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Reducing Injurious Pecking in Free Range Egg Production

Pecking, as everyone knows, is natural for birds. Injurious pecking though can be a sign of stress, boredom, or overcrowding. This can have a detrimental effect on egg production and overall flock health. This article provides methods to reduce injurious pecking from the poultry experts at Vencomatic UK.

Injurious Pecking (IP) is a term to describe any behaviour of a bird towards another involving a pecking action that causes injury or discomfort to another bird.

From the Start

There does seem to be a definite link between the quality of the pullets and aggressive behaviour. Make sure you source pullets from a reputable breeder and if possible, although hard to achieve, source pullets that have familiarity to the system they will be living in. It is also important for the birds to feel comfortable with people as not to increase stress when system maintenance is required.

Free to Range when Possible

We are all very aware that the birds love to range but they also need coverage as they would in the wild to evade predators. Doing so promotes natural behaviour and reduces stress for the flock.

Are Certain Breeds More Prone?

It has always been assumed that certain breeds may be more prone to IP, although through experience from Vencomatics poultry experts we believe this not to be the case. This said considerations have to be made for different breeds such as light intensity and choice of enrichment.

Can it be Ignored as Natural Behaviour?

Feather pecking is considered by some to be a natural behaviour, derived from cleaning and foraging. Injurious pecking can occur when the birds don’t have the opportunity to naturally forage, not offered a balanced diet, or are denied enrichment.

Problems with Changing the Feed

With feed prices going sky high many farmers are considering using cheaper feeds to save money. We recommend that this isn’t done as it is important that the flock has feed consistency throughout their lives. If you must change feed, add it slowly in conjunction with their regular feed as it will reduce stress and confusion in the birds. The most important rule is to never let your birds go hungry as the stress from this could cause IP.

Poor Health is a Leading Factor Contributing to Injurious Pecking

Although poor health caused by stress can be a multifaceted issue with many causes it is imperative to reduce stress wherever possible. Lighting is important, light ingress attracts birds to areas leading to overcrowding, smothering, and increased stress. Avoid huge differences in light brightness, for instance dim down the nest box lights once the birds are familiar with the laying process, making the birds less likely to vent peck, eventually turning the nest box lights completely off if at all possible.

Perch height is vital as not to allow for vent pecking. Perches must be set not to facilitate this behaviour. Dry and friable litter provides distractions for the birds as they can scrat and dust bathe, reducing IP.

Climate Control and Stability

Shed temperature is critical as stress can be caused from changes in their environment. Installing a heat exchanger can provide a constant temperature as well as benefiting litter quality as previously discussed. Ammonia can also lead to stress and is important to be monitored and removed to achieve safe levels. Regular manure removal, good ventilation, and ammonia scrubbing will reduce the ammonia in the shed.

Parasites and Turnaround

Parasitic worms and red mite can cause huge amounts of discomfort for the flock. It is critical that preventive measures and treatment are carried out by a reputable company. You can also install smart perches, such as the Miteperch, which reduce red mites for perching birds.

In summary

Monitoring the birds is vital to making sure they are healthy and at low stress levels. Use of enrichment tools are important to making sure that the birds are not bored which can lead to IP. Time spent with the birds and following basic guidance and always asking for advice are now the norm, always being “proactive” and not “reactive” will be the key.

For more information or advice contact the team on 01845 521 360 or send us an email.

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