Chickens Losing Feathers: 10 Causes You Need to Know
No one wants to see their chickens losing feathers. Make sure you determine what is causing the feather loss.
A few weeks ago, I went into the coop and noticed a few chickens losing feathers. I immediately inspected the girls to see what was going on – what was causing their feather loss?
No one likes to discover this. Not only does it mean something is wrong, but it looks and feels uncomfortable for your girls. They don’t want to have their feathers fall out any more than you want it for them!
You have to figure out what is causing your chickens to lose their feathers. I listed some of the most common reasons for chickens losing feathers and if there is anything you can do to help them out.
10 Reasons You Have Chickens Losing Feathers
Chickens, like humans, don’t like when they experience stress. The first reaction chickens have when stressed is to stop laying eggs. After that, they stop eating and start molting, often called a mini molt because it’s not a true molt.
Chickens are hardy, but a variety of factors send their bodies into stress. Backyard chicken keepers need to first evaluate what could be bothering their chickens.
Examples of situations and circumstances that stress out a chicken flock include:
- Lack of food or water
- Too much handling (busy kids, perhaps?)
- Loud noises
- Temperatures that are too hot or too cold
- Bright lights
- Adding new birds to the flock
- Moving or changing coops
I found the best way to reduce stress on your chicken flock is to maintain a consistent schedule and routine.
Like kids, chickens handle living on a schedule and routine well, and when that’s changed, it leads to stress. Even a small change can scare your chickens, causing stress, and lead to chickens losing feathers.
What You Can Do Now
If you suspect stress is the culprit, consider what is causing the stress. If you moved and your flock has a new coop, it will take time but your flock will eventually adjust. The same goes for when you add new members to your flock.
They’ll find their groove eventually.
If nothing drastic has happened and the weather has been mild, make sure you take a good look at their health. Check for pests, parasites, or anything else that might cause your flock to feel stress.
Then, work on having a consistent routine for caring for your flock. They need food and fresh water daily; that’s the first step you should take. If you don’t think stress is the problem, look at some of the other reasons why your chickens are losing feathers.
2. Annual Fall Molting
The first time your chickens go through molting, you’ll wonder what is wrong with your flock.
You have chickens losing feathers everywhere, and your once adorable chickens look like something out of a teenage chicken handbook.
They’re ugly, to say the least.
Fall molting is natural, and nothing you will do stops a chicken from molting. It happens when they’re between 15-18 months, depending on when they hatched. This is when your chickens shed their old feathers that don’t keep them warm anymore and replace them with a new set of feathers.
You typically notice the signs of molting around their head and neck area first, but there is no set order for molting. Chickens lose body, wing, and tail feathers as they molt and at random times.
What Can I Do Now?
Molting is normal, and if nothing else seems to be wrong with your flock and it’s close to autumn, chances are it’s just the fall molt.
The best thing you can do is increase your flock’s protein intake – give them a higher protein feed along with extra protein snacks. If they happen to molt in the winter, use a coop heater until their feathers regrow.
3. Aggressive Rooster or Overbreeding
One of the problems that we’ve faced with chickens losing feathers is overbreeding. That essentially means that you have a hen (or hens) that are frequently mated by the roosters, developing bald areas.
This is most notice on her back and behind her comb because the rooster grabs this area with his break to give him stability. The back is where he treads her with his feet.
Roosters that cause feather loss do so typically for a few reasons.
- You have too many roosters based on the number of hens you have. Ideally, you need a minimum of ten hens per one rooster.
- You don’t have enough hens. Even if you have one rooster, if you don’t have enough hens, they’re going to be overbred.
- You have an aggressive rooster. There isn’t truly a way to fix this, in my opinion, aside from giving your girls hen saddles. Those do work, and they’re easy to make. However, it won’t stop the rooster from being aggressive.
What You Should Do Now
If this is the problem, there are a few things you should do.
Consider rehoming or culling your roosters if they’re causing a serious problem. You also might want to buy a few adult hens to even out the flock number. Try using hen saddles, or you can separate the injured hens to give them time to heal and regrow feathers.
Spotting a broody hen isn’t hard. They’re a grumpy, angry hen that looks like she’s ready to explode and fight everyone around her. Your broody hen might fluff up her feathers and growl at you when you get close.
Despite looking like they want to kill us, broody hens love their little egg babies, and once they start nesting, they pluck their own feathers to create their nests. This plucking takes place on their breasts because it lines their nest with warm, downy feathers and keeps the incubating eggs closer to her skin.
It might be a bit self-sacrificial, but your broody hen is quite smart.
Plucking feathers during broodiness lets your hen use her body temperature to keep the eggs at the appropriate body temperature for hatching.
If your chickens losing feathers is due to broodiness, you’ll notice the bald spot forming around her keel bone. You’ll have to pick her up to notice this, and after the eggs hatch, she will start to regrow feathers, or she might go into a molt.
What Should You Do Now
While it might be strange and self-destructive, pulling feathers due to broodiness is normal and natural. You cannot stop the process; it’s just what mama hens do!
Make sure your hen has plenty of access to food and water. It’s just a phase, but it’s needed!
Learn more about broody hens!
5. Bullying – The Pecking Order
Oh, the pecking order. Chickens take this quite serious; there is no joking around about the pecking order.
Chickens often pluck their feathers or pull each other’s feathers because of bullying. This is a serious problem; you want to make sure it doesn’t turn into cannibalism.
Cannibal chickens – it sounds like a horror movie, right?
Establishing the pecking order is normal, but at times, it can become aggressive, for a variety of reasons. It’s not abnormal to see an older hen pecking a younger one to teach them who is boss, but when they start to harm each other, it’s time to consider WHY the bullying is so bad.
Here are some thoughts.
If you stuff your chickens into a coop and run that is far too small for them, then they will start to peck their flock mates because they’re stress out. Too much pecking leads to feather loss.
Chickens require four square feet of coop space and four square feet of run space. Make sure you adhere to this as a minimum standard of space for your flock, or you risk overcrowding them, causing all kinds of stress.
Even if you don’t realize it, chickens are intelligent, and they require mental stimulation. otherwise, your chickens will cause some mischief.
Make sure your run and coop have several dust bathing areas, a few perches, hanging cabbages, tree stumps, swings, and more. The more often your flock is bored, the more likely pecking is to happen.
Not Enough Feeder and Waterers
If your flock has to compete for food or water, it’s more likely to cause bullying and feather pulling. You need one feeder and one waterer for every ten chickens, and you want to make sure they stay full. An automatic chicken feeder is ideal if you work outside the home and cannot check throughout the day.
What Should You Do Now?
Look at the above reasons for bullying and add some changes to your chicken coop. Keep a close eye on your flock throughout the day to see if you notice the bullying behavior to determine if your changes fixed the problem.
Even if only one bird was attacked by a predator, it’s a stressful event for your entire flock.
Who can blame them?
A predator attack causes significant stress for your flock, and that causes feathers to fall out. It can take your flock weeks to feel normal and safe in their environment once again.
If your hen was attacked, they might have missing feathers and some flesh as well. A few of my hens faced attacks over the years, and while they survived, the predator removes clumps of feathers.
It’s disturbing, but make sure you take care of her wounds to avoid any type of infection.
A predator attack, whether they were attacked or a buddy, is a traumatic event for your flock. Expect your chickens to be scared for a while; it’s not an uncommon reason for chickens losing feathers.
What You Can Do Now
First and foremost, make sure you predator-proof your coop and chicken run. If a predator got into your chicken’s home, then you need some fixing to do.
After that, make sure your chickens have access to fresh food and water, and then wait. Eventually, they’ll feel safe and secure again, and their stress levels will decrease. However, that takes time, and you have to be patient with your hens.
7. Poor Nutrition
If your chickens have poor nutrition, it can cause your chickens to lose feathers; think of this as a symptom of a poor diet rather than a cause of chickens losing feathers.
Typically, a chicken flock with malnutrition issues will display other signs as well, such as:
- decrease egg production
- decreased appetite
- weight loss
- decreased egg size
What causes a poor diet? Several things!
- The current chicken feed you use doesn’t provide adequate nourishment. If you feed your chickens daily and they still have diet issues, consider switching chicken feed brands.
- You give your chickens too many treats. I love to give my flock treats, especially yummy protein sources, but too many treats stop your chickens from eating their feed, which is most important.
- If you make your own feed mix, you might not have the right balance of vitamins, minerals, and trace elements that your flock needs. Consider using a commercial feed or trying a different recipe for your homemade flock feed.
What to Do Now
Once you figure out that this is a diet issue, make some changes. First, make sure you aren’t providing too many treats. I love to give my chickens safe treats as well, but never give them too many.
After that, assess their diet and feed that you give them. A change could be what is needed to give them the needed protein.
Most diseases don’t cause feather loss, but it happens in some cases. You’ll see feather loss if your flock contracts fowl pox, cutaneous Marek’s, polyomavirus, malnutrition, and gangrenous dermatitis.
Most of these diseases are relatively uncommon, so chances are that the cause for your chickens losing feathers is something else. If you suspect these diseases, a diagnosis from an expert is important.
9. Lice, Mites & Parasites
Just the idea of lice gives me the creepy crawlies; anything crawling around in your hair freaks me out! I can see how something like that would cause chickens to lose feathers.
Think about it.
Your chickens have lice, mites, or some other parasite that’s crawling around on their skin. They typically hang out in one area, typically the shaft of the feathers and their vents. Since the bugs cause serious irritation, your chickens start to scratch and pull out their feathers to try to get rid of them.
If you notice your chickens losing feathers, check to see if you find any parasites. This should be a regular task that you do even if your chickens seem healthy; catching an infestation early makes treatment a lot easier.
What to Do Now
If parasites are the problem, treating them will be your solution; make sure you treat your entire coop and nesting boxes. Once the parasites are gone, their feathers will grow back in a few weeks.
Sometimes, when your chickens are preening, they’ll lose feathers. This process is when your chickens take oil from their preen gland at the base of the tail and spread it over their feathers using their beak.
Preening is important because it helps to keep their feathers in ideal conditions, but when chickens are preening, they might remove broken feathers. Typically, preening doesn’t result in your chickens losing feathers in large amounts, so you shouldn’t notice a difference.
What Can You Do Now
Nothing! Preening is normal chicken behavior, so all you can do is watch and observe their behavior to be sure preening is why you have chickens losing feathers.
What to Do After Your Chickens Lose Feathers
Once you figure out what is causing your chickens losing feathers, you have to help them grow their feathers back.
Unfortunately, there is no express feather growth pill; it takes several weeks or months to grow feathers back entirely. While you wait, there are a few things you can do to make sure your chickens are able to grow back their feathers.
Here are some suggestions.
Keep Their Living Spaces Clean
You want to make sure your flock has a nice, clean space to live. Keep their roost, nesting boxes, and coop regularly cleaned and looking fresh. They’ll appreciate it.
Add Boredom Buster
Keep boredom at bay and make sure there are things in your coop and run to keep your flock happen. You can also consider free-ranging your chickens or doing so an hour or two before bedtime. Chickens go back to their coop at night if they have an open door to access it.
Increase Their Protein Intake
Your chickens need to have plenty of protein when they’re regrowing feathers. Offering protein-rich snacks, like mealworms, help your chickens regrow their feathers, but make sure you provide them in moderation.
Make Sure They Have a Dust Bath
Dust bathing is one of the best ways that chickens keep clean and keep parasites off their bodies. If you don’t have a dust bath for your flock, make sure you set one up!
Make or Buy Hen Saddles
If you suspect roosters and breeding are the problem, make sure you make or buy a few hen saddles. These cover the area and prevent more damage; your hen is also vulnerable to sunburn if her skin is showing.
I think the hawk that got one chicken several months ago may have triggered Houdinia’s loss but it also could have been the rooster although the spot seemed a little too low and now the rooster has a new home. Other 3 chickens are fine. All eat purina with less scratch at end of day as temperatures warm here in NE. My concern is that the area may be sunburnt in a small patch. Some feathers are growing in but not quick enough. Dust baths happen almost everyday but only when they free roam. Maybe not enough. Is there a topical I should put on her back. A saddle? She is my favorite hen who asks to be picked up by squatting.
I have two girls only. They are just over 2 hrs old. It is the beginning of June. We live in the Sacramento Delta area of California. They roam the large yard all day help with gardening plenty of fresh water and layer feed. My broody girl is losing a massive amounts of her feathers. Could this be a molt? She just finished brooding.