7+ Simple Reasons Why Your Chickens Are Losing Feathers

My beautiful Yokohama rooster looks like a buzzard every time he goes through the molting process. He looks bad for about a month then his feathers start to grow back prettier than ever.

Seeing those feathers start to drop and your backyard chickens start to look a little rough is enough to make any chicken keeper jumpy. You want to make sure that there is nothing wrong with your flock which is a good thing. 

why are my chickens losing feathers header image

The first to reasons I am going to talk about are the most common. One is a natural process and the other has an easy enough treatment if you stick with it.  

If your chickens are 4H or fair projects for your kiddos it is best to sign up multiple chickens and have backups if the show days are later in the year.

Most Common Reasons Chickens Lose Feathers

I also want you to know that chickens do experience the loss of feathers just like you lose hair. It’s not that anything is wrong. So don’t freak out at the first sign of a dropped feather ok?

Yearly Molt

Once your chickens are about a year and a half old they will start to molt their feathers. It can be a little bit of feathers OR some chickens lose a lot of feathers. An annual molt is a natural thing that usually occurs around the fall BUT some chickens will decide to do it at a really dumb time like the dead of winter. But the fall molt is most common.

During this process, chickens shed their old feathers and replace them with a new set of beautiful, shiny and warm feathers that will keep them warm for the next year. 

When the chicken molts, some people find their chickens start from the head and neck area first while others find their chickens lose body, wing, or tail feathers at random times and in no perceptible order.

There is nothing you can do to stop the molt from happening as it is a natural process for chickens. However, providing your chicken with a healthy diet and lots of high protein feed during this time can help her through the process more easily. 

You should start to see little pin feathers start to grow in very soon after the chicken starts losing the feathers.

flock of chickens

External Parasites

Lice and mites are parasites that can be found on chickens, causing them intense irritation. These parasites will congregate in certain areas of the chicken, such as the shafts of feathers and around the vent area.

They feed off of discarded skin scales found on the chicken’s body but do not suck its blood. They can also eat the feathers down to the quill. Causing your chickens to look like a porcupine. 

The presence of lice and mites can be a very unpleasant experience for your chicken, as well as for you if you come into contact with them. It is important to take preventative measures to ensure that your chickens remain healthy and free from these parasites.

Regularly checking your chickens for signs of lice or mites is essential, as well as providing a clean environment for them to live in. The first sign of eaten feathers is where the feather just looks like a little stub sticking out of the skin. 

If you do find any lice or mites on your chickens, it is important to treat them ASAP.

chicken that has external parasites

Treatment

This is the stuff that we had to use to help get rid of the mites when we had a bad case of it a few years ago. Don’t be afraid to use to little D.E. marlizes the pets and kills them. If you know you are having issues dust your chickens and all of the area they live in every 5 days or so until you see the feathers start to grow back and you don’t see more feathers disappearing.

Get Diatomaceous Earth For Treatment

Diatomaceous Earth is the best preventative and mite treatment I have found. This two-pound bag is enough to do a coop and several feet around the main area – Get it here on amazon.

A 25-pound bag of D.E. – if you need more than a few pounds of diatomaceous Earth I would recommend getting it here at Tractor Supply

Prevention

Every year I spread diatomaceous earth around the entire chicken coop and in the run area that is fenced in. I also spread it around a fair amount of the yard where the chickens frequent.

Don’t Leave Full Buckets Of Feed Around: This is how we ended up with mites in the first place. I was free feeding the chickens by keeping a 5-gallon feeder full and ultimately we ended up feeding all of the local wild birds as well. And they brought with them their little creepy crawlies with them.

Even if the food is kept in the chicken coop the wild birds will find it. So feed your chickens what they will clean up in one feeding without acting like they are starving. There is often some left in the bowl for about 15-20 minutes after I first put it in but there are the last few stragglers cleaning up the rest. That is a good way to know if you are feeding them enough. 

Broken Feathers Vs Eaten Feathers

These are two different things. Broken feathers happen often with free range chickens. They brush up against things in the yard and cause the sides of the feathers to break or even the shaft of the feather to break. 

An eaten feather has none of the side barbs (the fluffy sides) left and you can see bare feather shafts or quills.

Roosters Mating The Hen

Mating season for roosters and hens can be a stressful time if you have aggressive roosters when they are after the hens. This aggression can cause physical damage to the hen, such as bald spots on her head and back. The area at the back of her comb can become quite bald by the end of the season due to the rooster grabbing her with his beak for stability while mating. Additionally, you may notice some bald spots on her back where he treads her with his feet. If the rooster is overly amorous he can tear up her skin with his talons.

Hen wiht a bar back from being mated a lot from a rooster

Mating is going to happen and it is fine to an extent. But if your hen is becoming extremely balled on her saddle then you may need to consider removing the rooster. 

If the breed is a calmer breed you don’t often find that people have issues with this. But if the breed is high strung you may need to get rid of the rooster. 

Also if you have several roosters this can also be a competition. One rooster mates the hen then the others have to come and “counteract” the deed of the other rooster. While they may not fight each other they still want to be the flock rooster. 

You can get chicken saddles to help protect your hens from getting bare backs but honestly, you are just putting a bandaid over the problem and forcing your hens to be uncomfortable.

The honest truth is you don’t need a rooster. If you are not hatching chicks the only thing they do is watch out for danger and warn the flock if they see something that looks suspicious.

rooster mating a hen causing her to lose feathers on her  back

If any open areas are found they should be gently cleansed and then covered in antibiotic spray not ointment. The gummy ointment can cause dirt and grim to stick to her bare spots causing infection. 

It is also important to provide plenty of space for your birds so that they do not feel crowded or threatened by other birds during mating season.

Dominant Hen Or Rooster 

Like it or not every flock has a pecking order. If you have new chickens you are adding to the flock they are going to have to work it out for themselves.

But if you have a really bossy chicken it is a problem that can lead to serious injury or even death if not addressed. Chickens may start plucking feathers from their companions for a variety of reasons, such as boredom, overcrowding, or dominance.

If you notice your chickens bullying each other and pecking each other, it is important to take action right away. Any bullies should be removed from the flock until the injured hen recovers. Overcrowding can also be a cause of pecking and bullying; remember that each chicken needs at least 4 square feet of living space.

If you are having trouble with pecking and bullying in your flock, you may have to consider adding that bossy bird to the freezer. Don’t feel bad about it. It’s just a fact of farm life and you owe it to your other birds to not force them to live with a nasty guest.

lavender rooster

A Broody Hen

Broody hens are a common sight in many chicken coops. They can be easily identified by their grumpy, bad tempered demeanor and the fact that they look like they are ready for a fight. 

Once settled into their nesting mode, broody hens will pluck her own feathers from their breast to line the nest with warm downy feathers for the chicks to rest on. This also ensures that the incubating eggs are right next to her skin so that her body temperature can keep them at the right temperature for hatching.

After hatching, the chicks will be kept toasty warm due to this close proximity. A bald spot will usually appear somewhere near her keel bone as a result of this feather-plucking behavior.

The behavior of broody hens is an important part of successful chicken-keeping and egg production. Not only do they provide warmth and protection for developing eggs, but they also help ensure that chicks have a safe place to rest after hatching. 

If you do not want your hen to go broody make sure to collect the eggs daily. Most hens won’t go broody unless there is a small clutch for them to sit on and hatch out. They are most likely to go broody in the spring or the heat of the summer when it is nice and warm.

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Preening

Preening is an important activity for chickens, as it helps to keep their feathers in great condition. During the preening process, a chicken will take oil from the preen gland situated at the base of its tail and spread that oil over its feathers using only its beak.

This helps to keep the feathers waterproof and well-maintained, while also removing any broken or unsightly feathers. While chickens may lose some feathers during preening, this usually isn’t a significant amount and you probably won’t notice much difference in the hen’s feather covering.

Predator Attack

Predator attacks can be a traumatic experience for chickens, and not just the bird that was attacked. The entire flock will feel the stress of the attack, which can cause their feathers to fall out and take weeks to grow back.

Chickens that survive an attack often have bare skin and missing feathers and may even have some open wounds. Young predators may only get away with a mouthful of feathers, but more experienced ones will end up with a chicken dinner. It can be heartbreaking to find nothing but a pile of feathers after an attack, as it is a reminder of what happened.

If your hen survives an attack, it is important to check her over immediately for any wounds or injuries. Treating these wounds quickly can help prevent infection and ensure that your hen recovers from the trauma as soon as possible.

You should also do your best to protect your flock from future attacks by ensuring they have adequate shelter and security measures in place. It happens to the best of us and the only thing you can do is try to fix the problem so it doesn’t happen again.

Taking these precautions can help reduce the risk of another predator attack occurring in the future.

Illness Or Poor Nutrition

Poor nutrition can cause health issues in chickens and can manifest itself in the form of feather loss.

When a chicken is ill or has poor nutrition, it will often lose feathers as a symptom. Common diseases that can cause feather loss include fowl pox, cutaneous Marek’s, polyomavirus, malnutrition and gangrenous dermatitis. Fortunately, these diseases are not overly common and can be treated if diagnosed early enough.

Poor nutrition and not enough protein can be caused by inadequate feed or lack of access to food and water. Now if you are feeding your chickens daily you may need to up the amount you are giving them or you need to watch to see if there is a particular bird that is being bossy and not allowing the unhealthy chicken to get to the food.

If you suspect your chicken may have poor nutrition, make sure to provide them with a balanced diet full of essential vitamins and minerals. You may need to put the chicken that is suffering in a pen of its own until it gets its strength back. 

Additionally, ensure they have access to clean water at all times and plenty of space to roam around in order to get exercise. Taking these steps will help keep your chickens healthy and prevent any further feather loss due to malnutrition or other diseases.

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Best Tips To Grow The Feathers Back

Feathers provide insulation and protection from the elements. It is normal for chicken keepers to want to speed up the process but you cant do much about it except help things along.

The first step is to maintain your chickens’ living space. This includes cleaning the coop, roost, and nesting boxes regularly. Keeping these areas clean will help reduce stress levels and create a healthier environment for your chickens.

Additionally, it is important to provide high protein in order to help promote feather regrowth. You can find a higher protein poultry feed to help your chickens grow back their feathers. You can also add some cat food to the chicken feed to help new feathers to grow back faster.

Treats such as meal worms and sunflower seeds in moderation as an additional source of protein.

The most important things to remember when dealing with feather loss even though it can be stressful for backyard chicken owners is that you can treat it if you check on your flock regularly and do a bit of detective work to find out the true reason for feather lose and don’t just assume.

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