Severe feather-pecking (SFP) persists as a highly prevalent and detrimental behavioural problem in laying hens (Gallus gallus domesticus) worldwide. The present experiment investigated the association between feather-eating and plumage damage, a consequence of SFP, in groups of free-range, ISA Brown laying hens. Single feathers were placed on the floor of the home pens. Feathers were sourced from seven different birds. A total of 50 birds in six pens with extensive plumage damage were compared with birds in six control pens with little plumage damage at 41 to 43 weeks of age (n=12 pens, 600 hens). Birds in pens with extensive plumage damage ingested more feathers (F=8.1, DF=1, 8, P=0.02), and also showed shorter latencies to peck at (χ
2=54.5, DF=1, P<0.001), and ingest feathers (χ
2=55.6, DF=1, P<0.001). Birds ingested feathers from a bird in the free-range facility, in which the testing took place, more quickly than from a bird housed in a separate cage facility (χ
2 = 39.0, DF=6, P<0.001). A second experiment investigated the predictive relationship between feather-eating and plumage damage. Feathers were presented to 16 pens of 50 pullets prior to the development of plumage damage, at 15 weeks of age, and then to the same hens after plumage damage had become prominent, at 40 weeks of age. Birds had a higher probability of ingesting feathers (F=142.0, DF=1, 231, P<0.001), pecked feathers more times (F=11.24, DF=1, 239, P<0.001), and also pecked (χ
2 = 127.3, DF=1, P<0.001) and ingested (χ
2=189.3, DF=1, P<0.001) the feathers more quickly at 40 than 15 weeks of age. There was a trend for an interaction, where birds pecked feathers from the rump more times than feathers from the back at 40 weeks of age (F=3.46, DF=1, 237, P=0.06). However, a lack of variability in plumage damage between pens in this experiment precluded investigation of the predictive relationship. The results from the present study confirm the association between feather-eating and plumage damage, and suggest that birds may prefer feathers from particular body areas and from particular hens. Future experiments should focus on elucidating whether feather-eating may act as a predictor of SFP.