Chicken Health / Chickens

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

The girls’ chicken saddles arrived last Friday, and it took me two evenings of working myself up before I got up the courage to put them on.  I haven’t handled the chickens much since they were chicks.  I run my hands over them while they roost in the evening at times, just feeling their shape and reassuring myself of their general health.  I shine a flashlight near their vents every couple of weeks checking for mites or other creepy-crawlies.  But, other than lifting Phoenix and Little White from the nest boxes back onto the roost each evening, I don’t usually pick them up or unfold their wings.  I was nervous to do so, but I knew it just meant a weakness in my husbandry.  No teacher like experience; time to bite the proverbial bullet.

So, last Sunday evening, I armed myself with a handful of chicken saddles in several medium sizes and made my way up to the coop about twenty minutes after they typically roost.  Not only Penelope was in need; by the time I had saddles in hand, Olive and Rosie were looking a bit worn as well.  I closed up the pop door, and to reduce general panic and allow myself better light, I took one bare-backed girl at a time outside to sit with me on a lawn chair and see about a saddle.

I had ordered a couple medium saddles which would fit most of my girls, a wider saddle in case Henny ever has such difficulties, and a smaller saddle for pullets or Phoenix.  Since I didn’t have three narrow saddles, I put the medium-narrow saddles on Rosie and Olive and a wider saddle on the slightly more robust and more worn Penelope.  None of them seemed to appreciate my effort, to put it mildly.  Olive put up such a fuss that she actually got away from me and honked around the yard until I opened the coop, let her hop back in, and recaptured her to start over.  I followed the directions in the video on the seller’s website.  In the end, they were all saddled, if a bit ruffled.  It was easiest to put on the saddle I had ordered with snaps, so I would certainly prefer those in the future.

The “butterfly” shaped saddle seems to be the least mussed by day-to-day chicken activities.  Once the initial stress of being handled was over, they have not seemed bothered by their saddles at all this week.  I am a bit concerned that their inability to dust bathe or preen their backs for an extended period of time will be a problem, but after a bit of checking, it seems that folks leave on saddles for up to two months to allow feathers to regrow.  All in all, the saddles are working out.  Backs are being saved.

Beards have not been so lucky.  Neither, for that matter, have hackle feathers.  Somebody out there is plucking feathers from their kin’s chins.  Two of the six bearded ladies out there are now beardless, both Olive and Penelope, and Lazzie looks awful – somebody has pulled out chunks of his hackle feathers around his neck.  I suspect the Silver Ameraucana cockerel, but I have no proof.

“Discontent is the first step in the progress of a man or a nation. ” – Oscar Wilde

The feather-picking is really irking me.  I haven’t yet decided on my course of action.  If any of you have dealt with this before, your insights would be greatly appreciated. 🙂

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16 thoughts on “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

  1. The girls look so pretty in their new outfits!! Nice colors!

    About the feather picking — are the feathers in areas that the chickens can reach themselves? Does it look as if it could be self-inflicted?

  2. Oh they look cute! I have one hen with a little saddle at the moment too.

    Practice makes perfect with the handling. The first year we had chickens, they were older when we got them and not particularly sweet tempered and they hadn’t been handled. When I tried to pick them up, they just screamed and flapped. Keeping their wings tucked in and a good confident hold on them is the key (even if you don’t feel confident), they settle down once they know they are safe.

    As far as feather pecking, we have had the same here about 3 years ago, it was worse in winter when they aren’t going out as much and some breed are worse than others for doing it, the Easter Eggers were the worst and some chanteclers. Don’t feel bad as an owner, it is irritating, embarrassing even, and you feel bad for the chickens but it’s not you doing it! There are a couple of possibilities and it could be a bit of both.

    1) They are bored, and need to pick at something, hanging cabbages up and things for them to pick at may help if they are in confined quarters. Throwing down scratch or food so it is not all in one feeder helps, takes them more time to find it.

    2) They are missing something in the diet. If they are eating protein and mineral rich feathers, it can be shortage of protein (so you could try upping to a higher protein feed – I find with the heavier meatier breeds this seems to be the case), they could be short on minerals, make sure they have as much oystershell as they want (can even give them minerals in their water for a time). Or of they are after blood, they could be lacking salt, so a tsp in a few gallon of water may help too.

    Ours improved when we stopped giving additional light in the winter, they did it in the evenings when roosting, I think. When egg production was reduced and we had to run heat lamps for the worse affected birds mid winter, we realised it is for the good of the flock to “get rid of” the worse offenders if it continues. That’s what we did. Keeping density down in the coop helps but will not work if you have a chronic picker. Good luck. I hope this helps!

    • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I had considered the boredom and density. I’ve got 11 birds in an 8′ by 8′ coop, so they have almost 6 square feet apiece inside, a large run, and they range from about 2pm until dusk, so I thought they would be alright. I’ll try the hanging cabbages idea, I think. That should help in the mornings.

      It may be the mineral/protein issue. I’ve had them on a grower feed, which is 19% protein, with oyster shells free choice and apple cider vinegar in the water. I figured that the free-ranging would possibly dilute the protein in their diet, so the higher protein in the feed would come out to the 17% or so in layer feed. However, I switched them over to actual layer feed this week, actually, to see if that helped at all. We shall see. I haven’t been using supplemental light. Hmm, maybe I’ve just got a picker in there. I’ll experiment some, but yes, it certainly is irritating and embarrassing! I think a few cabbages, a mineral supplement in the water, and some additional observation are in order. Thank you for sharing your advice!

  3. The chicks we had from day one were handled and are more interested in getting petted. We got others a little later and they will not let you touch them at all. Although will take food from your fingers.

    You are so lucky not to have lost any to predators. We have now lost two. Got to catch that fox. Our neighbor shot one, but it was not long before another took over the territory. Sure do like to free range. They have a pretty fairly large pen, but always itching to get out in the afternoons.

    • I am sorry for your losses. We have definitely been lucky, and ours, like yours, are literally crying (crowing) to be let out in the afternoons. We hatched ours from eggs and they were brooded in the bathroom as chicks, but they don’t like being pet or handled. That said, they will peck on your clothing or jump onto your knee. More like cats than dogs, I think. They seem to like contact on their own terms.

  4. I took on 15 rescue Black Australorps that were severely feather picked… I’ve been giving them plenty of distractions, high pro feed supplements, and low light in the coop. I’ve got my fingers crossed, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to help these girls or not.

  5. Pingback: Layer Feed and Organic Scratch « Scratch Cradle

  6. Hello! I stumbled across your blog today (I’m an obsessive blog reader) and this one surprised me! I’m actually the owner of Louise’s Country Closet 🙂 Would you mind if I borrowed your pictures to add to our Facebook page? Your girls are GORGEOUS!!! I’m glad they’re holding up for you!

    • Sure! Your saddles are fantastic. My girls are the most stylish chickens in the county. They have been comfortable ever since I put them on, and your video was really helpful and clear. The snaps are a great innovation – downright easy to put on. So thank you for such helpful little chicken accessories!

  7. Pingback: Progress With Picking « Scratch Cradle

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