The last 2 weeks have been the most frustrating I have had with my chickens. I felt like Foghorn Leghorn, ready to grab a paddle, pick up a few bratty Maran cockerels and pullets and whoop their asses, shouting “I’ll spank ya where the feathers are the thinnest!”.
Like I have with all my batches this season, I grow my chicks out in my chicken tractors and I never had a problem. This time was different. It all started 2 weeks ago when I went to get all my birds out in the morning, everyone stays in the coop overnight (except my breeding Roos), some are separated in breeding pens. I went to get my Black Copper Marans and Welsummers out, (who all stay together in a breeding pen at night and the tractor during the day), one Welsummer had feathers missing off the back and a bloody sore. I immediately separated him and went about my day. A day or 2 later I went to check on the birds out back and found a dead Maran pullet with her feathers stripped off one side and her tail eaten off. I panicked, what the heck was going on! I immediately separated the males from the females, putting all the Black Copper Marans and Welsummer boys in one tractor and the BCM and Welsummer pullets in the other tractor. Everything was fine for a day or two then one morning I found a Welsummer pullet with feathers missing off the back and a bloody sore, I isolated her. A day later I went to check on the birds out back and almost all the Welsummer cockerels had large patches of feathers cleaned off their backs, a bit of blood and one poor fella had his tail feathers broken off or ripped out and lots of blood. I got in the car and drove out to the farm store and bought a bottle of “Stop-Pick” ointment.
I further seperated the birds, all the Maran boys together, the Maran pullets together and then all the Welsummers together (as the obvious offenders were the Marans). I slathered the Welsummers backs in the ointment (which smells like a dirty old BBQ), to prevent them from picking at each other’s bare backs and sores. For 3 days I slathered the Welsummers’ backs 2 or 3 times a day, during this time the Marans did not pick from each other. I put my Splash Maran rooster (Seamus), in with the Maran pullets. A day or so later I watched them for a bit and saw one pullet intent on pulling some feathers out of Seamus. I have isolated her and will do so for about 2 weeks, maybe longer. Then I will put her back in and see if she goes for it again, if she does, she’ll have to be culled. Some old timers will tell you that once a feather picker, always a feather picker, but because she is young I want to see if a bit of alone time will resolve her bad habit.
Now all is calm, the Welsummers are not picking from each other and the Marans haven’t continued with their bad behaviour in their new arrangement. My new issue is that I have 9 cockerels who won’t be filled out enough before December and I have no where to put them once they get bigger and the weather gets colder. I have had them on Kijiji for weeks, no interest, i can’t even get anyone to take them for free!
Lesson here is, plan for your cockerels, heritage breeds take at least 6 months to fill out to be table birds and in the Fall no one will want to take them off your hands. Rule of thumb, do not get straight-run chicks after May, this ensures your cockerels will be ready for processing no later then November. Any later and the cockerels are filling out in the cold months and their growth will slow down and they will not be putting on any fat.
At this moment, every inch of space I have is filled, and I am picking up 2 new BCM pullets on the weekend. I will have to make a tough decision in regards to these cockerels 😦
I’m not sure what started the whole issue, there are lots of possibilities. The interesting bit is that once the Marans were separated from the Welsummers, it all stopped. Maybe Marans don’t play well with other breeds, time will tell.
I continue to learn and I’m really looking forward to next season, because I won’t make the same mistakes I made this one, and that’s really the whole point anyway 🙂
P.S. Keep a bottle of Stop Pick ointment in your First Aid kit!