Chickens Losing Feathers. Is it Normal? What Can You Do to Help?

The first time I saw one of my chickens with patches on its plumage I was dismayed. The chicken was lethargic and kept to itself. I thought there was a disease outbreak and the chicken was going to infect other chickens. 

Sadly, I culled it. 

In no time another chicken started losing feathers. This must be the end of my flock! I panicked. . On asking my chicken consultant, my mother, she told me that that was a normal process and all I had to do is wait it out. 

True to her words, the chicken grew fresh shiny feathers. 

What causes chickens’ feathers to fall out?

Chicken feathers may fall out for several other reasons besides molting. The reasons include:

  1. Parasites

If you notice your chickens pecking their feathers, this could indicate external parasites. 

The common parasites include lice and mites usually found in the crevices and cracks of the chicken coop. 

The parasites come out at night to such on the chicken’s blood which irritates their skin, causing them to peck on the sensitive spots. 

Another parasite nuisance is lice which eat debris and dead skin, which can cause itching. 

To stop the discomfort, chickens may try pecking their feathers. A regular inspection of the chicken can help identify and deal with the parasites.

  1. Broody

If only one of your chickens is losing feathers, it could be that it is broody. 

Broody hens lay on their eggs almost the whole day as it tries to hatch their chicks. 

They rarely leave their nesting box and hardly ever eat. Broody hens pluck out feathers from their breast to connect their skin directly to the eggs.

  1. Boredom

Like all other animals, Chickens get bored if they don’t have enough room or activities. 

Such boredom can cause them to start picking their feathers either in frustration or as something to do. 

Luckily this is easy to fix as you only need to provide more space and distractions.

  1. Pecking Order

“Pecking order” refers to the hierarchy observed in a flock of chickens. 

Chicken often fight and compete to move up the hierarchy as those at the top control the entire flock. 

Though this is normal, sometimes it can lead to bullying. It not only leads to the plucking of feathers but may also cause open wounds. 

If you notice a chicken getting targeted by others, it’s crucial to take action swiftly. You can also apply a pruning sealer to the wounds to protect the chicken because other chickens may be attracted to the blood. 

  1. Imbalanced Rooster to Hen Ratio. 

Roosters mount on hens during molting. They will pin the hen down using their feet that have sharp claws. If this happens once in a while, hens will not lose feathers. 

Too many roosters and few hens will lose feathers as they get mounted on more often

What if you have 10 roosters and 4 hens? This imbalance will lead to roosters mounting on hens more frequently and you will notice that the hens are losing feathers on their backs. 

Is it normal for chickens to lose their feathers?

Chickens will lose feathers normally, during a process known as molting. Molting is a regular event, and most times, it’s not something to worry about. It will pass.  

Molting takes place annually in mature birds at least 16 months or older. Usually, molting causes the chicken to lose feathers from their head and all over their body in the fall.

Can you stop molting?

After realizing their chickens are molting, most people want to know if there is a way to stop shedding altogether. 

Unfortunately, you cannot stop molting, but you can speed it up. Chickens require more protein to make their feathers. 

So the first obvious step is providing a higher protein percentage in their feeds. In addition, you should ensure their living space is clean and well maintained.

Why are my chickens not laying eggs and losing feathers?

When the feathers are re-growing, it demands so much from the chicken that the egg production reduces or ceases altogether. This is because chickens require 80% protein for their eggs, but their feathers also need 80% protein. 

The molting process can take 4 to 12 weeks and, in some instances, even more weeks. 

Reasons why the chickens’ feathers may not grow back immediately

So your chicken is not losing feathers, but it doesn’t seem to be developing new feathers. What could be the problem? 

Sometimes, a feather may break or get stuck in the skin, causing the chicken body to think there is a feather there. In such instances, you can only wait for the chicken to molt and shed the stuck feather so that a replacement feather can grow.

Which Parts Does the Feather Loss Occur?

Chicken can lose feathers anywhere. Luckily, noting the parts missing feathers can indicate can tell why it is loosing feathers. 

For example, feather loss on the head can result from lice aggression from other chickens or lice, and bullies or parasites can cause random bald spots in the flock. 

Chickens may also peck their own feathers at times. The broody chickens will also peck at the feathers on their chest. 

If you find chickens that are missing feathers at the vent area, there could be several reasons, including lice, mites, worms, bullying, self-packing, or brooding hen. 

If the chicken’s feathers are missing at the back of a hen’s neck or near the weeks, the probable cause is roosters during mating.-

When molting starts, you will notice feather loss at the neck first. Slowly the feather loss will spread to the back, the breast, and finally, the feathers at the tail will drop out. Besides feathers dropping out, you will also notice the comb losing color, and it will no longer be a vibrant red.

Treatment for feather loss in chickens

Several ways can help create the best environment for your chicken to grow feathers, including:

  • Maintain a clean chicken coop
  • Keep your chicken busy to prevent boredom
  • Provide a dust bath area for your chicken
  • Isolate pecked chicken from the flock until they grow back the feathers

Do chickens lose feathers in the winter?

While molting is challenging on its own, it can be worse if it happens in the winter. 

Chickens need feathers to keep warm during the cold of the winter. 

You will need to work hard to ensure that your chicken stays warm as they grow their feathers back. 

The first thing is to ensure they get more calories to get enough energy to keep them warm. 

Supplemental heat such as heat lamps can help keep their bodies warm. However, external heat sources need proper handling.

Summary

The key thing to note is that losing feathers is a normal part of the chicken’s life cycle. 

It is entirely normal for the most part, but it can also be a sign of a complex issue if it does persist. 

If you notice any panting, labored breathing, diarrhea, lethargy, check to see what could be the stressor and deal with it swiftly. 

The most important thing is to ensure that the chicken gets quality food, drinking water, enough room to move around, and a clean environment. If these necessities are not in place, your chicken may start losing feathers. 

However, if you have tried everything and your chicken continues losing feathers for an unknown reason, it’s best to call a veterinarian for detailed observation.

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About James

I grew up on a small farm. My parents used to grow food and keep animals for our sustenance. They would sell the surplus to make an extra coin to supplement the income from their jobs. I am taking the same path. I have over 40 chickens for eggs and meat. I also grow vegetables in my backyard. follow me on Twitter

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