Chickens Losing Feathers

You come into the coop or pen to check your chickens in the morning, and there are feathers everywhere – it hits you…your chickens are losing feathers.

Should you panic? Immediately call your vet?

As a backyard farmer, there is no need to be alarmed at a situation like this.  In this article, you will learn why chickens lose feathers on their necks and other areas, and the solutions to apply in each case.

Why Chickens Lose Their Feathers

New chicken owners are often shocked and worried when they see their chickens losing feathers. There are a number of reasons why chickens can lose their feathers.

Some of these reasons include:

  • molting
  • lack of protein
  • stress
  • broodiness
  • in-fighting
  • vent pecking
  • mites and other parasites
  • over-mating.

It is important to first identify the reason your chickens are losing feathers, then determine the specific solution for the case. Thankfully, many of these situations are completely natural in the course of backyard farming and should not present any serious difficulties for farmers, regardless of their experience level.

Effect of Chickens Losing Their Feathers

This is not to alarm any poultry farmer but your chickens losing their feathers could cause serious problems if not checked.

First, they would require more feed to replace those feathers. 

If you are raising chickens for eggs, they may not be lay eggs while losing feathers. They are also more susceptible to diseases without feathers. Feathers are essential for temperature control in chickens, and a loss of feathers could cause cold or overheating in birds.

It is thus important to find out why your chickens are losing their plumage and what to do to reverse the situation.

Chickens Losing Feathers on The Neck

This is often a more serious situation than when the chicken is losing feathers on other parts of the body. It is often due to parasites, and you may need to call in a veterinarian to examine the chicken.

You may also separate the affected chicken from other birds. Observing good hygienic practices, like removing chicken waste (poop) from the coop to avoid contaminating the food, and regular de-worming can help reduce incidents of parasites.

However, if the chickens are already losing feathers on their neck, then you should get professional help. A veterinarian would be able to determine the precise problem and prevent the problem from compounding. It is thus important to be observant as a chicken farmer.

What to do When Chickens Lose Their Feathers

The solution to chicken feather shedding or loss would be based on the cause of the feather loss. Since chickens can lose their feathers for many reasons, it is necessary for backyard farmers to first identify the possible causes before taking any actions.

Molting

The most common reason Chickens shed their feathers is due to an annual process called molting. Chickens change their feathers from old to new during the molting period, once a year.

So, if you come into the coop and see feathers strewn around, then check the time.

If it is early in the morning and in autumn, chances are high, the chickens are molting.

Molting usually begins at the end of the main egg-laying season.  

Since protein is required to make new feathers, you will notice that there is a reduction in the number of eggs laid as the chickens shed their feathers for new ones.

Molting is a natural process, so once you can rule out other causes for the shedding of feathers, all you can do is wait out the molting period while feeding the chickens a diet rich in protein. You can also administer multivitamins in drinking water for up to 5 days.

It is not advisable to force molt to end quickly. Many farmers have chosen to do this by changing the diet and inducing the birds to lay eggs. This can cause health problems for the hens, and in many areas of the world, it is even illegal.

Poor Nutrition

Poor nutrition, particularly a lack of protein, can be a cause for the loss of feathers. Backyard farmers raising free-range birds might find that their chickens are losing feathers. 

Often, birds foraging for food might not be getting the right nutrients.

Supplementing their diet might be necessary. If you have not been feeding your chickens properly and they are losing feathers, it is time to remedy that. 

Get the required animal feed for the class of poultry (grower, layer, starter, etc.) and ensure the chickens are receiving the required nutrients. Chickens require a good mix of proteins and minerals to grow feathers and with those feathers, protect themselves against cold, pests and diseases.

Stress

Are you watching the environment you keep your chickens? The coop where you keep your birds must be comfortable for them. What is the temperature like and are the chickens getting enough water and exercise? 

Chickens exposed to environmental stress are likely to lose their plumage. Backyard farmers must ensure they apply appropriate chicken husbandry practices to prevent chickens from getting too cold or overheated.

In-fighting and Bullying

Chickens are social just like humans. And in any flock of birds, there would be bullies who are pecking and pulling the feathers of other birds. Environmental stress can cause in-fighting between chickens due to lack of space and an uncomfortable coop or pen.

Also, poor nutrition can trigger aggressive behavior among older chickens. Broodiness among hens can also lead to pecking. The fighting and pecking can lead to a mass of feathers on the floor of the coop. 

As a farmer, you should be observant enough to notice which of the chickens are being very aggressive.

Separate the aggressors from the other chickens. Also, ensure quality nutrition and provide enough space for recreation for your chickens. Provide a minimum of 3 square foot each inside the coop for the birds. This can prevent unnecessary pecking and the resultant loss of feathers.

Vent pecking

This is when hens peck at the vents or cloacae of birds that have just finished laying. Since chickens like to peck at red objects, this can often be a serious problem.  To avoid vent pecking, farmers should darken the shed, so the color red is not vibrant and does not attract other chickens.

Brooding

Hens about to hatch their eggs would often cover them and become bad-tempered. This process is called brooding. The hen would rarely eat and may begin to pluck their own feathers, particularly those covering the breast. Depending on your farming practices, you may not want a brooding hen. If you have an incubator, then you should remove all eggs as soon as they are laid.

The best way to deal with brooding hens is to ensure the hens don’t become broody in the first place. Separate the hen from the eggs as soon as possible as a brooding hen can cause other hens to brood too. Unless your farming strategy includes natural incubation, you should not allow the hens to brood.

Over mating

If you have roosters on your farm, then watch out, they may be the cause of the feathers being shed daily. Over mating by roosters can lead to the loss of feathers and even balding of hens. 

When a rooster only mates with a particular hen several times, it could lead to serious disfiguration and loss of feathers during the treading process where the rooster “holds down” the hen with its beak. To prevent this, it is best to reduce the number of roosters on the farm. For free range chickens, a rooster to hen ratio of 12 is appropriate. It should generally not exceed 6 to 1.

Parasites and Diseases

This is the reason many new farmers are afraid when they see their birds shedding feathers. Could the reason for plumage loss be due to parasites or diseases? Yes. Certain parasites like mites, fleas, and lice can cause chickens to lose their feathers.

Mites suck the blood of the chickens, irritating their feathers and causing them to drop off. Lice can also live on the skin of the chicken. They are easy to spot and remove. 

Fungal infections like vent gleet can also cause hens to lose their feathers. This fungal infection, also called cloaciatis, can cause even more serious problems than just losing of feathers. If you notice a discharge around the cloaca of hens, then isolate the sick hens and call your vet immediately.

Some Solutions to Help with Crawlies Infestation

There are topical solutions sold in farmer stores that can help remove these crawlies. Alternatively, you can explore natural remedies such as dust baths, garlic sprays, and essential oils. It might be best to call in a vet if you notice any of these parasites. In cases where the chickens are dying due to disease, it is especially important to get professional veterinary help.

Closing Thoughts

The sight of feathers massing up on the floor of the coop can be an unnerving sight for new farmers. However, by first finding out the likely causes, you can quickly find a solution to helping your chickens regain their plumage. When you are not sure, always seek the guidance of a vet or qualified extension worker.

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