Feather Pecking: 7 Practical Tips

Tuesday, December 13, 2022 at 4:05 PM

Feather pecking is a well-known problem in laying hen farming which often starts in the rearing period. Feathers are forcefully pecked and pulled out by other hens causing welfare issues and economic losses. Chickens naturally peck at the ground, however, they start losing their interest once there is nothing interesting on it, which results in pecking other chickens. The feathers around the base of the tail are pecked first which extends to the entire body. To detect feather pecking early, it is important to observe the birds regularly and check for missing feathers at the bottom of the back. The first signs are protruding down feathers and bushy tail feathers. If no measures are taken, the behaviour leads to severe feather loss with tissue damage. For the chicken, feather loss means spending more energy into regulating its body temperature, and as a result the feed conversion ratio increases. Bald spots and blood both trigger for more pecking and cause cannibalism that can lead to death, resulting in even more economic losses. A feather pecking outbreak is unpredictable and difficult to prevent because the problem is multifactorial, but these 7 tips will help to control the problem.

Provide fibre-rich feed
The feeling of hunger increases feather pecking behaviour. Eating feathers slows down the passage of food through the intestines which gives a feeling of satiety. Dietary fibre has the same effect and can thus reduce the motivation for feather pecking. To ensure the adequate amount of fibres, our website 123FEED.COM can be used which helps you to create your ideal mixing instruction. Based on your available ingredients and your local prices. Extra fibre can be provided using roughage like alfalfa hay which encourages foraging behaviour of the chickens and reduces the time that they can spend on feather pecking behaviour.

Feed the right levels of amino acids
Not feeding enough protein nor the right levels of amino acids stimulates feather pecking behaviour and cannibalism. To ensure that the feed contains the correct levels of amino acids, it is recommended to feed a high-quality premix such as Champrix layer concentrate 20% and to use our website 123FEED.COM for the ideal mixing instruction.

Lower the light intensity or use red light
Lower light intensity makes the layer hens less active and thus reduces feather pecking behaviour. Also, placing red covers over the lamps or windows reduces the ability for chickens to see blood and make them less triggered to peck. When lamps are broken, the light spots on the ground trigger the chickens to peck. Therefore, if you use lamps, make sure that they are replaced in time if they are broken.

Increase the ventilation
Feather pecking is more common in warm and humid poultry houses. A sub-optimal housing climate causes stress, which increases pecking behaviour. Increasing the ventilation lowers the temperature, ammonia concentration, and dust in the air. However, be careful to keep the barn draught-free. In hot climates, our additive Heat Champ can be used to reduce the effects of heat stress and therefore help against feather pecking.

Reduce competition
Because stress increases pecking behaviour, make sure there are enough nest boxes, roasting space, feeders and drinking space, to reduce competition. As a distraction use enrichment such as our Champrix pecking blocks, or provide alfalfa hay which is both distracting and provides fibre.

Reduce group size
Pecking is also used to determine the hierarchy. The pecking order have to be redefined more often in large flocks because they repeatedly encounter unfamiliar individuals. Which is why reducing the size of the groups contributes to reducing feather pecking.

Ensure biosecurity and hygiene
Lice, mites and diseases cause discomfort and stress and, as you now know, stress increases feather pecking behaviour. Check layer hens regularly on these problems and maintain a high level of biosafety.

Since feather pecking is multifactorial it can be difficult to prevent problems. It is important that all aspects are addressed, not only feed, but also housing and hygiene. Moreover, a good start is half the battle, so check the chickens regularly and intervene as soon as possible.