Feather pecking and how to stop it

Occasionally we have customers ask us why their hens are looking a bit bald. There are a number of reasons why this could be. Here is a list of things to rule out:



Moulting is discussed in more detail (with pictures) on the Moulting help page. Generally, if the hen loses feathers from all over, it is likely to be a moult. If it is patchy, it could be something else. Feathers should be well on the way to being grown back within a month if it's a moult.



Broody hens pluck their feathers from under their breast so that they can keep the eggs which they sit on nice and warm. You can tell that a hen is broody from her behaviour - this is discussed on the Is my hen broody help page.


Hens are being pecked by the other hens

Simply watching your hens will show you whether this is the case or not.  Hen pecked hens tend to be bald and sometimes bloody on their back at the base of their tail (although this is not the only place). They can even have their whole tail pulled out.  If a hen is bleeding, she must be removed from the flock. Please look on the My hen is a bully page for help. 


Hens often self feather peck around their rear end if they're itchy from mites or lice. Check for mites in the house (as they don't live on the bird) by running a white tissue under the perch - red spots show their presence. For more information on removing these little critters, please look on our Tackling red mites page.
Lice are harder to see (but easier to treat) as they live on the bird and run around when you try to find them!  To be sure that she hasn't got any lice or mites, give her a good dusting of diatomaceous earth, clean out the house and dust it around - paying particular attention to nooks and crannies and make sure you put it on perches. Treat all of your hens as they might have some and not be so bothered by them. 
Calcium or protein deficiency
She might be pecking and eating the feathers to get more calcium. Try giving extra oyster shell, throw it around on the floor and put some in a separate tub too. She will appreciate the extra calcium to help her grow back her new feathers too!
A protein deficiency can be the cause, try giving them a boost with some cat food. This may sound a bit odd but they are omnivores!
If it's none of the above, she might have got into the habit of doing it. Try giving her something different to do, such as hanging up brassicas or sweetcorn to peck at or giving them hanging peck treats. You could try giving them some corn in a plastic bottle with a hole drilled in the bottom and hang it up so they have to work to get it.
Hopefully this will stop the baldness. If the hen is happy in herself, and isn't being pecked red raw then I probably wouldn't worry too much.

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