Why Do Chickens Lose Their Feathers?

Last Updated: 07.12.19

 

In order to keep your hens happy and enjoy good egg production, maintaining an appropriate environment is crucial. If you want to learn more about chicken coops, and would like to read an article about them, you can check it out here. Taking care of these birds might seem an easy task, but there are a lot of things you need to know.

You have to feed them right, offer them an appropriate habitat with a certain amount of space depending on their numbers, and you also need to know their habits and life cycle. If you are new to raising chickens, the fact that they start losing their feathers might scare you.

For someone who does not know too much about these creatures, it may certainly be a sign of disease. The truth is that there can be a number of reasons why chickens lose their feathers. Some of them are seasonal, while others may occur at any time of the year.

 

Annual Molting

The most common reason for feather loss is the annual molt. This is a normal process through which chickens shed their old feathers and replace them with new ones. Under normal circumstances, these birds molt during the end of the egg laying season, namely in the fall.

This process is closely linked to daylight hours. Therefore, during the fall, when the number of daylight hours starts decreasing, you can expect your hens to start losing their feathers. If you follow this event closely, you will notice that your birds start losing the feathers around their neck first.

It then spreads to their backs and moves towards their breasts until they finally lose the last feathers around their tails. Molting usually lasts for about six weeks but older chickens might take a bit longer, up to ten or even twelve weeks.

Moreover, you will also notice that their comb will start to lose some of its colors and the tones won’t be so vibrant anymore. Another aspect you will notice during the molting season is that the number of eggs will decrease, and some chickens may even stop laying eggs altogether.

 

 

Again, this is normal, as the birds require a lot of proteins to produce eggs. However, their feathers are 80 percent protein. Therefore, when your chickens molt they do not have enough protein to also lay eggs.

Since we mentioned that chickens molt during the fall under normal circumstances, we have to explain what this means. Molting in the fall is a natural part of a chicken’s life cycle. There are owners who need their egg production to remain stable. As a consequence, they trick the birds using artificial light so that no daylight hours are lost.

However, we have to warn you about this method. Molting is a normal process that cannot be stopped and should not be stopped. By adding artificial light, you may postpone this process, but it will eventually occur. The problem is that it might happen in the dead of the winter when it is the coldest and the chickens need their feathers the most.

In case you are wondering if molting can be stopped, as we just mentioned, the answer is no. The only thing you can do is speed things up a bit. Do you remember that we discussed protein a little earlier? Since this element is required for both eggs and new feathers, you can speed the molting process by providing your birds with food that contains a higher percentage of protein.

In addition, you can stop feeding them layers’ pellets. As a suggestion, you can feed your chickens game bird feed during their molt due to its 20 percent protein content. This, for example, is double the amount of protein in layer pellets.

 

Broody Hens

As previously mentioned, there can be multiple reasons why chickens lose their feathers. In addition to molting, which is a natural and very normal process, another cause can be that a chicken is broody.

A broody chicken is the one that wants to hatch her own eggs, and, in this period, she lays on top of them all day long. You can easily notice a broody hen, as she will not leave her nesting box, and she will also only rarely eat.

The reason why broody hens lose their feathers is that they tend to pluck their own breast feathers out in order for the skin to be in direct contact with the eggs. If she continues this for a long period, it becomes unhealthy for her.

Also, you might not want new chickens or simply lack the necessary space. There are ways to stop a broody hen, so if that should be the case, make sure you do the necessary research.

 

Bullying and Pecking Order

Chickens can also lose their feathers if they are bullied. It is not unusual for the hens in a coop to often fight and compete in order to move up the pecking order. The pecking order is the chickens’ hierarchy of status, and the ones at the top of it control the rest of the flock.

While this pushing around for pecking order is natural and usually harmless, it can sometimes turn into bullying and the targeted hens get singled out and become victims for the others. When a single chicken becomes targeted, her feathers will get plucked out and even her skin can get injured.

Broody chickens often get targeted after they pluck their own breast feathers. The others tend to peck at the red flesh. Bullying in a coop can become very dangerous due to the fact that chickens are attracted to blood, so they will attack and hurt the bullied one even more.

If you notice this type of behavior in your coop, there are a few things you can do. For example, you can use tree pruning sealer onto the cut. This will protect the injured hen. Since the formula is black, the other chickens won’t get near her. It will give her time to heal without being attacked anymore.

In addition to this, you can also isolate the culprits for a few days. You can do so by placing them in a separate and smaller pen. A few days will suffice. When they return to the coop, they will get knocked down a peg or two by the others as they will be perceived as new.

 

 

Disease and Parasites

Another reason for chickens losing their feathers can be disease or infection with parasites. These parasites can cause your birds to lose their feathers and also stop laying eggs. The most common ones are red mites and lice.

While mites live in the coop and only make their appearance at night to suck blood from the hens, lice actually live on the birds’ bodies, so they are easier to spot. For both, you can use poultry dust to remove them. You can usually find this at your local hardware store.

In order to prevent these parasites from returning you need to make sure that you clean your chicken coop regularly and also wash your hands thoroughly both before and after handling the chickens.

 

Other Reasons

Roosters can also cause the chickens to lose their feathers. This happens because when the rooster mates with the hens, he holds onto the hen’s back with his beak. During the mating session, the rooster can easily pluck out feathers from the chicken’s back and neck. Also, a sudden change in the birds’ diet can involuntarily trigger a molt.

 

 

 

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