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When Chickens are Missing Feathers


It can be a bit unsettling when you notice one or more of your chickens are missing feathers. There can be many reasons for it. We have some helpful tips for understanding why your chickens may be losing feathers and solutions you can try to remedy the problem.

Causes of Feather Loss

One of the most common causes of missing feathers is due to molting. Molting occurs once a year in mature birds 16 months and older. Chickens will molt once a year, usually in the fall, losing their feathers from their head and down their entire body. Because regrowing new feathers places great demands on a chicken, egg production greatly decreases or ceases all together while molting. Molting can take anywhere from 4 to 12 weeks or more.

Feather loss can occur anywhere on a chicken. Paying attention to where feathers are missing can sometimes indicate what is wrong. Feathers missing on the head can be caused by molting, lice or aggression from other chickens. Broody hens will peck at their chest feathers. Random bald spots could be from parasites, bullies within the flock, or the chicken pecking its own feathers. If you notice that the vent area is missing feathers, there could be numerous reasons - mites, lice, worms, self-pecking, being bullied, or the hen could be egg bound. If feathers are missing near wings of the back of the hen's neck, this is probably caused by the rooster during mating.

In order to minimize feather loss, you need to understand why chickens lose feathers. In some cases, chickens may actually be pecking at their own feathers or they may be pecked by other chickens in the flock. Pecking is actually instinctive to chickens. They are curious creatures and explore by means of pecking. Chickens usually peck at items that catch their attention such as shiny objects or moving bugs. Chickens who live in too close quarters may become bored and start pecking each other. This occurs more often in the winter when they find themselves spending a lot of time in the hen house. To avoid overcrowding, plan for each chicken to have approximately 10 square feet of space.

There is a pecking order in every hen house. Hens determine their order within the flock by pecking one another. There are some bullies who will continuously peck at other chickens even after the hierarchy has been established. Chickens are attracted to the color red. If a chicken becomes injured and is bleeding, it can be seriously injured by other birds in the flock who will peck at the red blood. Injured chickens need to be moved away immediately from the flock for their safety. Over-mating can also lead to hen pecking. To eliminate this problem, a flock should have eight or more hens to one rooster. You can also purchase a poultry block, which allows the pecking to occur elsewhere.

If your chickens seem to be pecking at their own feathers, this may be a symptom of external parasites. Mites and fleas, common parasites, live in the cracks and crevices of the chicken coop near roosts and inside nesting boxes. At night, they suck the chicken's blood and irritate their skin which leads to pecking at these sensitive spots. Lice can also be a nuisance. Lice eat dead skin and other debris such as feather quill casings where the feathers meet the skin which causes itching and a burning sensation. Chickens try to combat the discomfort by feather pecking. Monthly inspections of each chicken within the flock can help identify parasites. Another cause for pecking is worms. If you suspect worms, see your veterinarian for a diagnosis and treatment.

Growing Feathers Back

Is there anything that can help chickens grow their feathers back? While you can't speed up the natural process, there are some things that you can do to create the best environment for your flock:

  • Maintain your chickens' living space - clean the coop, roost, and nesting boxes regularly.
  • Provide dietary protein - Make sure your chickens have a diet rich in protein. Offer protein-rich treats such as meal worms and sunflower seeds in moderation.
  • Prevent boredom - Keep your chickens happy and busy so they don't get bored and start to peck each other. Supervised free-ranging and a cabbage piñata can distract them from one another.
  • Provide a dust bath - Give your chickens a place to dust bathe in their run area. Dust bathing is a natural way chickens instinctively clean their feathers to eliminate pesky parasites.
  • Remove a pecked chicken - If a chicken is missing feathers and being pecked by other members of the flock, it needs to be removed to a separate living area until the feathers grow back.

In most cases, you should be able to determine the reason for feather loss in your flock. If you have further questions , call or come into your local Southern States store for advice & products.

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