Chickens: dealing with the problem of bullying
Q - I had five Sussex Stars and two ISA Browns that I put together on the same day at the start of May. All was well until August, when one afternoon I let them out into the garden and I noticed that one of my ISA browns had feathers missing from her bottom.
The following day another two (Sussex Stars) had feathers missing and there was a lot of blood, especially on one of the Stars and her vent was really swollen. That day she also got an egg stuck half in and out, so my husband used some olive oil to remove it. I tried a variety of anti-peck sprays, and finally resorted to tar that I painted on their behinds each day. This seemed to work, except they were all ganging up on my little ISA Brown Sophia, who lost so much weight that I took her to the vet and he said we had to have her put down because she would never recover from her weight loss. Anyway, the problem I now have is that the hen that was badly pecked, and has not laid since she got the egg stuck, is now being picked on by the rest of my girls. She has grown all her feathers back on her bum but the others have pulled them out of her neck; they have sort of shredded them and she looks mottled. My neighbour noticed that she is also pulling out her own feathers. She also seems to have runny egg on her bottom - her bum is constantly covered in a wet white mess. She is separated from the rest during the day and I let them all out together before bedtime, but they chase her round the garden. She sleeps with them at night. She is eating well, but seems to have lost weight. I give them layers pellets, homemade mash with poultry spice in the afternoon and a handful of corn. They are wormed once a month and I put garlic in their water occasionally. I have checked for red mite.What am I to do?I have always wanted to keep hens, and so far it has been a complete disaster.Victoria Whyatt, via emailVR?writes: A continuous white discharge from the vent is a classic symptom for a disease called Bacilliary White Diarrhoea. This is caused by a bacteria called Salmonella pullorum. It is specific to chickens, so not transmissable to humans. If you try and treat it by getting some antibiotic from your vet, this will merely turn the bird in to a carrier, i.e. she will infect others, so it looks like you will have to have her put down. Most commercial hybrids have been tested for this disease (it is a blood test) and carriers removed, which makes it quite rare. Some of the more modern hybrids, such as Sussex Star, may not have been tested, so I suggest you contact the supplier to inform them. Sometimes the only solution for bullying is to remove the picked-on (and hen-pecked) hen and keep her separately - not ideal, but some people put some wire netting across the hut so she has her own space and the others cannot get to her. Hens will always pick on one which is a bit weaker, but if they get used to her being near, it will reduce the chasing round the garden. As far as they are concerned, if she is not with them during the day (and as they sleep at night and she is there is doesn’t count), she is not part of the flock and, therefore, will be chased away.The original pecking problem could have been caused by two things: 1) it is not nowadays sufficient for you to create your own mash; the nutrition of laying poultry has been most extensively researched, so you should be buying your, preferably, pellets (as they still look like food when they hit the ground) plus the birds could have been pulling the feathers due to an unbalanced mineral content in your home made food and 2) your feeding corn (maize) in hot weather. Maize is very heating and therefore good in cold weather, but not in warm weather when it makes the birds hyperactive and aggressive = feather-pecking.