Feather Pecking Update

This past winter, what with the snow and the day-after-day freezing temperatures, I fielded numerous queries about feather pecking, hen-on-hen aggression and red butts. My flock was not immune. The girls were inside for longer stretches than usual, and although my coops are generous in size, the hens saw too much of each other.  The usable space in the outside run shrunk to standing room only between towering piles of snow. Communal social activities, like dust  bathing in the sun, were limited to a tub, which was not as inviting, and certainly not the relief that a thorough group dust bath in the summer can be. You know how it is. Imagine a class of kindergartners who all get along well enough. They’re active and busy and supervised. At recess, they run outside and distance themselves from each other with individual, energetic activities. Now, take those same children and confine them in the classroom. Close the windows and shrink the room by half. How will those tots behave? That’s what happened to our flocks.

Over the long winter, Nancy Drew and Beulah pecked each other’s neck feathers out. Veronica offered up her neck for picking, so that it was plucked bare. Owly encouraged the other hens to eat the feathers at the base of her tail, so that they became shredded. I did what I could. The girls got greens to eat, extra roosts out of the muck and snow, and hard winter squashes to peck at. Still, by the end of the winter they were a motley crew. (Of course, there are always exceptions. Twiggy took no part in this mayhem, and remained as sleekly feathered as always.)

Now that the snow has melted, the hens once again have plenty of space in their yard. They get out a few times a week to free-range, and so their diet has become varied with bugs and dirt and growing things. As I expected, the feather pecking has subsided.

The two Red Stars, Nancy Drew and Beulah, have stopped plucking feathers off of their flock mates.



Veronica’s neck is barely visible through her feathers.




Owly will continue to look moth-eaten until she molts and grows new feathers. But there are no bare red patches of skin, so  we all ignore it. We have better things to do.



  1. I recently got some new hens, one year olds, from a woman who couldn’t keep them any longer. They had feather picking issues from being confined to a too small space. I’m happy to report that in their new spacious space, the picking issues have dropped dramatically and feathers are growing back where there were bald spots. The integration with my older flock has gone pretty well too, thanks to all the advice here. Thanks Terry!

  2. Hi, Terry! I just wanted to share my story that about 2 years ago I had a big problem with winter feather picking too. Several of the hens had completely bare bottoms and some even bleeding at times. I had to coat them in Blu Kote mutliple times to get them to leave them alone. It was a long hard winter and they were in so much of the time which I’m sure helped the behavior along.
    Then last winter I read about the need for additional protein in the winter for hens and that if they are missing that they will eat feathers to help provide that need. So this past winter I started throwing black oil sunflower seeds to them in the runs and lo and behold I had absolutely no feather picking this year. It was really amazing because in Ohio it go to 35 below for days on end and they were locked in their coop for an entire week with no outside exposure. (there were 16 of them). I still throw out a handful dailty to them and I have never had the problem again. This may not work for everyone as it depends on why they are doing it to begin with, I would imagine, but it worked wonders for me.
    I read a lot about chickens needing so much calcium for egg laying but never see enough about their need for a good source of protein as well. They are fed Purina Layena crumbles so they get the calcium they need, but evidently not enough protein.
    Anyway, just wanted to share my story in case anyone else wants to give it a try.
    Thanks, Terry for such a great site with so much information. I turn here often whenver I need chicken advice.

    • That’s great that you were able to find a solution. Sometimes additional protein helps to alleviate pecking, but it’s rarely the sole answer. Pecking is also caused by social and housing issues. A few caveats on those sunflower seeds: if you feed the ones with the shells on, the hens can get impacted crops. And, too much protein and you can cause kidney disease. It’s a balancing act, it seems like you managed to find the exact right balance! Also, re calcium: even with calcium in the laying hen feed (most brands include it, not just Purina), it’s still a good idea to offer free choice oyster shell. Some hens need more than others, and they’ll know.

  3. My beautiful Golden Laced Wyandottes are a sad group. It started being a problem when the rooster was in the coop. He kept the hens bare-backed. I was hopeful that when he was rehomed things would improve, however they continue to peck each other. It isn’t just one or two, they ALL do it. I have two Black Australorps in the group and they are fully feathered and neither pick on anyone or become picked on by the others. I have tried upping their protein, no joy there. They have plenty of room, and when we can we let them out to scratch and chase bugs daily. When this isn’t possible, they always get extra greens, grass, weeds, slightly wilted produce, etc. They also have constant access to a Farmer’s Helper Forage cakes and they also get a hand full of seeds, nuts and protein pellets between them almost daily.
    I am beginning to think it’s the type of chicken they are. Out of the coop, they truly resemble their dinosaur ancestors. Everytime I watch them chasing bugs, they remind me of the raptors in the Jurassic Park movies :-)
    When we buy more chicks, we will probably either get more BA girls or try some Dominiques.
    Wish I could stop the feather picking, but I doubt that they will ever change :-(

    • I also had GLW that were prone to pecking. I find that the hens that are the best foragers – the GLW, RIR and Barred Rocks, often are the aggressors when kept in pens, even generously-sized ones. You might want to consider reducing the extras in the feed. You’re supplying a very high energy ration, and that could add to their behavior issues. Try just laying hen pellets and veggies and see if there is a change. I’d also recommend the compost in the chicken run more than a forage cake for keeping them busy (there’s a FAQ on how to do this.) Good luck!

  4. Good to know that they aren’t feather pecking anymore! I guess they’ll just have to wait to get their back-to-school clothes in the fall. Until then, Owly and Beatrice will just have to be a bit froozy. They don’t care…school’s let out for summer!

  5. I have four 9 week americauna pullets and one in the group, who is not dominant, is a vicious feather picker. She can reduce the other 3 to bloody tails in a few hours. I’ve tried separating her in visible quarantine and reintroducing her and she was worse if anything. She is isolated now completely since she is too aggressive to reintegrate. She is very skittish by comparison and generally hard to handle. Is there something you can recommend to reform her? She is a lovely bird and I would hate to have to cull her if I can reform her. I can’t knowingly give away an aggressive bird…

    Not sure if it signifies she looks like she isn’t pure americauna compared to the others in the batch. Her body is smaller, different head shape, longer hooked beet, and her tail is like a ornamental bird (Sarama?) (but that might be because it has more feathers!)

    Any advice would be appreciated.

    • Usually the odd-man out is the picked on one, so what you’re seeing is interesting. She’s young for ornamental feathering to be coming in. Are you sure she isn’t a roo? Some ornamentals descend from breeds bred to fight, so that might be the issue right there. However, it could be management. Is there enough space? Things to do? Roosts? Things to peck at other than each other? I’ve written a lot about this. If you use the blog search button and type in a few key words you’ll find all sorts of management tricks for chicks. Unfortunately, pecking like this is extremely self-rewarding, and once established is very hard to stop. I know I didn’t give you a clear answer – rather there’s more to think about!

      • I know she is definitely not a Roo, by this age I would expect red in the comb and there is none, body is hen, not getting the tell tale roo legs. I doubt it’s space. The 4 girls are the only birds in a coop with run with lots of grass and bugs. Once upon a time had 15 pullets with no issues so I don’t think it’s space. The other 3 spend all day running and chasing insects and she bites their butts while they play. I’ve tried blue kote to cover the red thinking she was going for pin feathers but that seemed to make it worse. I’ve tried toys, and she is consistently afraid of them. 2 sets of feeders and waters and grit feeders.
        I’ve tried adding more protein to their “organic complete grower ration” and giving more high protein treats along with greens and that had no effect. I’ve read everything I can find on the topic and tried everything short of beak trimming and peepers (she’s too small for pinless peepers). I’ve tried separating and reintroducing 2 times now and the last time only 2 of the girls put up with her pecking but they took a heck of a beating and the dominant pullet isn’t stopping her from picking the other 2.

        • Curious! You certainly are doing everything right. I suspect that she’s from a fighting breed and also that she gets great satisfaction from doing this. Where did you get this group of chicks from? BTW, those “peepers” don’t cure the pecking. She’ll go right back to it when they come off, and they might not stop it to begin with.

  6. I got the 4 of these birds from a local hobbyist who likes to hatch out extra eggs from other local breeders. Their colouring suggests that they were not from a show breeding, since they are all slightly different with random combinations of ginger, brown, red, phoenix, black, penciling and spangling. They are so pretty. The 3 have slate legs and aggressive girl has almost greenish legs. I wonder if Cleopatra (my aggressive girl) was the product of an escape breeding. She is LOVELY. Eye makeup patterns like Egyptian, tail feathers and body like a Serama pullet but still has a beard like her sisters. I’d hate to cull her just because she is nasty if I can do something about it, I’d also hate to disfigure her by trimming her beak, especially because I’ve never done a beak trim before… but I’d rather trim then cull… Why are the gorgeous ones always jerks?

    • I wouldn’t beak trim. Interferes with eating and preening. I fear that what you’re seeing is Cleo’s temperament. Send her back to the breeder, who should be happy to get such a gorgeous girl.

      • That’s not a bad idea. I will see if they can place her. She might do better in a larger flock where her attentions are not focused on so few siblings… or with a flock of more aggressive birds who can hold their own. My only other thought is giving her to someone who only wants to keep one chicken…

  7. Terry, I read this (and your FAQ-linked) article about feather picking tonight because my chickens threw me that feather-picking curve ball. What I observed was my rooster aggressively targeting and picking a few feathers from the back of a hens neck. I’ve heard this racket before, (I assumed since all of my chickens are “teenagers” and due to begin laying in a month or so, he was just frisky) but this was the first I’ve seen it occur, and i think he ate the feathers. You did mention a rooster doing this, but do you have any theory on why, and if it is a potential problem? Jp