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…
Contents and Quick Navigation
- Stress (Mini Molts)
- Predator Attacks
- Disease and Poor Nutrition
- Annual Molt
- Lice, Mites and Other Parasites
- Mating and Roosters
- Pecking and Bullying
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.
If they start their molt late into the winter then you can consider using a coop heater.
Lice, Mites and Other Parasites
Imagine having nasty little creepy crawlies walking through your hair.
Disgusting and irritating right?
That is what happens to your chicken when she gets lice or mites. These parasites will congregate in certain areas – usually the shafts of feathers and around the vent as it is warm and moist. They cause intense irritation and your chicken will scratch and pull out her own feathers in an attempt to be rid of them.
- Lice do not suck the blood of their host but live on the discarded skin scales and other detritus found on the chickens body.
- Mites will suck the blood of their host and in extreme cases this can lead to anemia, sickness and eventually death.
- The depluming mite is probably the worst of the lot since it actually burrows into their skin around the feather follicles and can be difficult to get rid of.
Checking and treating your chickens for external parasites is a task that should be done regularly to avoid finding an overwhelming infestation. Minor infestations can be treated with poultry dust – do not forget to treat the coop and nesting boxes too!
Once you have removed the parasites their feathers should start to grow back within a few weeks.
Your chickens will occasionally lose feathers when they preen.
This is where they take oil from the preen gland situated at the base of the tail and spread that oil over their feathers using only their beak.
The process helps to keep their feathers in great condition.
During the preening process the bird may remove broken feathers that are unsightly.
They do not usually lose a lot of feathers during preening so you probably will not see much difference in the hen’s feather covering.
Broody hens are easy to spot.
They are grumpy, bad tempered and look like they are ready for a fight.
Once a broody hen is settled into their nesting mode they will pluck feathers from their breast. This not only lines the nest with warm downy feathers for the chicks to rest on but it also ensures that the incubating eggs are right next to her skin.
This means her body temperature can easily keep the eggs at the right temperature for hatching and the chicks will be kept toasty warm after hatching.
The bald spot will appear somewhere near her keel bone. It will be difficult to see since she is not likely to let you pick her up. The plucked area will soon regrow some feathers as many broodies will go into a molt after raising their chicks.
Mating and Roosters
Hens that are frequently mated by the roosters can start to develop bald areas.
The area at the back of her comb can become quite bald by the end of the season because this is where he grabs her with his beak to give himself some stability.
You may also notice some bald spots on her back where he treads her with his feet.
During mating season you should check these areas often and carefully.
If the rooster is overly amorous he can tear up her skin with his talons causing pain and bloodshed. If you find any open areas they should be gently cleansed and then covered in antibiotic ointment. Deep tears may even need stitches so you will need to contact a veterinarian.
While these wounds are healing your hen should be isolated to give her time for her feathers to grow back.
To help prevent such injuries you can try fitting your birds with a hen saddle.
Pecking and Bullying
Chickens will pluck feathers from their companions for all kinds of reasons.
Sometimes you will find that your chickens bully each other and peck each other. You will need to pay close attention to this as it can lead to full blown cannibalism.
Any bullies should immediately be removed from the flock until the injured hen recovers.
Another cause for pecking is overcrowding.
Remember each chicken will need 4 square feet of coop space and 4 square feet in the run.
Chickens that are cramped will often peck their flock mates because they are stressed – when they peck they can remove their feathers which causes the feather loss.
The situation can be made worse by boredom.
Chickens are intelligent creatures and need some form of mental stimulation to prevent them from getting into mischief. Things like leaf piles, cabbage piñata, several perches, tree stumps, a quiet area and dust baths will help.
Insufficient nutrition will also make them pluck feathers.
If they are receiving feed that does not meet their protein requirements then they will eat feathers to get protein. Make sure your feed is at least 16% layer during most of the year and at least 20% during the molt.
Not enough feeders can cause the same thing.
Certain chickens will guard the feeders and this means some hens can not eat.
As a guideline you will need one feeder and one waterer for every ten chickens. You can also consider using an automatic chicken feeder if you do not have much time in the mornings.
This will ensure they can all get food and water and help reduce feather picking and loss.
As you can see there are several causes of feather loss in your flock. Fortunately most of the time the cause will either be molting, mating or parasites.
The key to controlling many of these problems is good housekeeping.
Keep the coop as clean as possible, give them adequate feed and fresh water.
Also if you can, then let them free range. Whilst free ranging your hens will pick up many supplements for their diet – it also lets them dust bath which can help prevent feather loss.
Although there is no perfect solution to every situation we hope we have given you the necessary information to troubleshoot feather loss in your flock.
Let us know in the comments section below if you have any questions about feather loss in your flock…
A high-protein complete feed can help hens channel nutrients into feather regrowth and get back to laying eggs. For organic flocks, try switching hens to Purina® Organic Starter-Grower when molting begins in order to maintain organic status and provide a higher level of nutrition for feather regrowth.What helps chickens grow feathers back? ›
A high-protein complete feed can help hens channel nutrients into feather regrowth and get back to laying eggs. For organic flocks, try switching hens to Purina® Organic Starter-Grower when molting begins in order to maintain organic status and provide a higher level of nutrition for feather regrowth.What would cause a chicken to lose its feathers? ›
The most common reason for this is simple: chickens moult their feathers once a year, usually in the autumn (fall). It's nature's way of taking out old plumage and preparing for the cold by re-growing new, perfectly formed feathers.What parasites cause chickens to lose feathers? ›
Poultry parasites such as mites and lice can also cause missing feathers. A good way to find out if you have these unwanted bugs is to look for them and their eggs around the chickens' vents. If discovered, these parasites can be treated.How do you tell if chicken is molting or has mites? ›
Some of the common signs of any type of mite or lice infestation in a chicken are: dirty-looking vent feathers, decreased activity or listlessness, a pale comb, changes in appetite, a drop in egg production, weight loss, feather-pulling, bald spots, redness or scabs on the skin, dull, ragged-looking feathers, crawling ...What supplements are needed for chicken feather growth? ›
Trace Mineral Supplements Improve Poultry Feather Growth
Among trace minerals, zinc, manganese and selenium are all responsible for the enzymatic process of feather development, and zinc is king.
To support your flock, give them a little extra protein to help them regrow new feathers by giving them protein-based treats or temporarily switching to a ration designed for meat chickens (20-21% protein, any higher is excessive). For hens, treading by a rooster is probably the next most common cause of feather loss.What do mites in chickens look like? ›
What Do Chicken Mites Look Like? Adult female chicken mites are small, at only roughly 1/32” long. They have flat, oval bodies, and are nearly white when unfed, but become bright red when recently fed, turning gray to black when the blood meal is partially digested.How do I add protein to my chickens diet? ›
- Dried Mealworms. At 53 % protein, Dried Mealworms are by far our chooks' favourite protein-rich treat. ...
- Dried Soldier Fly Larvae. ...
- Insects. ...
- Seeds. ...
- Non-medicated chick starter. ...
- Sprouts. ...
- Worms. ...
Immediately treat your chickens with a safe insecticide - try diatomaceous earth, absorbacide or Pestene. A couple of days later, treat the chickens again - this will get any remaining eggs and mites. If none of these insecticides work, contact your vet who may be able to prescribe you another poultry dust.
To use it for healthy chickens, chicken owners can simply add about one tablespoon per gallon in a coop's waterer. Adding ACV is an easy addition to a flock's diet for good health and boosted immune systems. By adding ACV just once a week, chicken owners can support healthy chickens without breaking the bank.What are symptoms of parasites in chickens? ›
- slow growth.
- reduced appetite and weight loss.
- ruffled feathers, droopiness and an unthrifty look.
- reduced egg production.
- pale comb.
Symptoms of a worm infestation in chickens can include: worms in eggs, abnormal droppings, (diarrhea, foamy-looking, etc) weight loss, pale comb/wattles, listlessness, abnormal droppings, dirty vent feathers, worms in droppings or throat, gasping, head-stretching and shaking, reduced egg production and sudden death.What time of year do chickens get mites? ›
What is this? They can be spread by bringing infected chickens into your flock, by wild birds, rodents, in infected bedding, or by you carrying them in on your shoes or clothing. Poultry mites are more prevalent and active in warm weather and during the summer, although some types do live in cold climates as well.Can you eat eggs if chickens have mites? ›
Such infestations increase stress on the chickens and may cause economic damage such as decreased egg production and feed conversion efficiency, the researchers note. The researchers also note that there is no risk to humans who eat eggs or the meat of infested chickens.Will chicken mites go away on their own? ›
Chicken mites will not just go away on their own. It takes deliberate action to treat mites and kill them. But killing mites doesn't have to hurt your chickens! Chicken mites go by many different names: Northern fowl mites, scaly leg mites, poultry mites, red mites, red roost mites, red chicken mites…What promotes feather growth? ›
Feathers are high in protein – between 85–90%. To promote feather regrowth, provide your flock high protein treats in addition to their regular balanced feed. This will give them a leg up on the process.Which mineral is important for feather growth? ›
As for minerals, calcium is the most important for birds. Calcium is needed for strong bone formation, blood clotting, feather growth, and healthy eggs.What vitamins help feather growth? ›
Vitamin and minerals
Some vitamins, particularly vitamins A, B, C, and D have important roles in feather growth and development (Table 2).
Infestations of feather mites or lice can cause a reduction in laying, pale combs and wattles, anemia and even death! Infestations can also cause feather loss, usually on the back, because a bird may over-preen and pluck her own feathers in an attempt to get relief.
Sometimes hens will regrow feathers immediately, and sometimes they won't regrow missing feathers until the molt (usually in the late summer or fall). The best layers are usually using all their resources to produce eggs, rather than to regrow feathers.How do chickens get mites? ›
Poultry lice and mites are common external parasites that you will often discover when keeping chickens. They are easily transferred to chickens by wild birds, rodents and other chickens that you may introduce from time to time to your existing flock.What kills bird mites instantly? ›
What Kills Bird Mites Instantly? A chemical insecticide, like permethrin, ß-cyfluthrin, or deltamethrin, will kill bird mites on contact.Can you use ivermectin to treat mites in chickens? ›
Though contradictory, injectable Ivermectin can be used topically, orally, and of course as an injectable in poultry (Chicken). Ivermectin and Permethrin must be used in conjunction with Elector PSP to effectively eradicate poultry lice and mites.How do you treat feather mites? ›
If you call your vet out, once the issue is diagnosed, you will often see them reach for a bottle of injectable wormer (Doramectin). The treatment protocol involves two injections, two weeks apart, given under the skin or into muscle. Topical treatments are also used to kill the mites.
Select fruits, vegetables and grains will keep chickens happy and ensure they are receiving a nutritionally balanced diet. Good choices include leafy greens, cooked beans, corn, non-sugary cereals and grains, berries, apples and most other fruits and vegetables.Can you feed oatmeal to chickens? ›
They certainly can! Oatmeal for chickens is one of my favorite treats to serve my flock in the winter. Warm oatmeal for chickens is a nutritious, energizing snack for them. Chickens love oats, which are an excellent source of vitamins, protein, and antioxidants.Does vinegar help with chicken mites? ›
Regular doses of apple cider vinegar is one of the easiest ways to prevent your flock from becoming infested with worms, mites and lice. Essentially, if consumed in safe quantities regularly, apple cider vinegar will begin to seep through your chooks' skin and repel mites and other pests.What is a homemade mite killer for chickens? ›
- 25 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed (or 1 oz garlic extract)
- 45 drops eucalyptus essential oil.
- 30 drops lavender essential oil.
- 30 drops peppermint essential oil.
- 20 drops cinnamon bark essential oil.
- 2 tbs white vinegar or witch hazel (unless using garlic extract)
After the coop has dried, sprinkle either Diatomaceous Earth or wood ash (completely cooled) all over the floor, nesting boxes, and roost. This will help to kill any mites that are left over, and will prevent future infestations.
A little bit of vinegar in their water can help reinforce that crucial strength. Digestion: ACV is often used to regulate pH levels in the body, which is excellent for bird digestion.Why do you put apple cider vinegar in chicken water? ›
Benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar for Chickens:
Reduce intestinal and fecal odor. Apple Cider Vinegar is thought to support animals digestive system by providing probiotics (also known as “good bacteria”) Helps break down minerals and fats. Assists the animal to assimilate protein.
Many backyard chicken keepers rave about Apple Cider Vinegar. They use it to help ward off infection by boosting the immune system. Also, many backyard chicken keepers use it regularly to help prevent Coccidiosis. It is full of minerals and vitamins as well as antibacterial properties.What is the best parasite treatment for chickens? ›
Fenbendazole is the only product that is currently approved for treatment and control of roundworms (Ascaridia spp.) and cecal worms (Heterakis spp.) in chickens and turkeys in the United States.How do you deworm chickens naturally? ›
- 1 clove chopped garlic + 1/2 tsp slippery elm or 1 tablespoon of kefir or live plain yoghurt.
- Add 1 or 2 of these – 1 fine chopped leaf of comfrey, 1 teaspoon finely chopped wormwood tips and/or tansy leaves, 1 teaspoon dried nettle.
- Add water to make a porridge consistency.
Natural worming remedy: That's right, feeding your chooks diatomaceous with their feed is an eggcellent way to prevent and treat worms. In the same way diatomaceous earth kills parasites outside of the body it will also eradicate worms at the source – inside your chickens stomach and bowels.How often should I deworm my chickens? ›
If you are worming as part of a prevention routine, most poultry keepers worm at least every 3-6 months, between 2 to 4 times a year. At the very minimum treat in the Spring before the breeding season (when temperature rises and worm eggs become infective) and again at the end of Summer (when egg numbers decline.)How often to use ivermectin on chickens? ›
|Effective against||roundworms, lice, scaly leg mites|
|Meat withdrawal period||10 days|
|Effective within||2-5 days|
|Dosage||2 x 0.4 mg/kg pour on – 10 days apart|
|Side effects||diarrhea, weakness|
- Bird flu (Avian influenza) ...
- Campylobacteriosis (Campylobacter spp.) ...
- E. ...
- Histoplasmosis (Histoplasma capsulatum) ...
- Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.)
Treatment must be carried out three times, with one week in between each treatment. This is to make sure all the larvae are killed, as well as the active mites.
Ivermectin is a non-FDA approved, off label treatment for cecal worms, capillary worms, and gapeworms. It can be administered orally, in drinking water, or injected in the subcutaneous space.What is the best bedding to prevent chicken mites? ›
Hemp bedding is highly touted for being very absorbent and also for repelling pests and parasite. It is more expensive than pine bedding, but it's supposed to last longer. Adding fresh herbs to your nesting boxes can also be a great way to deter mites.How do I keep chickens parasite free? ›
- Keep the coop as clean as possible.
- Provide a dust bath for your flock. Chickens will instinctively dust themselves to get ride of mites and lice. ...
- Avoid your flock from encountering other birds. ...
- Treat the coop with powders like diatomaceous earth or wood ash.
Two genuine predators of poultry red mites are identified: Hypoaspis aculeifer and Androlaelaps casalis.Should I bathe a chicken with mites? ›
If you are concerned that your chicken has mites (tiny insects) on its skin, then a salt bath can lessen any skin irritation and may even kill off the mites.What is the best source of protein for chickens? ›
Meat, fish and seafood are all great sources of protein for chickens, but not all chicken keepers are comfortable with them. If you do want to feed your birds meat or fish, always ensure it is fresh and remove any uneaten scraps after an hour or so.Can a chicken grow its feathers back? ›
Sometimes hens will regrow feathers immediately, and sometimes they won't regrow missing feathers until the molt (usually in the late summer or fall). The best layers are usually using all their resources to produce eggs, rather than to regrow feathers.How can I speed up molting? ›
A daily boost of protein from Grubblies (32% guaranteed analysis) helps speed up the molting process, which will help your chickens grow new beautiful feathers and help them regain normal levels of energy and egg output.Why are my chickens not growing feathers on their back? ›
The most common reason that feathers do not develop is a deficiency of a critical protein constituent (amino acid) from the diet of the birds.What happens if chickens get too much protein? ›
Too much overall protein in a chicken's diet could lead to kidney failure, so it's best to stay within recommended protein levels for your birds.
Stress such as extreme heat, water or food deprivation and illness can induce moulting. Pecking feathers out by other chickens around the vent or on the back is usually caused by stress, boredom or protein deficiency. Cockerels can damage feathers on a hens back during mating.Is it bad for chickens to lose feathers? ›
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.Are mealworms good for chickens? ›
Mealworms are a wonderful source of protein for your chickens. Feeding even a few mealworms in addition to their normal feed will increase their protein intake.How do you increase protein for molting chickens? ›
During molting season, it may be helpful to increase the amount of protein that your chickens receive in their feed. You can do this by mixing chick feed or broiler feed (which contain about 18-20% protein) with their layer feed or by providing it as a separate snack throughout the molting season.What nutrient is most helpful to chickens during the molt process? ›
Importance of Amino Acids During Molt
During this time, egg laying will slow down or cease altogether. Chicken feathers are about 85% protein, so chickens need extra protein in their diet during this time to support healthy feather regrowth.
Molting. The molting process is triggered by hormones released when an insect's growth reaches the physical limits of its exoskeleton. Each molt represents the end of one growth stage (instar) and the beginning of another (Figure 1).What are chicken mites? ›
Chicken mite (or red poultry mite, Dermanyssus gallinae) is a blood-sucking mite that generally feeds on poultry during the night. During the day these mites may be hiding in areas throughout the poultry house, especially in cracks and crevices of sur- rounding woodwork, under clods of dirt or manure, or in nests.What age do chickens start losing feathers? ›
Chicks start their molting process at about one week of age, replacing down feathers with baby feathers. They will then molt again around 2 months of age, replacing baby feathers with new ones. Adult chickens will molt around 18 months of age, and will do so annually after that.