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Quick ways to manage pecking in your layers

Poorly ventilated units are a precursor to pecking and prolapse among laying flocks housed in congested and small units. [David Njaaga, Standard]

I noticed damaged and bleeding wound from the vent of my laying flocks. So far, I have lost two hens. What might be the problem? [Edwin Omolo, Kisumu]

Dear Omolo,

Pecking and prolapse are the major cause of hen mortality in laying flocks. This behavioural trait starts as a gentle peck or spruce or grooming of flock mates as part of socialisation. They naturally prefer tail feathers. In most instances, it is harmless behaviour.  However, during stressful periods, the pecking becomes more forceful and aggressive, resulting in the pulling of feathers and injuries. In special instances during egg-laying, part of the oviduct may come out with the egg a condition referred to as prolapse. The sight of red mass at the vent may result in pecking of the whole oviduct and part of intestines leading to internal bleeding and instant death. Here are risk factors that contribute to pecking and prolapse in laying flocks and the control methods.

1.     Parasitic conditions

Make sure your flocks are free from red mites, flea, lice and ticks. The presence of these ectoparasites on the head, under the belly, at the vent area may result into itching and injuries that will attract pecking by other flock mates. Spray your flock with appropriate acaricides and clean the units with aldehyde-based disinfectants.  Internal worms like Ascarids, tapeworms and Cappilaria spp. that invade the intestines may cause bloody stool that attracts other flock mates to peck the vents. Use Levamisole and Fenbendazole in a rotational programme to manage worm infestations.

2.      Presence of gut disease

Coccidiosis, colibacillosis and fowl typhoid cause watery and bloody diarrhoea and pasting of the vent. Ensure your water is treated with water sanitisers like chlorine tabs and hydrogen peroxides. All sickly-looking flocks should be immediately attended to by a vet.

3.     Poor ventilation and excess lights.

Poorly ventilated units are a precursor to pecking and prolapse among laying flocks housed in congested and small units. Compromised ventilations are common in two to three storey building structures with built up of toxic gasses like ammonia. Frequent sale of old litter is a major contributor to stuffy units and deteriorating health issues. Open the units or install vertical electric powered extractors to aid air exchange. Excessively bright light can excite the birds into frenzy aggressive behaviour. Dim your lights as much as possible and during the day, use shed netting to lower light intensity.

4.     Density and equipment specifications

With most of our commercial layer farmers going into cage farming, there is tendency to put more birds in limited space leading to overcrowding, and hence more aggressive behaviour. Limited access to drinkers and feeders and inability to access nests will result into birds laying on the floor leading to pecking of exposed vents. Provide enough space at 2sqfeet/bird and enough equipment as per specifications.

5.     Untreated beaks

Sharp curved beaks are good weapons for pulling feathers and cannibalising each other. They should be treated at the hatchery using infrared technology. If this is not available, the upper and lower mandibles should be cut by a professional technician at ten days of age and at six to eight weeks of age.

[The writer is Head vet at Kenchic, [email protected]]

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