Theresia Lavergne, Claesgens, Mark A. | 10/4/2004 4:25:15 AM
"I have been getting quite a few phone calls about this problem," says Lavergne, who is an assistant professor in the LSU AgCenter’s Department of Animal Sciences.
"When chickens are stressed they may begin to pick feathers from other chickens," Lavergne explains, adding, "This feather picking can result in open wounds, bleeding and even death at times."
The poultry expert notes that feather picking is a form of cannibalism and can be costly to the poultry producer.
"It also is a vicious habit for poultry. Chickens, turkeys, pheasants and quail have been known to pick each other to death at times," Lavergne says.
Cannibalism usually occurs when birds are stressed by something in their environment, according to Lavergne, who says that once stressed birds begin picking other birds, open wounds develop and the habit rapidly spreads through the flock.
"If the habit gets out of hand, it is difficult to eliminate," Lavergne warns, advising, "Therefore, cannibalism needs to be prevented. Prevention is much easier than treatment, both for the birds and the producer."
Several stressors can cause poultry cannibalism, but Lavergne says the behavior usually is the result of more than one stressor.
Poultry cannibalism can be caused by overcrowding, excessive heat, insufficiency or absence of feed and/or water, dietary nutrient deficiencies, flock nervousness, overexcitement, incorrect lighting, sick or crippled birds left in the flock, mixing of different types and colors of birds, abrupt changes in the environment or management practices, shortage of nesting boxes or just meanness on the part of the birds.
"Prevention of cannibalism needs to be part of every poultry producer’s management program," Lavergne emphasizes, adding, however, "Unfortunately, cannibalism outbreaks can occur in the best-managed flocks."
The better the management, however, the less chance of a cannibalism outbreak, she says, while offering these guidelines.
"If a cannibalism outbreak does occur, stop it immediately," Lavergne advises, adding, "Identify the birds that are doing the picking, and remove them from the flock."
Once that’s accomplished, she says to review all of the management practices and environmental conditions to identify the stressor or stressors that are causing the feather picking. Of course, when you’ve identified those factors, take corrective actions.
In addition, Lavergne says you can apply "anti-pick" compounds, pine tar or axle grease to wounded areas to help stop the picking. You also may want to "keep the birds busy" by allowing them to go outside of their coop or confinement or by spreading greens or grass clippings in their pen for them to pick at, she says.