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:
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.
One supplement we do give our chickens is ginger powder, and we’ve written about this extensively here.
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
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.
Pecking Order and Chicken Bullying Can Cause Chicken Feather Loss
Chickens can also lose their feathers when they are being bullied. If you’ve kept chickens for any length of time, you know that they often jostle and compete to move up the ‘pecking order.
The pecking order is the chickens ‘hierarchy of status,’ and chickens at the top control the rest of the flock. Whilst this jostling for pecking order is normally harmless, occasionally it can turn into bullying, and hens get singled out and targeted.
I’ve found the more aggressive breeds are genetical ‘closer’ to the original jungle fowl.
If a single hen is being targeted, its feathers will get plucked out, and its skin may also get broken. Broody hens often get targeted because they have plucked out their own breast feathers, and the other chickens will then peck at the red flesh.
This can be very dangerous because chickens are attracted to blood to peck the injured chicken even more. You can spread tree pruning sealer onto the cut to help protect the injured chicken.
The sealer will dry hard nearly straight away and will give the chicken time to recover. Also, the sealer is black, so the chickens won’t be anywhere near as keen to peck at it, and if they do, it will rub off on their beak, so you know which hens have been bullying.
You can then either isolate the culprits or use a blinder for a few days.
I always prefer to isolate the culprit instead. To do this, I place them in a separate smaller pan for a couple of days.
Interestingly, when the bully returns to the pen, they get knocked down a peg or two by the other girls because the bully is considered ‘new.’
You will notice when you add new chickens to your existing flock, there will also be some jostling for position in the pecking order, and as a result, some of your chickens will lose their feathers.
This should settle down in a few days if you introduce the chickens to each other properly.
If you find they are still pecking out each other’s feathers, you will need to separate the new and old chickens for a few days and then attempt to reintroduce them to each other.
The final reason chickens will bully each other is because there isn’t enough room in their coop or run.
Chickens need at least 3 square feet each inside the coop and 15 square feet each inside the run. If they have less than this, they will bully each other and peck out each other’s feathers.
Chicken Feather Loss Caused by Parasites and Disease
In addition to molting, the only other occasion when feather loss can be flock-wide is when your chickens have a disease or are infected with parasites.
Parasites can cause your hens to lose their feathers and also stop laying eggs.
The most common parasites are lice and red mites. Mites will live in the chicken coop and only appear during the night to suck blood from the chickens.
Whereas lice actually live on the chickens’ bodies, so they are easier to spot.
In both cases, you can use poultry dust from your local hardware store to remove the parasites. If you are treating mites, you can spread the poultry dust in the coop, whereas if you are treating lice, you need to apply the poultry dust directly onto your chickens.
To prevent either of the parasites from returning, make sure you regularly clean your chicken coop and wash your hands before handling your chickens.
If your chickens have lost their feathers for over 12 weeks and there is no obvious sign as to why make sure you visit your vet to double-check they are ok.
Just one of the diseases that might cause your chicken to lose feathers is vent gleet. This is a fungal infection in your chicken’s vent, which is where they expel eggs and waste.
While the feather loss from vent gleet is usually close to the vent, it can be anywhere.
If your chicken develops vent gleet, consult a vet. Prevent it by keeping the coop clean and giving your birds proper food and water.
Roosters Can Be The Cause of Chicken Feather Loss
Surprisingly, roosters can be the cause of chickens losing their feathers as well. When roosters mate with hens, the rooster holds onto the hen’s back with their beak- this is known as treading.
When this happens, the rooster can easily pull the feathers out of the hen’s neck and back. If the rooster only mates with a certain hen, then the balding can be very obvious!
Fortunately, if your rooster is placed with several hens, then this balding won’t be noticeable.
Chicken Feather Loss Can Be Caused by Stress
Chickens can also lose feathers when they are experiencing high stress levels in general. Stress can be caused by:
If you think your chicken is stressed out and need to chill out a bit, consider what’s upsetting them and remove the stressor.
For example, If a predator is lurking nearby, you might not know it, but your chickens certainly do. Feather loss and extensive rooster crowing (especially at night) indicate an unwelcome visitor nearby.
Change in Diet Can Cause Loss
A sudden change in a chicken’s diet can inadvertently trigger a molt. In fact, industrial-grade farmers used this common technique to force their chickens to molt and improve the quality of eggs they laid. Fortunately, this is now illegal in many places.
By changing their diet, if you’re not careful, you can reduce the amount of protein your chickens are getting, and this can cause them to molt.
I’ve previously written about the importance of giving your chickens good quality layers pellets and what happened when we stopped giving our chickens pellets.
If you want healthy, happy chickens, you need to make sure they get access to a high protein diet, and the simplest way to do this is through layers pellets.
Another Reason for Chicken Feather Loss Could Be Preening
Preening is yet another reason that your chickens might lose some feathers. The difference is that they will only lose a few, and they will do it themselves. In fact, compared to the other reasons, this is hardly noticeable or not even noticeable.
You know that your chickens spread the oil from their preen gland (by the base of their tail) and use their beak to spread it over the feathers. They also sometimes remove unsightly feathers.
Boredom Can Also Be A Cause
Like any other animal, your chickens might get bored if you don’t give them enough space or activities. Sometimes, that boredom can lead to them picking out their feathers, whether from frustration or to give them something to do.
Luckily, this is typically an easy fix. You need to give your chickens a bit more space and some distractions.
Reasons the Chicken’s Feathers May Not Come Back Right Away
You solved the problem, and your chicken isn’t losing feathers anymore, but new feathers aren’t growing. What happened?
Sometimes, the feather breaks as it emerges. It can get stuck in the skin, making the chicken’s body think that there is a feather there.
If that happens, you will have to wait until the chicken molts again and sheds the feather. Then, a replacement should grow in its place.
Even if you got your chickens’ feather-pecking under control, they might still pick some of the new feathers growing into place.
Unfortunately, pin feathers are really tempting, especially when surrounded by the red of irritated skin.
How Can You Encourage the Chicken’s Feathers to Return More Quickly?
Luckily, you can do a few things to help encourage your chicken’s feathers to return more quickly. These include:
- Only giving snacks and treats in moderation.
- Letting your chickens enjoy a dust bath.
- Confirm your chicken is getting the proper diet.
- Adding sea kelp or kelp meal to their diet.
- Keeping the area clean.
- Using Blu-Kote to dye the area slightly blue and reduce the urge to peck.
- Removing the chickens missing feathers from the flock temporarily.
- Using aprons to cover the area.
- Maintaining the right proportion of roosters to hens to prevent over-mating.
The key thing to remember is that normally when chickens lose their feathers, it’s completely harmless.
However, sometimes it can be a cause for concern, so make sure to give your chickens a thorough inspection if/when they do lose their feathers.
Common Questions About Chicken Feather Loss
If you still have any lingering doubts about feather loss, the following should help clear them up.
What Causes Feather Loss in Chickens?
The most common reason for feather loss in chickens is molting or molting, which is natural and involves replacing older feathers with new ones.
How Do You Treat Feather Loss in Chickens?
Inspect your chickens by pushing apart the feathers to look for the cause of the loss. Once you figure out what caused the feather loss, you can address the problem at its source.
How Do You Tell If Chicken Is Molting or Has Mites?
Look for signs of mites or lice, such as decreased activity, dirty vent feathers, pale combs, appetite changes, weight loss, reduced egg production, ragged-looking feathers, bald spots, and feather-pulling.
How Often Do Chickens Lose Feathers?
Molting typically happens about once a year, starting at around 18 months old. Expect the process to take 8-16 weeks.
What Do You Feed Chickens for Feather Growth?
Let us know in the comments below what methods you’ve used to help your chickens during their molts.