Feather Picking And Cannibalism In Poultry

Poultry love to peck and spend their day doing so. Toe picking and feather picking (cannibalism) are common vices in chicks and adult birds. Chicks tend to peck at other birds toes whilst adult birds peck at the necks and rumps of other birds.

Causes Of Feather Picking

  • Poor nutrition (lack of protein).
  • Lack of greens in diet.
  • Overcrowding.
  • Over heating the birds.
  • Lack of floor space.
  • Lack of feeding space.
  • Lack of drinking space.
  • Very bright lighting.
  • Increased daylight hours.
  • Boredom and idleness.

Action To Stop Feather Picking

At the first sign of feather picking, take action to stop this bad habit because the birds will continue to feather pick and once blood is drawn the birds will pick even more frequently and this could result in the death of the attacked birds.

  • Change the environmental conditions.
  • Provide more floor space.
  • Provide more feeding space.
  • Provide more drinking space.
  • Ensure better ventilation.
  • Cut back on the amount of light the birds have.
  • Change the lighting in the coop to red as this will make the blood more difficult to see.
  • Improve the birds comfort.
  • Change feed – from crumbs or pellets to a mash feed that will require more time at the feeder.
  • Give the birds more greens in their diet.
  • Free-range the birds as much as possible as this will divert their attention and also allow the victims to get away from their attackers.
  • Provide toys to divert attention such as scraps of food.
  • Hang a cabbage by string from the roof of the run or hut to provide a diversion. The birds pick at the leaves instead of each others feathers.
  • Remove the attacker from the group.

Alternative Methods To Stopping Feather Picking

  • Apply anti-pick ointments or powders to the birds, the taste is supposed to discourage further picking.
  • Mount shields or specs onto the top of the beak to obstruct forward vision – the disadvantage of this is that it can catch on things and come off.
  • Beak trimming.

Beak Trimming

  • Beak trimming is cutting off a proportion of the upper beak (last quarter inch).
  • The lower beak can be blunted but it must never be trimmed along with the upper beak because then the bird would not have anything to scoop grain up with and would starve.
  • The trimming is best done before the birds start to lay, preferably by 16 weeks of age but it can still be done at any age.
  • Chicks can be beak trimmed as early as 1 day old using a beak trimming machine.
  • Incorrect trimming can lead to mortality due to starvation.
  • Most beaks don’t grow back if trimming is done at an early age but in older birds it can grow back after about 6 weeks.
  • A beak trimming machine has an electrically heated blade that cuts and cauterizes at the same time to avoid bleeding.

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