Up until a few days ago the chickens were easy pets – even easier than a dog. This week we learned that they can be relentless at picking on each other. I share this in case you are considering getting chickens so that you know what you might be getting into.
Warning: If you are squeamish, you may not want to read on…
The kids were playing outside one afternoon a few days ago and came running in to tell me that one of the chickens was plucking feathers out of another one’s tail. I had seen them do this before when feathers were loose and I told them it was not a big deal, just the chickens grooming each other. This time was different, they insisted, because the poor victim was bleeding. So I slipped on my boots and ran out to see what was going on.
At the sight of the blood, all of the other chickens became curious and began following her around and pecking at her wounds.
I knew I needed to separate them until I could find some more information about chicken first aid, but we had no extra holding cage. After looking around the yard for a few minutes, I decided that the kids’ plastic play house would work temporarily. I sent someone inside for masking tape, and we taped across the windows and doors. I knew it wouldn’t be secure for very long, but it worked.
First I removed the bullying hen from the group, thinking that removing the instigator would solve the problem. I could see that it helped to remove her, but the curious chickens were just not going to leave the injured one alone long enough to heal.
So I swapped them, and put the injured one in the play house. (That makes it sound easy… picture me 7 months pregnant trying to catch chickens that do not want to be caught…) Then I ran inside to do some internet research on chicken feather plucking.
I discovered that when new feathers grow in, they have a blood vessel flowing into the hollow base of the feather for a couple of weeks to nourish it’s growth. If the feather gets broken off before the blood vessel has retreated, the base of the feather must be plucked in order to stop the bleeding and allow the skin to heal.
Thanks to a very helpful youtube video, I learned how to remove the broken feathers myself. Though a second hand would have been helpful, I managed to remove the feathers by keeping her in a large plastic tub and holding her against the side so that she wouldn’t scratch me.
Five feathers later, she was no longer bleeding. I washed her with warm water and hydrogen peroxide and put her back in the holding pen. Around dusk I noticed she had escaped the playhouse (she figured out the tape was easy to fly through) and was pacing near the coop looking for a way to get back in.
I opened the door for her and she walked back and went to lie down in the nesting boxes. The curious chickens followed and surrounded her, while the bully stayed back watching. Several minutes later, not wanting to be left out, she rejoined the group. Hopefully the little flock will continue to protect her from the bully until she heals.
We’re not sure was caused the plucking to begin with, but some of the common suggestions I found were lack of protein in their diet or overly aggressive grooming behaviors.
It has been a couple of days, and the curious pecking still happens occasionally. But the injured chicken is healing and the rest of us all learned some new things about caring for chickens.