Chicken with no feathers? That’s exactly what you want to be if you’re an entrepreneur running an online business. Of course, it’s a little metaphorical, but you get the gist of it. You don’t want to be the chicken with no feathers because that means you haven’t grown at all.
Reasons Why Chickens Lose Feathers And How To Cure It
If you are new to keeping chickens then feather loss can be a frustrating event.
You might already be aware of the annual molt but what else causes feather loss in chickens?
As it turns out there are a few good reasons for them to suddenly drop or lose their feathers.
There are some natural causes which cannot be altered, but also health issues that can be helped by paying close attention to your flock’s health and behavior.
We have been investigating and have come up with some useful and surprising information for you…
Stress (Mini Molts)
When chickens get stressed the first thing that happens is they stop laying eggs.
After this they stop eating and can go into a mini molt.
What causes a chicken to become so stressed?
Sometimes there can be just one thing bothering them whilst other times ut can be a combination of things. Some of the biggest things that can cause stress are:
- Lack of food or water
- Excessive handling
- Loud noises
- Temperature too high or too low
- Bright lights
Your chickens will thrive on a consistent routine.
Any changes to that routine has the potential to cause a certain amount of stress to them. A change to the routine (no matter how small) can lead to a certain amount of fear in your birds and fear creates stress.
Adding new birds to the flock can cause some birds to become stressed – the new chickens represent a change in the pecking order for everyone.
Moving to a new coop can also cause some hens to have stress. A new environment represents not only change but a challenge for them to adjust to. Some hens will sail through it, others not so much.
You can help to minimize the effects of stress by removing or stopping the stressor.
Providing good nutrition and fresh water in a peaceful environment will help to get them back on track – their feathers should start returning soon after the routine is re-established. If you work and have to be away from the coop during the daytime you can use an automatic chicken waterer to keep the water flowing.
A predator attack is stressful for the whole flock and not just the bird that was attacked.
This stress can cause their feathers to fall out and it can take weeks for them to get back to normal.
Hens that survive a predator attack usually have a lot of missing feathers and perhaps some flesh as well.
Young inexperienced predators may end up with only a mouthful of feathers but the more experienced ones sadly end up with a chicken for dinner. Sometimes all you will find is a pile of feathers and it can be very emotional.
If your hen survives an attack then check her over immediately for wounds. The predator will have removed a good clump of feathers from the area but you may also find teeth marks, tears and talon rakes too.
The dense layer of feathering has been a lifesaver for many hens. As the predator is dealing with a mouthful of feathers the hen can sometimes escape to safety.
Needless to say this is utterly traumatic for the hen.
She will be frightened for a while and will likely stop laying and may go into a molt.
Overall it will likely take several weeks for your hens to get their feathers back.
Disease and Poor Nutrition
Most diseases in chickens do not necessarily cause feather loss however the feather loss is because the hen is ill or has poor nutrition.
So in effect it is not a cause but a symptom.
You will see some feather loss in diseases such as fowl pox, cutaneous Marek’s, polyomavirus, malnutrition and gangrenous dermatitis.
The good news is that many of these diseases are uncommon. If you suspect any of these common diseases (cutaneous Marek’s and Fowl pox) then make sure to get them diagnosed and treated.
However if you suspect malnutrition there could be a couple of reasons for this.
- Inadequate nourishment from the current feed. You should switch the feed brand and make sure it is a complete nutrition.
- Sometimes folks will make their own feed mix – this is fine as long as it contains all of the vitamins, minerals and trace elements that your birds need.
If a chicken has been severely malnourished for a while then it is possible she will never grow all of her feathers back.
The annual molt usually occurs around Fall time.
It is a natural event and there is nothing you can do to stop it.
Chickens usually start their first molt sometime between 15-18 months (depending on when she was hatched).
She molts to shed her old and battered feathers (that no longer keep her warm) and replaces them with a new set of beautiful, shiny and warm feathers that will do the job for the next year.
Some people find their chickens start molting from the head and neck area first.
However others find their chickens lose body, wing or tail feathers at random times and in no perceptible order.
Some hens will have a soft molt – this is where you can barely tell if she is molting or not. Whilst others will have a hard molt looking like they have been through a chicken plucking machine!
The growing of new pin feathers can be painful.
So make sure to avoid touching her and keep an eye out for any bullying. Sometimes her flock mates may pluck out some of the blood quills and eat them – they are a good source of protein.
During their molt you should increase their protein intake to help them regrow feathers as quickly as possible. Use a higher protein feed (20% or better) and give high protein snacks or treats such as mealworms, cat food or a meager handful of fish pellets.
Chicken Feather Loss: Cause and Cure
It can be a frightening sight, walking out towards your chicken coop and seeing feathers scattered everywhere. My first thought is usually the worst. Has a predator broken into the coop and attacked my chickens? Luckily, I haven’t ever lost any of my chickens to a predator, and chicken feather loss is normally much less serious.
The most common reason for a chicken losing their feathers is the annual molt; however, this isn’t the only reason.
Let’s take a look at the most common reasons why chickens lose their feathers and our two favorite cures:
- Best Chicken Feed for Molting
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Chicken Feather Loss Due to Annual Molting
The first and most common reason why chickens lose their feathers is the ‘annual molt.’
A molt is when a chicken sheds its old feathers and replaces them with new feathers. Chickens molt during the end of the egg-laying season, in the fall.
This is normally closely linked to daylight hours. So, during the fall, when there is a drop in the number of daylight hours, you can expect your chickens to start their molt.
You will notice when they start to molt, they lose feathers around their neck first. This will spread to their back and then move to their breast until finally, their tail feathers drop out.
The typical molt lasts around 6 weeks. However, older chickens molt much slower and can take them up to 10-12 weeks.
In addition to their feathers dropping out, you will also notice that their comb will lose some of its colors, and it won’t be a vibrant red any longer.
Finally, during a molt, you will notice that the number of eggs they lay will greatly reduce and most likely stop altogether.
This is because chickens need lots of protein to make eggs, but also, their feathers are 80% protein.
Your chicken can either molt or lay eggs, and it doesn’t have enough protein to do both at the same time.
Can You Stop Their Molt?
When people find out their chicken is molting, the first question they ask is, can you stop the molt? Well, not really. But you can help speed it up.
We mentioned above that when chickens molt, they require much protein to make their new feathers. So the first thing you can do is stop feeding them layers of pellets and give them food with a higher protein percentage.
I like to feed my chickens game bird feed during their molt because it is 20% protein- this is double the amount of protein in layers pellets.
BEST FEED FOR CHICKEN MOLTING
Scratch and Peck Feeds – Naturally Free Organic Layer Feed
- High in protein to help chickens’ grow back their feathers.
- This feed is organic and non-GMO.
- This is by far one of my hens’ favorite layers feed.
In addition to changing their feed, you can also give them tonics. Personally, I don’t give them any tonics, but a commonly used tonic is apple cider vinegar.
You can mix this in with their water supply to give them a boost of minerals and vitamins.
You can mix ginger powder up with their game feed, and it helps boost their circulation and spread vitamins and nutrients throughout their body.
THE BEST APPLE CIDER VINEGAR
Bragg – Apple Cider Vinegar
- Used to help boost your chickens’ immune system.
- Easy to use, mix it into their water.
- You can also use it to help treat mites.
Broody Chickens Can Cause Chicken Feather Loss
If only one of your chickens has lost their feathers, it could be that she is just broody. A broody hen wants to hatch their own chicks, and she will lay on top of its eggs all day long.
You will easily notice that she is broody because she won’t leave the nesting box and rarely eat.
When they are broody, they tend to pluck their own breast feathers out, so their skin is directly connected with the eggs.
This isn’t healthy for your hen if it continues for a long time, so make sure you read how to stop a broody hen.
Reasons for picking at feathers
Protein deficiency– Feathers and eggs are predominantly protein. Adult chickens require diets between 15-17% protein depending on which chicken resource you rely upon. They should all be on layer feed after approximately 20 weeks of age. Sometimes, in our good intentions of sharing kitchen scraps, fruits and vegetables, chickens can become deficient in protein. Therefore, they will seek another source to make up for this deficiency, even if this includes eating feathers.
Boredom/Lack of Adequate Space-Chickens can become bored, especially in the winter. It is very important to provide your chickens with the proper amount of spacing per bird. In flocks that are not allowed to free-range, it is suggested that each standard size chicken has approximately 10 square feet of space. Bantams of course require less. It is also important to provide them with distractions to keep them happy and occupied during these times when the grass outside is not always greener.
Mites/Fleas-Sometimes missing feathers are the only signs of mites. Mites are incredibly elusive. They like to hide in the nooks and crannies of the coop and come out and feed on the chickens under the cover of darkness. They suck the chicken’s blood and in the morning, return to their hiding place. It is not uncommon for chicken keepers only to find them on their hens after they investigate with a flashlight in the evening. Mites that crawl and move across the chicken’s skin are not only irritating, but also cause itching and pain after a while. This annoyance can lead to chickens pecking at these sensitive spots.
Lice- Like mites, lice can be just as annoying for the same reasons; however, they love to congregate at the base of the feathers where the feathers meet the skin. They can cause itching and a burning sensations. Lice love to hang out best near the vent, under the wings and on the head. They will not leave their host. Instead they rapidly multiply leaving your chicken defenseless, except for feather pecking.
Bully hen/pecking order– Yes, even in the world of chickens there are bullies. Our Dottie Speckles was one such bully. Despite our best efforts, she was insistent upon hurting Tilly. By the light of the moon, she took great pleasure at plucking feathers from Tilly as she slept. Poor Tilly, she became so miserable that we had to eventually re-home Dottie Speckles. In the meanwhile, Dottie Speckles had taught her bad habit to a few of the good hens. Taking Dottie Speckles away, allowed the girls to forget about pecking at one another and how much better it is to keep a harmonious existence. It took me months to figure out that this is what was happening to Tilly.
Chickens Instinctively Peck-Chickens most always peck first at things that catch their eye. They peck at shiny things such as buttons, earrings and painted toenails. They peck at bugs, slugs and small moving flies. Their curiosity is expressed via pecking. There are a few things that you must remember. Chickens love the color red. Chickens love to peck at red things including blood. Chickens can become cannibals if left to their own devices.
Vent Gleet-Vent gleet is also known as a fungal infection of the gastrointestinal tract. It can lead to feather loss around the vent and the entire backside of your chickens. It is most commonly seen in hens.
Worms-If the worm infestation is serious enough in your flock the chickens will find the worms irritating to the vent area. Thus, your chickens will peck at their vents to try and address the irritation and also perhaps at other affected chickens’ vents too, especially if they notice the worms. Read more about the types of worms that affect chickens here and how to treat for them. Any veterinarian can check your chickens’ poop for evidence of worms even if they don’t treat chickens.
Why are feathers not returning?
Quills in the Skin– Feathers begin to emerge from the skin as pin feathers. They are pointy shafts of protein. As they grow longer, the chicken takes off the sheath and the feather unfurls. In the center of the feather is the quill where blood supply exists. Thus sometimes, broken feathers will bleed. Also, sometimes when feathers are broken or pecked the tip of the feather remains in the skin. To our eyes, we do not see any feathers, only bare spots. However, since that tip is still in the skin the chicken’s body still believes that there is a feather present. It is not until the chicken molts, that you will see a new feathers grow into the existing bare spot.
Repetitive Pecking-As the new feathers grow in, they too are irresistible to the chickens’ pecking. Pin feathers are especially tempting. Also, the color red of the irritated skin, especially on their bottoms, lends to pecking. Sometimes, chickens lower in the pecking order bear the brunt of the pecking.
Helping Feathers Return
Protein snacks/Supplements-Snacks and treats should always be shared in moderation. Too many treats can lead to health problems such as fatty liver. Meal worms and sunflower seeds are good choices. There are also supplements that can be temporarily added to your chickens’ food such as Poultry Conditioner and Calf Manna that help too.
Access to dust bathing/ dry run-Dust bathing naturally helps chickens to clean their feathers and helps to eradicate poultry lice and mites. It is important that your chickens always have a place in their run outside to dust bathe that stays dry from the elements.
Layer pellets-Verify that you are feeding your adult flock layer pellets. Even full time free-ranging birds should always have access to layer pellets if they so desire. A proper diet leads to proper functioning of their bodies.
Sea Kelp/Kelp Meal– Try adding this vitamin, protein, and mineral rich supplement to the feed. It corrected feather picking in my flock.
Hygiene-Clean coop/roost/nesting boxes-This is probably the number one reason for issues that arise in backyard chicken keeping. I can never stress enough how important it is to keep your chickens’ living space clean.
Blu-Kote/Vetericyn- Both of these products are great to have in your chicken first aid kit. Blu-Kote is great for spraying on closed wounds only. (It can sting.) It tints everything a bluish purple color. Changing the color alone sometimes helps to deter chickens away from those tempting areas. Be sure to wear gloves when applying. It stains everything. Vetericyn is wonderful for applying to open wounds. It is effective against bacteria, viruses and fungus and helps to promote wound healing.
Separate living area near flock– Sometimes the chicken that is missing their feathers and continually pecked upon needs to be removed from the flock until the feathers return. Do not be tempted to return this chicken to the flock until the feathers have completely grown in and appear normal. Here is how we have created a separate safe place for an injured chicken that would work nicely in this case as well.
Hen saddle/apron- Aprons that can be applied to the back of a chicken are an easy way to keep chickens within their flock while covering their bare backs and allowing the feathers to return. These are great for over-mated hens and broody hens. Just be sure to check regularly under the apron for lice and mites. If left un-checked they can take advantage of the apron too.
Boredom busters-Keep your cooped up chickens busy. Distraction is the key sometimes. Try supervised free-ranging, a cabbage pinata, treat ball, chicken ball, or a flock block.
Rooster and over-mating– A flock should have at least 7 hens to one rooster. This helps to keep certain hens from being over-mated by him and allows them to escape his constant attention. If you have more roosters, they each will need a group of hens to keep everyone happy.
In most cases, there are identifiable reasons why chickens are missing their feathers. Sometimes it is straight forward and other times, it may not be as obvious. In fact, like with Dottie Speckles, it took me months to finally find the culprit and figure out the solution, even though I spend a great deal of time with the flock each day. Hens sometimes behave differently when we are around. Keep that in mind, when you set off on your detective work and most of all do not get discouraged. It might just be a situation where you have to wait until the next year’s molt.