Chicken Losing Feathers: 14 Reasons & How to Treat It

Two chickens losing feathers

If you’re scratching your head wondering, “Why do chickens lose their feathers?” you’ve come to the right place. Feather loss can be a mysterious issue for anyone who’s raising backyard birds. 

Whether your chickens are missing feathers on their backs or anywhere else, this comprehensive article will reveal 14 main reasons that cause chicken feather loss. 

On top of this, we will also look into what chickens need for healthy plumage and how to address this issue. Let’s begin!

14 Reasons Why Chickens Lose Feathers

Feather loss can be puzzling and concerning for anyone raising chickens. This section aims to break down 14 common reasons that lead to chickens losing their plumage. 

Understanding the cause of chicken feather loss can help you take steps in growing feathers back on your birds. So, read on to help your balding chicken and solve the feather mystery once and for all.

1. Molting

Fully grown chicken during molting

Molting is one of the main reasons why your chicken loses a lot of feathers. It is a natural, annual process where chickens lose their feathers to grow a new set. So, don’t panic when you find feathers all over the place.

The duration of this process may vary from chicken to chicken. Some chickens may molt for a short period, while others may lose feathers for months.

What You Should Do?

Increase protein in their diet to help new feathers grow. This is the time to be extra generous with high-protein treats like mealworms and sunflower seeds. Rest assured, feathers will grow back.

Here’s a video explaining the molting process in chickens:

Why Your Chickens Are Losing Their Feathers (It's Molting Season)

2. Pecking Order

Two roosters establishing the pecking order

Chickens have social hierarchies. Sometimes, establishing or changing the pecking order can lead to feather loss.

If you own a flock of chickens, you may notice some hens exhibiting dominance by pulling the feathers of other chickens in the group.

Those who are bullied by more dominant chickens will likely have dried blood stains and visible damage to their feather shaft. They are also more likely to be withdrawn or anxious.

What You Should Do?

Keep an eye on your flock for any signs of bullying. If necessary, separate the aggressive chicken for a few days. Make sure your chicken coop is spacious enough to reduce tension.

3. Parasites

Chickens losing feathers due to parasites

Tiny pests like mites or lice can make chickens extremely uncomfortable, causing them to lose feathers.

One of the parasites to watch out for is the depluming mite. This type burrows into the chicken’s skin around the feather follicles, causing the feathers around the area to fall.

What You Should Do?

Conduct regular check-ups for signs of these parasites. Use poultry dust or natural oils like neem oil for treatment. Always follow vet-recommended protocols.

4. Disease

Chicken losing feathers due to a disease

Certain illnesses can cause feather loss in chickens. Diseases like Marek’s disease, fowl pox, polyomavirus, gangrenous dermatitis, and malnutrition are some of the reasons for chickens losing feathers.

Infections such as vent gleet can also cause chickens to lose their feathers along with a whitish-yellow discharge.

What You Should Do?

If your chicken is losing feathers and shows other signs of illness like lethargy or reduced appetite, consult a veterinarian immediately. Ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date.

5. Stress

Chicken losing feathers due to stress

Environmental changes or predators such as hawks can stress out your chickens, causing feathers to fall.

Chickens living in areas that are overcrowded, too hot, or too cold can lose feathers. Dehydration can also be a factor.

What You Should Do?

Make their environment as stable as possible. Use an automatic chicken feeder and waterer for consistency. Stress can weaken their immune system, so keep things calm.

6. Boredom

Plucked chicken feathers due to boredom

Chickens are intelligent and curious animals that need mental stimulation every day. Lack of stimulation can cause chickens to peck at their own or each other’s feathers.

What You Should Do?

Add enrichment like toys, perches, and treats in their chicken run. A bored chicken is more likely to engage in feather pecking, so keep them entertained.

7. Dietary Deficiencies

Chicken with dietary deficiency

Lack of essential nutrients can lead to poor feather quality and feather loss. Some chickens pluck feathers due to protein deficiency.

As a result, you may see balding spots on the chicken’s body, commonly in areas that they can easily reach.

What You Should Do?

Ensure a well-balanced diet rich in protein, vitamins, and minerals. Clean, fresh water should always be available.

8. Over-mating

Chicken losing feathers due to over mating

Roosters can be quite aggressive in their mating habits, leading to hens losing feathers on their backs. It’s quite normal for a rooster to use its beak to tug on the hen’s nape feathers.

However, it can be a problem if a rooster chooses to only mate with a particular hen, which can cause her to have a bald spot.

What You Should Do?

If this becomes an issue, consider separating your roosters from your hens temporarily or implementing hen saddles to protect the hens’ backs.

9. Preening

Chicken preening

Preening is a natural behavior for chickens and a common reason why you might see some loose feathers around the coop. 

It helps distribute oil, which waterproofs their feathers and provides some insulation against cold weather. 

Preening isn’t usually a concern, but excessive preening can indicate stress or external parasites, so it’s good to be aware and monitor the situation.

What You Should Do?

Make sure there’s adequate shelter from harsh weather conditions. Keep in mind that oil helps waterproof the feathers.

10. Nesting Issues

Chicken with nesting issues

Rough, dirty, or cramped nesting boxes can lead to feathers getting damaged. If their nesting box is infested with external parasites, it can be an even bigger problem.

What You Should Do?

Ensure that nesting boxes have soft, clean bedding and that there are no protruding nails or splinters. They must also have enough space for the size of your chicken.

11. Age

Old chicken losing feathers

Older chickens naturally lose more feathers and may not grow back their feathers as quickly.

What You Should Do?

Provide special care for older hens, which may include a different diet or more comfortable nesting areas. Consult with experienced chicken keepers for more tailored advice.

12. Broodiness

Broody hen up close

When hens are broody, they might pluck their own breast feathers to keep eggs warm. This behavior is mainly observed in hens that want to hatch their eggs.

If you notice your chicken losing feathers around its keel bone, then broodiness might be the cause.

You can easily spot a broody hen in your flock by observing its behavior if she is aggressive and overprotective of her eggs.

What You Should Do?

If you’re not interested in hatching eggs, discourage broody behavior by removing nesting material or giving her a cool bath.

13. Genetics

Chicken losing feathers due to genetics

Some chicken breeds have less dense feathers or may be more prone to feather loss. A specific breed called the Transylvanian naked neck has no feathers on its neck due to a genetic mutation.

What You Should Do?

When choosing breeds, keep in mind their feathering traits. If you’re concerned about feather loss, select a breed known for dense feathering.

14. Poor Housing

Chicken losing feathers due to poor housing

Poorly designed or unsafe chicken coops can lead to feather loss. This can be triggered by poor ventilation, lights that are too bright, and uneven distribution of feeders and drinkers.

What You Should Do?

Make sure the coop is built to be safe, spacious, well-ventilated, and free from sharp objects or edges that could pull out feathers.

I’ve spent over a decade raising and caring for chickens, and one of the most common issues I’ve encountered in my coop is chickens missing feathers on their back.

In one memorable case, a hen from my flock had missing feathers on her back that initially seemed like a result of pecking. 

After ruling out other possibilities, I realized it was due to excessive mating, a situation that I had to address immediately for the well-being of the hen. Investing in hen saddles did the trick for me, which is very effective.

What to Do If Your Chickens Are Losing Feathers

So you’ve noticed your backyard chicken is missing feathers, or perhaps you’ve found a clump of feathers in the coop. Feather loss can be concerning for anyone raising chickens, especially if you’re new to the game. 

Whether your chicken is losing feathers due to molting, parasites, or other issues, there are specific steps you can take to help your feathered friends. 

If your chickens are losing their feathers, here are what you should do:

1. Identify the Cause

The first step is to identify the common reason for feather loss. Observe your chickens losing feathers for patterns. 

Do they have missing feathers on their backs or near the tail feathers? Identifying the area can help pinpoint the cause.

Once you’ve gathered enough information, consult with experienced chicken keepers or a vet to validate your findings.

2. Dietary Adjustments

Poor diet can be a cause of chickens losing feathers. Make sure your chickens have access to a balanced diet rich in protein. Protein is essential for new feathers to grow back.

Consider adding an automatic chicken feeder to maintain a consistent feeding schedule, which can also help chickens regrow their feathers.

3. Improve Housing Conditions

Ensure your chicken coop is well-ventilated and free from hazards. A poorly constructed coop can also cause feather loss.

Make it spacious enough to reduce crowding and territorial disputes, which affect the pecking order and may lead to feathers on her back getting plucked.

4. Mite and Lice Treatment

External parasites like mites or lice are another common reason for feather loss. These pests can irritate the skin near the base of the feathers, leading to plucking.

Treat affected chickens with vet-recommended medication or natural remedies to eliminate the pests.

5. Manage Stress

Stress from predators or environmental changes can cause your chickens to lose their calm and their feathers. Stress can also make feathers fall easily.

Implement predator-proofing methods and ensure there’s a waterer for every ten chickens to keep them hydrated and less stressed.

6. Prevent Over-mating

Roosters can be overzealous in their mating habits, causing hens to end up losing feathers on their back.

Consider separating the roosters or using hen saddles to protect the hens’ back feathers.

7. Check for Illness

Sometimes, feather loss in chickens is due to underlying diseases. Symptoms might include lethargy, change in eating habits, or trouble laying eggs.

Consult a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment if you suspect illness is the cause of feather loss.

8. Behavioral Remedies

Boredom or stress can make chickens pluck their feathers or each other’s feathers. Add toys or treats to the chicken run to keep them engaged.

Monitor for signs of bullying or disruption in the pecking order that may cause chickens to lose feathers.

9. Consult a Vet

When in doubt, consult a vet. Sometimes, the cause of chicken feather loss is not easily identifiable and may require expert advice for effective treatment.

Blood tests or skin scrapings may be recommended to pinpoint what caused the feather loss.

By now, you should have a clearer understanding of why your chicken might be losing her feathers and what steps you can take to address it. 

Whether it’s a natural process like chicken molts or issues like parasites, there are ways to help your birds grow their chest feathers and downy feathers back. 

Keep an eye out for changes in behavior and clumps of feathers to stay proactive in your chicken care.

Frequently Asked Questions

Chicken losing feathers inside the coop

Why Is My Chicken Losing Feathers in Winter?

Feather loss during winter is a concern because chickens lose body heat without their insulating feathers. In winter, feather loss is commonly not due to molting but might be due to parasites like mites or lice, stress, or diet.

To deal with this, make sure your chickens have access to a warm and well-ventilated chicken coop. It’s also vital to consult a vet to rule out medical issues.

What Month Do Chickens Lose Their Feathers?

Most often, chickens will lose their feathers during the late summer or early fall. This is a natural process called molting. During molting, chickens might appear ragged and will lay eggs less frequently.

Molting usually takes around 6 to 12 weeks. Old feathers will fall out, and new feathers, or pin feathers, will grow in their place.

How Do You Tell If a Chicken Is Molting or Has Mites?

Molting usually occurs uniformly, meaning you’ll find feathers all over the place, including feathers in the coop.

Meanwhile, a chicken infested with mites or lice will have missing feathers in clumps, often around the vent or base of the tail feathers.

To confirm mites, look for tiny bugs on the skin or whitish clumps at the base of the feathers. If molting, pin feathers should be visible where old feathers have fallen out.

Final Thoughts

Understanding why your chickens are losing feathers can seem overwhelming at first. However, it’s crucial for chicken owners who aim to keep their flock in top shape. 

With this guide, you’ll now be better equipped to identify the root cause of chicken feather loss and take effective action.

Remember, taking timely action can help your chickens regrow their plumage and flaunt a new set of feathers sooner than you think.

I hope this article has answered your questions on chickens losing feathers and given you the tools to help them grow their feathers back. If you have any more questions or tips, feel free to leave a comment below!

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