In recent years, some backyard chicken keepers have begun hanging feather dusters in chick brooders without realizing the dangers they pose until it’s too late. While the practice may seem harmless initially, and chicks look adorable snuggled underneath ostrich feathers, they actually create a serious threat of injury and death to chicks.
Keeping chickens is a novel undertaking for most of us and best practices for meeting their needs are not necessarily intuitive, but we have an obligation to keep vulnerable chicks safe from unnecessary and dangerous gimmicks, so let’s explore what’s behind this feather duster business and what makes it dangerous.
CHICKEN VS. OSTRICH FEATHERS
Ostrich feathers are used to make dusters due to their ability to create static electricity, attracting dust that clings to them when brushed.
A typical chicken feather is stiff and mostly flat because the barbs that branch off the shaft are woven together by barbules and hooks. Ostrich feathers possess flexible shafts with extra-long barbs measuring 3″ in length or longer.
The static electricity generated between an ostrich feather and a baby chick’s down combined with the long, wispy barbs create a dangerous entanglement hazard in a brooder. A single pirouette underneath an ostrich feather is all it takes to form a noose around a chick’s tiny neck or ligature around its legs or feet.
WHY MIGHT SOMEONE PLACE A FEATHER DUSTER IN A BROODER?
THE CLAIM: A feather duster “imitates a mother hen.”
The hen’s body heat provides warmth to her chicks, not her feathers. While her feathers can aid in trapping in air warmed by her body, the feathers themselves do not provide a source of warmth to chicks. A feather duster is not a make-shift mother hen.
CHICKEN KEEPING IN THE INFORMATION AGE
Families today keep chickens in backyards for different reasons and in different ways than in previous generations that raised them just as livestock for meat and eggs. They have become popular egg laying pets found in backyards of all sizes. As motives for chicken keeping have changed, so too has the way we share information and ideas, which is both a blessing and a curse.
We enjoy instant access to information at our fingertips 24/7 for every topic imaginable, but not all information online is reliable. Along with this evolution of purpose has come a fair amount of sketchy advice about how to care for them. Practices that seem harmless can go horribly wrong at the expense of innocent animals who rely on us to make the right decisions for them.
I encourage you to use common sense when making chicken care decisions. Ask questions and demand satisfactory explanations before incorporating any practice into your chicken care routine. Ask yourself…
- What is the objective for doing this?
- Is it necessary, helpful and safe?
- Is there a safer way to accomplish the intended objective?