and getting them all ready for the nights lock up from predators.
My dog FUZZY and I would walk about the garden in the dark- I could not see a thing- and FUZZY would lead me to the less dominant rooster(s) and a few hens crouched down in the grass against the log retaining walls. So I would pick them up and move them inside the chicken house. This is where the small clip on colored leg tags come into play as you can mark the less desirable for Sunday dinner.
Chickens are fun birds.
COPYRIGHT: 2011, Back2theLand.com, Mark Steel