This is the process by which chicken pull or peck on the feathers of another. This is called feather pecking. There is also the social hierarchy among chicken called pecking order, a kind of order of seniority or dominance which if interfered with leads to conflict.
Chicken can at times feather peck at each other. This may start as a feather pulling habit and later become a vice if the necessary steps are not taken into account to control it leading to cannibalism. For a start a majority of farmers may not be acutely aware of what their chicken are feeding on due to a multiplicity of poultry feed companies sprouting each day and with it, a host of unscrupulous business people whose aim is to make maximum profit at the expense of hard working poultry farmers. Such irresponsible business people for example cut down on their cost of production by not including all the necessary ingredients for growth and development of the birds. In very extreme cases some grind maize cobs only and sell to unsuspecting farmers.
This is a major cause of pecking in birds which make them start striking sharply at fellow birds with their beaks in a state of craving for the missing nutrients or because of the imbalance in their diets. The feed should therefore be properly balanced to ensure birds receive all their bodies require and prevent early ‘eating’ of other birds.
In certain cases farmers feed their chicken on feed that have not undergone proper grinding. Improper grinding with large grains easily leads to imbalance in feed thus aggravating the problem of pecking which is a very dangerous activity in the farm as it leads to badly injured birds and in many cases death. It is therefore advisable to adhere to correct feed formulation (if you are mixing your own feed) or buy your feeds from reputable poultry feeds companies.
Another anomaly that can lead to pecking among poultry flock is salt deficiency. Just like humans, poultry also need salt for acid based balance of the body. In feed mixing red salt is used and in the absence of this, we use ordinary human table salt rich in sodium chloride. This salt should only be added in very small quantities (refer to our poultry feed mixing manual) to avoid again having injurious effects on the birds. This imbalance therefore needs to be effectively managed to control pecking. It is also advisable to give small quantities of salt in water and to give the chicken greens to divert attention when the problem is under management.
Other causes of pecking are overcrowding, overheating, Excessive light, Inadequate nutrition, injured or dead birds left in the flock, intermediate flock size (flock to large for a stable hierarchy to develop or too small for a tolerant system to occur. A group of intermediate size birds then present social problems for the birds leading to incessant pecking and probably cannibalism when a lot of wounds are exposed), flocks of different ages and colours, abrupt changes and inadequate nest boxes.
When a farmer is faced with this situation it is important to segregate the victims and apply medicines to the wounds (contact your local agrovet or veterinary doctor for the right medicine). This is a key requirement in poultry house construction. Each farmer should give provision for a small extra house or room during construction for isolating birds which contract diseases or those that may be affected by injury due to pecking, mating among others.
It is also wise to add perches to the housing environment so birds are free to relax and avoid overcrowding and also dim lights at night to 0.5 tom1.0 foot candles.
Finally, cauterize (burn) the sharp edges of the beak with a hot blade to control injury through pecking. The birds which are aggressive and peck repeatedly should be de-beaked first.
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