Chickens enjoy foraging. They eat whatever they can get their beaks on. They are, after all, omnivores. Haven’t you noticed they digest most fruits, veggies, nuts, and meats? They will not stress their keepers in making dietary choices. But here’s something worth pondering. Why do chickens eat feathers?
Is it normal for chickens to eat feathers?
Chickens eating feathers is a common sight. But that doesn’t mean it’s normal. Eating feathers isn’t something to expect in robust chickens.
There is a social hierarchy among chickens. It’s called pecking order. Chickens lightly peck each other to form this order. And who will peck at the feathers of those in the lower orders? Of course, the top hen.
Don’t confuse feather pecking with feather plucking. The latter is when chickens pull out their feathers. But they don’t eat them.
Have you noticed some of your pets having bald spots? Are there half-eaten feathers lying around? These are signs that your pets practice pecking. But don’t panic so soon. Take some time to investigate more.
Pecking among chickens isn’t usually a serious issue. Chickens at the bottom of the social order will simply flee if they get annoyed. The problem mostly arises when they’re kept in an enclosure. Cannibalism may occur.
But feather pecking can also happen among free-range chickens. It can also exist in commercial barns. Or even in large-scale free-range settings.
What causes chickens to eat feathers?
Feathers are not something chickens will consume randomly. There are some reasons behind this. You can find some of them below. Assess which of these might be the case if you see your pets feather pecking.
High temperatures contribute to feelings of discomfort in chickens. Heat stress is something they can’t tolerate. So, they become prone to pecking.
Keep in mind that chickens lack sweat glands. Their feathers also prevent a cool breeze from cooling their skin. Hence, it’s more challenging for them to lower their body temperature naturally.
Nobody likes to stay in a congested area. Isn’t it uncomfortable? Chickens feel the same. Your pets deserve enough room to remain comfortable.
Unruly behavior might result from discomfort. Your chickens may become more competitive as a result. And who do you expect to take the lead? Those who rank higher, of course!
What are these chickens of high rank capable of? They can keep the lesser from getting access to food and water. So, they peck their feathers. Sometimes, these weaker creatures become cannibalized.
Extreme or Excessive Light
Intense light can make your hens cannibalistic. Do you think they’d like long light exposure? The constant brightness wears them out. So, they get stressed.
Even people are capable of acting up under stress. Chickens as well! They may behave aggressively toward one another. One behavior they might exhibit is feather pecking.
Your chickens need a healthy diet, just like you. So, make sure they get it. Don’t forget to supply them with plenty of water, too. They can get hostile without these.
Feathers are rich in protein. What happens if their diet is deficient in protein and other necessary nutrients? They will resort to feather pecking.
Chickens also know how to supplement their diet. After all, they’re foragers. And again, you know what the bitter truth is. Cannibalism could result from this practice.
Death or Injury
Red has a strong attraction to poultry species. And chickens are not an exception. Do you believe they’ll feel pity like you if they see an injured chicken? Most likely not!
Chickens become more excited when they see blood. They’ll approach and start pecking at the victim. Why is this so? Their goal is to advance in their social hierarchy. That’s quite selfish, huh? But that’s how it works.
It’s not always ideal to combine chickens of varying ages, sizes, and breeds. It disrupts the social structure of the flock. You’ll confuse your beloved pets if you do this.
Additionally, intermingling different-trait chickens also encourage pecking. Here’s how it happens. Crested chickens can bully and peck at others lacking these characteristics. Bearded fowls likewise peck at those others who look differently.
You know how it feels to be confined. Boredom isn’t something easy to deal with. The same holds valid with chickens. They naturally like to free range. It’s their forte, after all.
Chickens also enjoy being amused. You don’t want to see them getting bored, right? They are more likely to exhibit behavioral problems. These can include feather pecking.
How to Stop Chickens from Eating Feathers
Ensure enough space
Overcrowding breeds rivalry. So, ensure that your chicken coop is large enough to fit all your pets. Give your chickens enough room to fly about. Otherwise, they will fight for food and water among themselves.
Also, make sure that you have an adequate number of feeders. The same is true for waterers.
A sufficient amount of ground or floor space is also essential. Your chickens should have enough room for roosting during the day. Split up huge flocks if needed. Provide each one with separate shelter and fencing.
Provide proper nutrition
Are your chickens given a well-balanced diet? Review the diet of your flock. Are they consuming enough protein? Ensure that you’re supplying them with a good quality feed with enough protein.
The table below shows how much protein is needed by chickens as they grow:
|Chicken’s Age||Amount of Protein Needed|
|Day 1 – 6 weeks old||20%|
|7 weeks – laying age||17-18%|
Chickens going through molting also need more protein. So how can you feed them well? You can still offer them the same chicken feed. Then provide them with protein-rich treats.
Here are some protein-rich foods you can offer your chickens:
Make sure the coop temperature is comfortable
It is generally recommended that you maintain a 95°F temperature. This is for the first week following hatching. Then, slowly adapt to the temperature outdoors. You can lower it to 5°F every week until it reaches 70ºF.
To measure the temperature, simply check it directly beneath the heat source at the height of your chickens’ backs.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to heat the cage uniformly. Your chickens can regulate their body temperature. They can reposition themselves about the heat source as necessary.
|Chicken Age/Stage||Recommended Temperature (°F)|
|Day 1 (1st week)||90-95°F|
|2 weeks old||85-90°F|
|3 weeks old||80-85°F|
|4 weeks old||75-80°F|
|5 weeks and older||70-75°F|
|Adult chickens||Adjust according to external temperatures|
Keep your chickens entertained
Give your pets some toys to keep them occupied. Pecking has been known to be redirected by stringed enrichment tools. Maintain their interest by occasionally moving or switching these tools.
Consider some ideas to pass the time. You might try hanging some healthy snacks. Another choice is to suspend sparkling objects, such as CDs. Are you creative? Construct swings and perches. They enjoy taking off, remember?
- Hanging Treats: Suspend fruits or veggies like cabbages.
- Dust Bath: Provide a sandbox or dirt area.
- Chicken Swing: Set up a swing in the coop.
- Mirror: Place a safe mirror in the coop.
- Treat Balls: Balls that dispense treats.
- Foraging Area: Patch of land for digging.
- Puzzles & Toys: Simple DIY or purchased toys.
- Music: Play soft tunes occasionally.
Allow your chickens to roam
Here’s another way to prevent boredom in your pets. Let them freely move around. But always make sure they are secure. They can eat insects and bugs as they free-range. These include a lot of protein and other essential nutrients. Free protein resources right there!
Chickens naturally search for their food. Engaging in this typical foraging behavior also helps lessen their boredom. If not, they can peck at the other chickens in the coop.
Offer just enough lighting
Too much light is not healthy. Avoid using bulbs that are more than 40 watts. An exemption would be to heat their home with infrared lamps. Red bulbs are also good alternatives.
Also, give your pets light not longer than 16 hours a day. Even laying hens need the same amount. Do you leave the lights on 24/7 to make them lay eggs all year round? That’s also stressful for chickens. Give them a break, too!
Visit your vet
Note that every situation may be different. So, it makes sense to contact a veterinarian. They can help identify the precise conditions that lead to feather picking. This will enable you to act appropriately.
Investigating feather eating is necessary. It can be easily confused with cannibalism or simple pecking.
Keep any injured birds away from the flock, though. Separate cannibalistic chickens, too. This step stops bullying and prevents additional harm.
Will chicken feathers grow back?
Feathers serve different uses for your chickens’ health and well-being. Are you anxious if your girls will have these bald patches forever? Don’t worry. They won’t always look unsightly. They’ll grow these natural supports again.
Chickens are resilient creatures. So yes, their feathers will grow back. Some chickens immediately begin to develop their feathers. But some will hold off until the molting season.
Look at high-production chickens. They do not regrow feathers immediately. This is because they’re using every available resource to lay eggs.
You won’t have to wait long, though. Don’t be alarmed if the molting season is still a while off. There are several actions you can take to hasten the process.
One option is to feed them a high-protein diet. Chickens require a lot of protein to develop strong feathers. You might also try giving them vitamins for growing feathers. They will quickly grow solid and lustrous feathers thanks to these.
Eliminate any stressful situations as well. Ensure they are always at ease. Stress can impair any physical development, even in chickens.
Why do chickens eat feathers? You’ll undoubtedly ponder long and hard about this habit. Are you failing to feed them enough? Have they become insane? Yes, chickens can eat feathers. Ensure that you know the causes. Be aware of how to deal with this bad behavior if you notice it among your flock.
Joseph Hudson has been raising chickens for over 15 years. In 2018, he completed the Agriculture & Natural Resources program at Mt. San Antonio College. He currently raises over 1400 chickens on his 7.5-hectare farm. He keeps sharing his experience on raising healthy and happy chickens on Chicken Scratch.