When I got my hens last year, I spent a great deal of time – and money – building a predator proof run. It is about 12 feet by 22 feet, has a large, roomy house under a clear polycarbonate roof to keep their feet dry, a layer of small diameter weld mesh to keep wild birds & predators out, plus an extra layer of chicken wire around the bottom just in case. The ground is covered in bark chips, I have put up all manner of hanging ‘toys’, branches to roost on and baskets that I can dangle vegetation from…
Little did I know, the biggest problem would be the hens themselves.
About two months after we bought them from from Edinburgh Chickens our Light Sussex called Beauty died after a few days of illness, I think because she ate a piece of bark. To replace her, we ended up with a younger white Sussex, a Bluebell and a Speckledy, to join our two friendly Isa Browns and Bovans Nero.
Alas, one of them was a feather pecker
Seven months after they arrived, every single one of our hens has a bare bottom, with Elizabeth – the friendliest, most tame brown hen – having feathers missing from her chest, bottom, legs, neck and tail. Everywhere.
Every single one of them has nearly bare legs, bottoms, bases of tails, you name it, they pull it and EAT IT.
Yes, those insane chickens eat them. In all this time I’ve found fewer than 7 discarded feathers. They seem to particularly love eating the soft downy ones.
I have tried *everything* I ever found recommended.
1. Changing feeder & drinker – apparently bell drinkers & feeders tend to encourage bullying & feather eating.
2. Anti-peck spray; this stuff smells like the worst ash tray you can possibly imagine mixed in with creosote from a 70s fence in summer. NB; wear an overall, a face mask, cover your hair & wear double gloves. It takes AGES to get off your skin & clothes…
3. Purple spray: designed to disguise the enticing red flesh and protect from infections. NB my hens must be colour blind.
4. Beak bits: fitting these supposedly stops the too & bottom closing too well so they can’t pull the feathers. Erm…
5. Ivermectin drops: not officially used for hens but they are available for other species of birds (pigeons, parrots, etc) to treat many pests including feather mite. These beasts burrow just below the surface of the skin at the shaft of the feather & the bird very reasonably tries to get them out (losing feathers).
6. Minerals & vitamins: I’ve added all kinds of amino acids, vitamin supplements, oregano extracts, apple cider vinegar…
Not a single one has made any difference, although I suspect the anti-peck spray came closest.
I’m now on my final option: adding an extra outdoor run. My veg garden will largely be sacrificed, so that my girls get more freedom. Even though this is an extra £££, the electrical netting is about the only option we have, given our fox problem. I’m trying to balance their safety and their quality of life, so this is pretty much the last resort.
My aunt gave me a 50m fence which sags because the posts are too far apart so there’s extra ££ for a gate & additional posts, plus £££ for the mains energiser. I hope it works: my girls are worth it, faithfully laying an egg every single day even in winter.