If you’re taking care of and raising chickens, then you must know how much care and attention different breeds need. It takes a lot of time, patience, and dedication to grow a steady flock that won’t get into fights too often and bully one another. But, even the most experienced farmers face some challenges that concern the social lives of chickens, their health, and their overall mood. Although chickens, if vaccinated and fed healthy, won’t face any major health problems, some events may cause them to start losing their feathers, which why normal at times, can also be inconvenient and even concerning.
Chickens will lose a few feathers every then and now throughout their lives on the farm. However, when it happens frequently and starts affecting other chickens in the flock, it’s a sign of alarm and concern that something more serious may be the case.
In some situations, chickens may lose their feathers as a result of a seasonal change, stressful event, brooding, or even a fight with a rooster or other hens, but there’s a clear way to distinguish the difference in these feather-losing patterns so you may be able to notice that in some occasions, losing feathers is more serious than it seems.
That’s why it’s of utmost importance to check on your flock, whether they’re behaving well, whether they are stressed, and whether they got sick as a result of some bacteria, virus, or parasite attack. Taking a look at your chickens frequently may help you see whether only one hen or rooster is affected by this change, or more of them.
Whatever may be the case, we know how concerning and stressful it may be to see that your chickens started losing their feathers all of a sudden. That’s why we wrote this article to emphasize the causes of chickens losing feathers and what you can do to help them cure the problem. Continue reading so you can learn more and help your chickens in the process.
Why Are Chickens Losing Feathers?
As mentioned earlier, the causes for chickens losing feathers can be as small and benign as minor stressful situations like moving to a new coop or growing up with new chickens, to serious causes like parasites (Red Mites) and bullying.
Below, we’ll discuss all the causes of chickens losing feathers, from those small problems to serious health issues. The most important thing is to recognize what’s causing these problems and take the necessary steps to correct the issue and allow the feathers to grow back.
Ignoring the problem will not only make your chickens’ life worse but also potentially harm your entire flock, especially if the cause behind your chickens losing feathers is some disease or a nasty parasite.
Just like we, humans, start losing hair when we’re exposed to too much emotional and even physical stress, animals and birds like chickens can start losing feathers. Chickens are social creatures, they develop their behavioral patterns as they grow up, and being accepted in the flock is of utmost importance to them.
Different things can cause them to become stressed, and there are different stages to the development of such events. When a chicken is stressed, particularly, a hen, it will stop laying eggs. Alternatively, or combined, she may also start losing her feathers, according to a study.
When a chicken starts losing feathers due to stress, that’s called a mini molt. When chickens are deprived of healthy feed and fresh water they may become stressed. Additionally, different breeds don’t like being surrounded by too many chickens, or humans for that matter, and may become stressed.
If there’s a lot of noise being produced on your farms, they are exposed to too much artificial light or they feel too hot or too cold, they may also become nervous and lose feathers as a result of that. Change in an environment like the coop can also lead to a change in behavior that results in stress.
How to fix it:
In order to eliminate the stress in chickens, you will first need to eliminate the stressor. For that, you will have to watch your chickens closely and see if something disturbs them. Provide plenty of foods including healthy snacks, and fresh and clean water, and make sure you’re maintaining adequate temperature in the coop. Make sure they have a disciplined routine and don’t surprise them with changes for a while.
There is a mini molt that is a result of stress. However, an annual molt occurs every year and it is a completely natural occurrence. Every fall, your chickens will begin removing feathers naturally, and there are no ways to prevent it. Just like the cats and dogs shed hair, so do chickens.
Depending on when your chicken was hatched, they will begin shedding at around fall time. They will be more than 1 year old at that time, and up to 1.5 years old.
The reason this occurs is because, over time, feathers lose their function. They become too heavy and too hollow to allow the creation of air chambers that keep them warm during the winter. That’s why molt allows chickens to replace old feathers with new ones.
There’s no special order under which the chickens start losing feathers. Some will begin losing it on their backs and tails, while others will start losing the feathers on their heads and necks first. It will take them some time to grow new feathers, but they’ll definitely look shinier and more beautiful and will be more functional in the process.
How to fix it:
While there is no way to fix this, as it occurs naturally, there are ways to make the process faster and less painful for chickens. Once the pin feathers start growing, they will be quite sharp and can either injure you or other chickens.
Blood quills left behind are rich in protein and other hens in the flock will try pecking and eating it off. This can also cause bullying among hens, so if you notice that’s happening, it’s of utmost importance to remove the chickens from the coop and separate them to different locations where they can’t harm one another.
Make sure to keep the coop warm during this time, and also allow them to eat more protein-rich feed. Add up some vitamin-rich supplies and snacks that they can enjoy throughout the day and boost the growth of feathers.
There is several reasons why your chickens may be eating poorly, but it only becomes alarming when your girls stop laying eggs or start losing feathers. If your chickens are malnourished, you will notice that they’re slower at growing feathers, and are losing them more rapidly.
With that in mind, it’s important to take a look at what your chickens are eating. If their feed has inadequate protein and grain contents, it’s likely the cause of your chickens not eating enough.
How to fix it:
You can consult a vet to see whether your chickens eat enough nutrient-rich food and change their diet accordingly. It’d be good to offer them more snacks during the winter so that they’d get more protein and fiber-rich foods.
In cases of bullying, there’s a possibility that some hens are guarding the pots with feed and preventing other hens from eating. Make sure that’s not the case, and if it is, either separate the flock or provide more food at a more adequate location for your bullied girls to eat.
They May be Sick
If your chickens are vaccinated, not many diseases will cause them to lose feathers. However, loss of feathers sometimes manifests as a symptom of fowl pox, gangrenous dermatitis, Marek’s disease, and different viruses.
It’s worth noting that some of these diseases have mainly been eradicated due to successful vaccination and precautions many hatcheries and farms in general take. However, in the case of Marek’s disease or Fowl pox, all you can do is to get them adequate therapy and treatment and separate them from the rest of the flock to ensure no other chicken gets sick.
Being attacked by a predator, or having a few chickens taken away by the predator will be stressful for all the chickens that witnessed it. They are normally scared and stressed, and as a result, they may lose some feathers.
If you notice that some chicken has been missing way more feathers than others, there’s a chance that the predator attempted to grab it with them, but the chicken somehow survived and escaped. Chickens often lose feathers to a predator, according to a report by Oxford. Make sure to inspect all the chickens and ensure to take the precautionary steps to protect them. Those can be improving the coop’s and run’s protection, or even buying a dog that is good at protecting chickens.
Parasites are among the worst causes of chickens’ feathers falling off. They feel irritated by the creepy crawlies on their body, especially by mites and lice which are the most common parasites that you may get. They get attached to the feathers and will stay in whichever area in the chicken’s body feels the most moist.
This will result in your chicken feeling irritated and may begin to pluck its feathers, thinking that it will get rid of the parasites. While lice do not suck blood, mites do and will make it an extremely uncomfortable experience for your girls.
Some parasites can burrow deep into your hen’s skin and eat the feather follicles. These may require serious attention because they’re the hardest to get rid of.
How to fix it:
It’s of utmost importance to bring this problem to the attention of vets and isolate the rest of the chickens you believe are not affected by the parasites. When treating external parasites from your chickens, it’s also important to clean your coop, nesting boxes, and brooders too to prevent the parasites from spreading.
Preening is a natural process where chickens keep their feathers in check to position feathers and prevent external parasites. However, it’ll result in loss of feathers occasionally. They take the oil from the preen gland and spread it to their feathers using their beak.
Through that process, they’ll also get rid of the feathers that broke or feel damaged, and that may make it appear that the chicken is losing a feather. Luckily, they won’t lose a lot of feathers and they’ll grow back eventually, so there’s no reason to worry.
Bullying is a common practice among the chickens, especially those that are bored. As a result of that, some hens may pluck each other’s feathers, according to a report, which can result in your girls looking as if they lost feathers. Aggressive and territorial roosters will especially pick on one another, in a much more violent manner in the process.
Unfortunately, as the bullying tension grows, it may occasionally turn very violent and bloody for the chickens. That said, you will want to be very attentive to your girls and see what causes them to become aggressive.
How to fix it:
There are a few ways to fix this. One is to remove the bully from the other coop or separated the enclosed area from the other chickens until you figure out what’s causing them to become violent.
Some of the causes of bullying are overcrowding, so if you see that your flock is too big, you may want to split it into 2 or 3 fractions to ensure peace. The second reason is more common during the winter when chickens spend more time in the coop and may become bored as a result of that.
Broody hens can also pluck their feathers off, as a result of all the nervousness and stress that they go through in their nesting process. When they are too broody, they may pluck the feathers off their chest while nesting.
That said, if you notice that your chicken’s feathers are missing particularly on the chest, the cause is likely broodiness. The brooding hen will also do it to create a warm environment that will keep the chicks warm once they hatch.
Don’t worry, the feathers will grow back once the chicks hatch and grow up enough to take care of themselves.
Additional Tips & Tricks
Dealing with molting chickens is not easy. We dedicated this section to additional advice that you can take to improve the moods of chickens and prevent them from going into a molt.
Keep them entertained: One of the things you can do is to rise the mood in the flock, especially during the winter. This way, the chickens will be less nervous and won’t become aggressive with one another. Hang a cabbage for them to pluck and play with, and add perches, leaf piles, and other things they may find entertaining.
Dust baths: If your chickens suffer from external parasites, but the condition is not too bad, they can cover themselves in dust baths to remove the moisture from their body and keep the parasites at bay.
Improve the diet: It’s no secret that a protein-rich diet will stimulate the growth of hair and feathers. In the case of the chickens, the molt usually comes forward during the fall months. That’s when you should enrich the diet with proteins and vitamins. Add additional treats that are rich in flavor and nutrients.