William Powell Country

Back Garden Chicken Keeping Series
Issue 4

At Home

Article written by 09 August 2012

A regular question I get asked at Warwickshire Chicken Coop is how to stop my hens from pecking one another.

Sadly pecking is a common problem and if not nipped in the bud, the consequences can be fatal. Nine times out of 10, pecking is caused by bad husbandry and management of your hens.

It is essential not to overcrowd the hens. The majority of pecking will occur during the day when the hens are in their run. The run must be big enough so each chicken has enough space to keep it occupied, and enough room to run away from one another if necessary. Whilst hens do not need much room in their coop, you must try and give them as much room as possible during the day.

They also need natural light and activities to keep them occupied. Here are some of my favourite tips for keeping your chickens busy:

  • hang up cabbages or corn for them to peck at. This is a great way of getting  fresh vegetables into them and will provide them with hours of entertainment
  • provide them with objects to jump on and off, anything will do as long as it’s not sharp, but some suggestions include; upturned flower pots, straw bales, homemade perches, small tables and chairs and large logs
  • hang up CDs for them to try and peck at. The CDs will catch the light, which is fascinating to chickens. Sticking bits of tin foil along the side of the coop or fence will also have the same effect
  • give them a galley pot of grit and a rabbit drinking bottle filled with vitamins and water to investigate. The colourful pot filled with grit will entertain them, and the drinking bottle will not only keep them intrigued, they will also get drip fed with extra vitamins.

If you still have a problem with feather pecking, you will need to isolate the ‘bully bird’. There is often a ‘gang leader’ who encourages the others to start the pecking. By separating the bully bird, hopefully the problem will reduce and disappear. Only when has it stopped should you introduce the bird back into the flock.

Another solution is to fit a ‘beak bit’ to the bully bird, which prevents her from closing her beak enough to grab feathers. She can still eat or drink perfectly normally, but it is uncomfortable for her initially. In a few days, she will get used to it but it should only be removed once the pecking has stopped and the problem has ceased.

Remember, hens are cannibalistic, and the slightest taste or sight of blood will encourage them. I have even heard of chickens being pecked to death, so make sure any blood or pecking sores are covered with anti-feather pecking spray, Stockholm tar and/or septi cleanse purple spray aids healing straight away.

I commented that 90% of the time birds peck because of mismanagement. The other 10% is often down to breeding; some birds in particular are known to feather peck; legbars and columbines especially. So if you are planning on having one of these birds (and they are popular because they lay blue eggs) make sure you start on the right foot, but giving them plenty of things to keep them entertained.

Jenna Jack

Owner and director of Warwickshire Chicken Coop "We are a family run business who is passionate and knowledgeable about all things chicken! Our love of chickens started when we had four in our own back garden to supply us with daily eg.. Read more.

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