Chickens Losing Feathers: What Causes & How Cure?

Walking up to your chicken coop and seeing a mountain of loose feathers can be a terrifying sight. Fortunately, losing feathers is not always a bad thing.

There are many reasons why chickens can lose their feathers and equally as many ways to prevent them. Outlined below are several common reasons why your chickens can lose their feathers and steps you can take to mitigate this issue.

Annual Molting

Approximately twice a year, chickens will lose their feathers to make room for new ones to grow in. This is called molting and should not be something you should be concerned about. It is a natural process that helps chickens keep their plumage neat and shiny. It is a part of every mature chicken’s life cycle and can also decrease egg production temporarily.

There are two types of molts a chicken will go through: hard and soft. Hard molts are typically present in commercially farmed chickens as breeders often want them to molt quickly so egg production is not decreased for longer than necessary. A soft molt, however, takes place over the course of several weeks.

Changes in the amount of available light are a signal to chickens to begin the molting process. Breeders can expect their chickens to molt as the days get shorter once summer turns to fall and once winter turns into spring. As a breeder, you cannot stop your chickens from molting altogether. However, you can speed up the process by feeding them a diet higher in protein.

Brooding Chickens

balding chickens

A broody chicken is a hen who has decided to sit on and hatch a clutch of eggs. Regardless of whether the eggs are fertilized or not, the chicken will sit on the eggs all day and night with only one daily break to eat and drink.

When hens become broody, they will often pluck their own feathers out in an effort to have their skin make direct contact with their eggs. If this continues for a long period of time, it can have adverse health effects on your chicken. Luckily, there are several ways to stop a broody hen.

The first method is to take your hen out of her nesting box several times a day in order to try and “break” the broodiness. Watch out, though, as broody hens can become aggressive and attempt to bite you.

It is important to wear thick gloves while trying this method for this reason. If your hen is being extra stubborn, you can also block off her nesting box with a piece of wood, making sure she has no access to it.

After several failed attempts, your hen will most likely give up and the problem should cease. A final method is to put an ice pack or other cold objects in your hen’s nesting box. When your hen sits on the ice pack, it will lower her body temperature. This will then send signals to her brain saying she is not broody anymore and she will no longer have a desire to hatch her eggs.

Chicken Flock Hierarchy and Bullying

“Pecking order” is the colloquial term for the hierarchical system of organization usually observed among a flock of chickens. Chickens will usually compete and fight each other to move up the pecking order as chickens at the top usually control the rest of the flock.

Normally, this is harmless and a part of a chicken’s daily life. However, this can lead to intense bullying and hens are usually singled out as “punching bags.”

chicken losing feathers

Not only can this lead to your chicken’s feathers being plucked out by others, but open wounds as well. Once chickens see an injured flock member, they are instantly attracted to it and will continue to harass it. If you notice your chicken is being targeted by other members of its flock, it is important to take action right away.

You can spray tree pruning sealer onto any open cuts the chicken has to protect it and isolate the culprit for a few days. Once the culprit returns to the flock, they will be knocked down a couple of pegs because they are considered “new” to the flock and the problem should be resolved.

Parasites

The most common parasites found on chickens are lice and red mites. If left untreated, these parasites can cause feather loss in your chickens and keep them from laying eggs.

Mites can be found living in chicken coops and will often come out at night to feed on your chickens’ blood. Lice, however, live on your chickens and can be spotted easily by the naked eye. To quell this problem, purchase poultry dust from your local hardware of the farm supply store.

If your chickens are being affected by red mites, spread the poultry dust all over your coop to mitigate the issue. However, if lice are affecting your chickens, it is important to dust your chickens with the poultry dust s the lice can be killed.

To prevent parasites from returning to your chicken coop, make sure to keep it in a clean condition. In addition, always wash your hands before and after handling your chickens to stop the spread of parasites or other diseases.

Mating

chicken losing feathers on back

One of the most common reasons chickens lose their feathers is due to mating. When a rooster decides to mate with a hen, he will hold onto the feathers on the back of your hen, often pulling them out. This is commonly known as treading.

If your rooster has a favorite hen he only mates with, this can cause balding and become very noticeable. However, if your rooster has several hens alongside, this won’t be as noticeable and is completely harmless.

There are several ways to prevent your roosters from harming your hens through mating. An inventive product is known as a “chicken saddle” is a great solution to this problem. Chicken saddles are made from a canvas-like cloth and can be strapped to your chicken’s back to prevent a rooster from hurting a jeopardized area even more.

In addition, placing pine tar on your chicken’s injured skin will allow her wounds to heal and deter roosters from mating with her. This is because pine tar has a bitter taste that rooster’s do not like.

Stress

Another factor that is a big culprit when it comes to chickens losing their feathers is stress. Stress can be caused by molting, illness, an aggressive pecking order, the addition of new chickens to a flock, the presence of predators, and a new coop, among other things.

If you feel like your chickens are losing feathers due to stress, take some time to identify the stressor and try your best to remove it.

When you change your chicken’s environment, it is important to provide all the necessities your chickens need to help mitigate the stress on their bodies. This means providing adequate shelter, food, water, and a clean, well lit space.

By helping your chickens adjust to a change in their routine, their stress will be greatly minimized and it will lead to less feather loss as well.

Change in Diet

A sudden change in diet can not only cause your chickens stress but also inadvertently trigger a molt. This is a technique often used by farmers to improve the quality of their eggs, however, since this induces a lot of stress on chickens, this is now illegal in many places.

If you change your chicken’s diet, it is likely they will not be getting the correct amount of protein, causing them to lose their feathers.

chickens losing feathers on bottom

When changing your chickens’ diets, it is important to do so gradually. Start by mixing three quarters of their old food with their new food, and increase the ratio of new food to old food by a quarter every couple of days. Also make sure to feed your chickens high quality layer pellets, as these are high in protein and help produce healthy, happy chickens.

Summary

The key takeaway from this is that chickens will often lose their feathers as a part of their natural life cycles. This is completely normal in most cases, but if it persists, it can be a sign of a larger problem at hand.

If your chickens start exhibiting signs of stress such as labored breathing and panting, lethargy, diarrhea, seizures, or wattles, check to see what the stressor might be so you can eliminate it in a timely manner. If signs of stress are left untreated, they can often lead to feather loss.

It is also important to keep a clean coop and provide your chickens with good, clean food and drinking water as well as adequate space to move around. A lot of the times, these basic necessities are not met by breeders and are the key factor in why their chickens are losing their feathers.

If your chickens keep losing their feathers without a known reasonable cause, it is important to take them to a licensed veterinarian to see if there is another issue at hand.

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