The question is, why are my chickens losing their feathers? Keeping chickens comes with its own challenges. Some of these challenges are just normal physical changes that occur from time to time.
One such change that I came to notice was the loss of feathers among my chickens. This incident got me worried until I found reasons why chickens lose feathers.
Your flock of birds may experience loss of feathers for different reasons. Some of these reasons can be seasonal or triggered by certain elements. Feather picking, parasites, and molting are a few of the incidents that cause the loss of feathers among chickens of all ages.
To some people, the sight of their birds losing feathers can be frightening, to say the least. Waking up and seeing a few feathers missing from one or several chickens can leave you confused and petrified.
Most likely, the first thought that crosses your mind is actually the worst-the invasion of predators. But what happens when you find out that all your birds are not missing but feathers are scattered all over? Let’s find out why your chickens are losing feathers day-in-day-out.
What Could be Reason For My Chickens to Lose Their Feathers?
Could it Feather Picking?
The first thing that I look out for when I suspect that my birds are losing their feathers is feather picking. This is one of the reasons why most chickens lose their feathers all the time. Feather picking can occur when your chicks start to grow feathers. Also, the same thing can happen when your mature chickens are molting.
This phenomenon becomes evident when you realize that feathers are gradually disappearing from your chicken’s body. The top of the tail and back are the first areas that are prone to such changes. When you discover that your chicken is missing some feathers from on the tail and back, you should take drastic measures.
Feather picking is usually a management problem that you can easily avoid. In this case, you can overcome this problem by simply improving the following trigger conditions:
- Overcrowding of your chickens
- Poor nutrition
- Too few poultry facilities such as feeders and waterers
- Exposure to bright light for about 24 hours per day
- The high temperature in the coop
- Poor or less ventilation
- Boring environment
- Poor distribution of water and feed stations
How About Itchy Parasites?
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Parasites are a nuisance to all farm animals including chickens. If not controlled at the right time, they can cause more harm than good. Mites and lice are common types of parasites that wreak havoc among these birds.
These tiny parasites can irritate your chickens’ feathers and skin, causing them to peck themselves uncontrollably. The pecking is actually meant to reduce the pain inflicted on their skin by mice and lice.
As the affected chickens peck themselves and remove their feathers, they injure themselves in the process. This act of pulling out feathers makes other chickens join the pecking and escalating the problem even more. External parasites such as lice and mice may be controlled using the appropriate chemicals.
In addition to treating your chickens, make sure to treat the nests and roosts within the coop. Seal all the cracks and crevices that may be hiding these external parasites. Repeat the treatment as much as you can to ensure that all parasites are eliminated.
Could Egg Laying be Another Reason?
When your pullets start laying eggs, they usually have 100 percent plumage cover. As they continue laying they lose about 30 percent of their feathers. This happens during their first laying cycle.
If you observe them closely, you will find out that your best layers look the rattiest of the entire flock. This gradual change in physical appearance is attributed to entering and exiting their nest boxes most of the time. In the process, these layers rub away their already worn feathers.
When you notice such changes among your best layers, you should think of the best way of helping them. In this regard, you should provide them with a diet rich in calcium such as crushed oyster shells or aragonite.
Supplement this diet with a few crushed flaxseeds and food-grade linseed oils to speed up the growth of feathers. This diet will help your bids maintain a healthy, smoother and more supple plumage.
Does Raptor Attack Lead to the Loss of Feathers?
These juvenile hawks are not always able to lift a mature chicken off the ground. This leads to a serious commotion between the attacker and the victim.
Probably yes! Any attack by aerial predators can cause serious damage that may look similar to treading. Such attacks are common and are always launched by young hawks.
In the process of such attacks, chickens lose their feathers while trying to resist the raptor attack. As the raptor flies away, it takes with it a talon full of chicken feathers.
To avoid such attacks, you must ensure that your chickens’ pen is well covered. Also, a chicken jacket will provide a protective cover to the affected bird as the feathers grow again.
What about Brooding?
Loss of feathers is one of the signs that show a hen is brooding. The missing feathers develop what is known as a de-feathered brood patch. You can always see this patch in your chicken breast if you observe it.
The main function of the de-feathered brood patch is to make the hen’s warm body come into contact with the eggs. As you may know, the eggs need some warmth for the embryos to develop into new chicks. The best source of heat is the brooding hen’s body.
In addition to that, your chicken’s warm body prevents the eggs from drying out by supplying them with some moisture from the skin. However, you may not see the brood patch because it is always hidden when the hen is nesting. But the good news is that your hen’s feathers will grow back after the incubation period and when she molts.
Could Molting be One of the Causes of Feather Loss?
Most poultry loses and regrows their feathers at certain intervals of the year. This process is commonly referred to as molting. The entire process takes a couple of weeks during early fall or late summer.
Molting is a hormone-controlled process in chickens and other birds. The hormones are regulated by the number of hours your birds are exposed to light. The light can be natural, artificial, or a combination of the two.
Shorter days in winter signal birds to start renewing their plumage to help them stay warmer in the cold weather. But this is not always the case. Sometimes molting delays or occur out of season because of stress or sickness. For instance, a broody hen can undergo stress-induced molt due to a reduced diet. These types of molts are partial compared to seasonal molting.
Growing chicks molt from time to time as they develop a complete set of new feathers. This change in their plumage lasts until they are six weeks old.
These young birds grow feathers through partial molting starting at week seven all the way to week 9. Between 12 to 16 and 20 to 22 weeks, the chicks develop stiff feathers as they get mature.
Some breeds such as Cochins and Wyandottes are slow in growing feathers. These birds will develop bare patches of their skins before acquiring a complete adult plumage.
Given that feathers are 85 percent protein, a diet rich in this nutrient will help your chickens through the molting period. Also, the protein will improve its plumage quality once molting is over. Options such as earthworms, mealworms, and cooked mashed eggs will provide your birds with enough protein to grow back their feathers.
Are Roosters Responsible For the Loss of Feathers in Hens?
Roosters are one of the causes of chickens losing their feathers. This loss occurs especially when hens and roosters are mating.
As usual, the rooster holds onto your hen’s back using their beaks ( a process known as treading). In the course of holding down the hen, the rooster pulls her feathers out from areas such as the back and neck.
If the mating is frequent, your hen will experience balding or loss of feathers around her neck and back. To prevent this kind of loss, make sure that your roosters are serving multiple hens and not just one.
Why is it difficult to know if your backyard chickens are molting? It is not easy to tell whether your chickens are molting or not. This is because most of them molt in different ways and at different times. Some may lose their feathers gradually and stay bald for a short time while others may lose them and stay without for several months. These underlying differences make it difficult to know if the chickens are truly molting or not.
Does losing feathers pose any threats to your chickens? The most important point to remember is that when your birds lose their feathers it is completely harmless. But you need to look out to be sure that the loss of feathers in your birds is quite normal. Otherwise, you may inspect your birds to know if something is triggering the loss of feathers.
Normally, chickens lose their feathers when molting, brooding, through feather picking and when under stress. All these are some of the causes of feather loss in chickens. As such, you need to check to know if your birds are doing fine every time they lose their feathers.
Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Chicken Board!!