Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Reasons for Missing Feathers on Backyard Chickens


Feather loss and missing feathers happens within every flock at one point or another.  Suddenly, one day you happen to notice that one or more of your chickens are missing some feathers. Missing feathers should always cause you to do a bit of detective work.  There are reasons for missing feathers.  Some reasons are obvious, while others require you search a little deeper into the underlying cause of the missing feathers.

Feathers can go missing anywhere on a chicken's body. However, sometimes the location as to where they are missing can provide you with clues. Sometimes missing feathers occur during the normal process of molting.  Molting can take up to several months to complete and typically occurs in flocks at least one year of age.  It can also be triggered by stress. During their annual molt, typically in the fall, chickens systematically lose their feathers, starting at the head and moving down the body from neck, then chest, back, wings, and finally their backsides and their tails. Some chickens have heavier molts than others and their degree of molting can vary from year to year.  The Silkies in our flock rarely show any evidence of molting other than a few feathers here and there strewn throughout the run and coop. On the other hand, Oyster Cracker is one of those chickens that seems to drop all of her feathers overnight- leaving her bald and mangy looking for months.

Location of missing feathers and possible causes

Head- others chickens pecking, other hens asserting dominance, molting, lice
Chest-broody hen, molting
Butt- can appear beefy red-molting, vent gleet, mites, lice, feather pecking by self or others
Area immediately around vent-worms, mites, lice, egg bound, pecking by self or others
Random bald spots-feather pecking by self or others, mites, lice, bullies
Back near wings and back of neck-rooster's damage from mating/over-mating

Pecked because she was broody, in their favorite nesting box, and would not leave.
Reasons for picking at feathers

Protein deficiency- Feathers and eggs are predominantly protein. Adult chickens require diets between 15-17% protein depending on which chicken resource you rely upon.  They should all be on layer feed after approximately 20 weeks of age.  Sometimes, in our good intentions of sharing kitchen scraps, fruits and vegetables, chickens can become deficient in protein.  Therefore, they will seek another source to make up for this deficiency, even if this includes eating feathers.

Boredom-Chickens can become bored, especially in the winter. It is very important to provide your chickens with the proper amount of spacing per bird.  In flocks that are not allowed to free-range, it is suggested that each standard size chicken has approximately 10 square feet of space.  Bantams of course require less.  It is also important to provide them with distractions to keep them happy and occupied during these times when the grass outside is not always greener.

Mites/Fleas-Sometimes missing feathers are the only signs of mites.  Mites are incredibly elusive.  They like to hide in the nooks and crannies of the coop and come out and feed on the chickens under the cover of darkness.  They suck the chicken's blood and in the morning, return to their hiding place.  It is not uncommon for chicken keepers only to find them on their hens after they investigate with a flashlight in the evening. Mites that crawl and move across the chicken's skin are not only irritating, but also cause itching and pain after a while.  This annoyance can lead to chickens pecking at these sensitive spots.

Lice- Like mites, lice can be just as annoying for the same reasons; however, they love to congregate at the base of the feathers where the feathers meet the skin.  They can cause itching and a burning sensations. Lice love to hang out best near the vent, under the wings and on the head.  They will not leave their host. Instead they rapidly multiply leaving your chicken defenseless, except for feather pecking.

Bully hen/pecking order- Yes, even in the world of chickens there are bullies.  Our Dottie Speckles was one such bully.  Despite our best efforts, she was insistent upon hurting Tilly.  By the light of the moon, she took great pleasure at plucking feathers from Tilly as she slept.  Poor Tilly, she became so miserable that we had to eventually re-home Dottie Speckles.  In the meanwhile, Dottie Speckles had taught her bad habit to a few of the good hens. Taking Dottie Speckles away, allowed the girls to forget about pecking at one another and how much better it is to keep a harmonious existence.  It took me months to figure out that this is what was happening to Tilly.

Chickens Instinctively Peck-Chickens most always peck first at things that catch their eye.  They peck at shiny things such as buttons, earrings and painted toenails.  They peck at bugs, slugs and small moving flies.  Their curiosity is expressed via pecking.  There are a few things that you must remember.  Chickens love the color red.  Chickens love to peck at red things including blood.  Chickens can become cannibals if left to their own devices.

Vent Gleet-Vent gleet is also known as a fungal infection of the gastrointestinal tract.  It can lead to feather loss around the vent and the entire backside of your chickens. It is most commonly seen in hens. You can read more about it here.

Worms-If the worm infestation is serious enough in your flock the chickens will find the worms irritating to the vent area.  Thus, your chickens will peck at their vents to try and address the irritation and also perhaps at other affected chickens' vents too, especially if they notice the worms. Read more about the types of worms that affect chickens here and how to treat for them. Any veterinarian can check your chickens' poop for evidence of worms even if they don't treat chickens.

Oyster Cracker's new pin feathers are seen on her wing and neck following her molt.
Why are feathers not returning?
Quills in the Skin- Feathers begin to emerge from the skin as pin feathers.  They are pointy shafts of protein. As they grow longer, the chicken takes off the sheath and the feather unfurls.  In the center of the feather is the quill where blood supply exists.  Thus sometimes, broken feathers will bleed.  Also, sometimes when feathers are broken or pecked the tip of the feather remains in the skin.  To our eyes, we do not see any feathers, only bare spots.  However, since that tip is still in the skin the chicken's body still believes that there is a feather present.  It is not until the chicken molts, that you will see a new feathers grow into the existing bare spot.

Repetitive Pecking-As the new feathers grow in, they too are irresistible to the chickens' pecking.  Pin feathers are especially tempting.  Also, the color red of the irritated skin, especially on their bottoms, lends to pecking.  Sometimes, chickens lower in the pecking order bear the brunt of the pecking.


Helping Feathers Return
Protein snacks/Supplements-Snacks and treats should always be shared in moderation.  Too many treats can lead to health problems such as fatty liver.  Meal worms and sunflower seeds are good choices.  There are also supplements that can be temporarily added to your chickens' food such as Poultry Conditioner and Calf Manna that help too.

Access to dust bathing/ dry run-Dust bathing naturally helps chickens to clean their feathers and helps to eradicate poultry lice and mites.  It is important that your chickens always have a place in their run outside to dust bathe that stays dry from the elements.

Layer pellets-Verify that you are feeding your adult flock layer pellets.  Even full time free-ranging birds should always have access to layer pellets if they so desire.  A proper diet leads to proper functioning of their bodies.

Hygiene-Clean coop/roost/nesting boxes-This is probably the number one reason for issues that arise in backyard chicken keeping.  I can never stress enough how important it is to keep your chickens' living space clean.   Here is how we keep our coop clean.

Blu-Kote/Vetericyn- Both of these products are great to have in your chicken first aid kit. Blu-Kote is great for spraying on closed wounds only. (It can sting.)  It tints everything a bluish purple color.  Changing the color alone sometimes helps to deter chickens away from those tempting areas.  Be sure to wear gloves when applying.  It stains everything. Vetericyn is wonderful for applying to open wounds.  It is effective against bacteria, viruses and fungus and helps to promote wound healing.

Separate living area near flock- Sometimes the chicken that is missing their feathers and continually pecked upon needs to be removed from the flock until the feathers return.  Do not be tempted to return this chicken to the flock until the feathers have completely grown in and appear normal.  Here is how we have created a separate safe place for an injured chicken that would work nicely in this case as well.

Hen saddle/saver- Aprons that can be applied to the back of a chicken are an easy way to keep chickens within their flock while covering their bare backs and allowing the feathers to return.  These are great for over-mated hens and broody hens.  Just be sure to check regularly under the apron for lice and mites.  If left un-checked they can take advantage of the apron too.

Boredom busters-Keep your cooped up chickens busy.  Distraction is the key sometimes.  Try supervised free-ranging, a cabbage pinata, treat ball, chicken ball, or a flock block.

Rooster and over-mating- A flock should have at least 7 hens to one rooster.  This helps to keep certain hens from being over-mated by him and allows them to escape his constant attention.  If you have more roosters, they each will need a group of hens to keep everyone happy.

In most cases, there are identifiable reasons why chickens are missing their feathers.  Sometimes it is straight forward and other times, it may not be as obvious. In fact, like with Dottie Speckles, it took me months to finally find the culprit and figure out the solution, even though I spend a great deal of time with the flock each day.  Hens sometimes behave differently when we are around.  Keep that in mind, when you set off on your detective work and most of all do not get discouraged.  It might just be a situation where you have to wait until the next year's molt.

Checking for mites and lice near the vent

This post is linked up to the Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop.

Photo Credits:  Tilly's Nest

54 comments:

  1. Thanks so much for all the terrific information! -Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very welcome. Glad you enjoyed the post.

      Delete
  2. Good to know. Always so much good info here. I have not had a problem other than a molt. Right now no one is laying. No eggs for the last week. I miss them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Elaine, egg production is down here too. So glad your flock is doing well and hoping the eggs return soon for you and your family. Happy Holidays.

      Delete
  3. After the fall molt, my silver-laced Wyandotte's feathers came in fuzzy instead of smooth, and her wing feathers look ragged and incomplete. All the other hens molted without a hitch, and their feathers look beautiful. I can't seem to find information about what may have caused this. She doesn't appear to have any parasites or problems with the other hens, her feathers just grew in ugly. Has anyone else experienced this?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She's in her third year. This is her second molt.

      Delete
  4. Awesome info ! I remember being on the farm as a kid we had some hens with feather loss , I don't quite remember why though or what caused it ! Some where because of other chickens pecking at them I do know that lol ! We also had some hens eating their own eggs my dad had an old farmer remedy to stop that . Have a good day !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh wow, I bet you have some really neat memories of growing up. Yes, those chickens are so naughty when they eat the eggs. I did a post on that but would love to hear what your farmer remedy was! Thanks for the lovely comment.

      Delete
  5. Great info! The only thing I would add is a rooster being a bit aggressive in mating, if you have a rooster! I would love to have you share this on Wildcrafting Wednesday next week! Please stop by and vote for you favorite post on our People's Choice Awards at:
    http://www.theselfsufficienthomeacre.com/2012/12/peoples-choice-award-for-wildcrafting-wednesday.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I did mention that in the part about the aprons, but I will add that now to the upper part of the post. Thank you for the suggestion. I so appreciate it. I will be stopping by your place for a visit.

      Delete
  6. I just (maybe two weeks ago) got 10 chickens from the daughters mother in law, mostly RIRs. When my husband went to pick them up he expressed to me that she had alot of chickens ducks and geese in her smallish pen. Do you think that could be one of the reasons they might be loosing feathers? The very first picture at the top of your blog is EXACTLY what the look like. I am hoping they will start getting their feathers back shortly, Im sure they are stressed from moving and a change in environment. Since these girls are new to me its been quite difficult to catch them, but there is one who seems to be warming up to me. And then a few days ago I got a rooster from a different friend, Im hoping he wont be to mean to the ladies. Thank you so much for your blog!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think with time, enough space and good nutrition they should be on their way to feeling better, laying beautiful eggs and regrowing their feathers. The feathers may not return until after they molt. Thank you for your comment!

      Delete
  7. One of my silkie roosters has what looks like rotten feather shafts under his wings & on his feet, as well as around the beak & eyes. The skin is sluffing off easily under his wings as well. I used food grade DE to kill what might be bacteria or mites. Today I removed the infected feathers as well as the shaft, treated with a spray I made out of hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alchohol & tea tree oil. Dried the infected areas with sterile clean towels, exposed the feet, wings, & face areas to a few minutes of full sun & then applied a thin coat of antibiotic salve. Also hand fed him Emergen-C, & let him drink it on his own. The pen has fresh pine shavings laced with food grade DE (diatomatious earth). Water is fresh, also leaving Emergen-C if he wants to drink more of it. Chicken feed boosted with a little protein, DE, & the Harrisons Bird food crumbs left behind from the parrots, plus grit. Also providing pen with 6500K lumens of floresent light, some finely chopped califlower, broccoli, orange & apple. All fresh items remover before they go south. Have been concerned that my silkies were not getting enough light, gut feeling, as we stay indoors due to the high temps & humidity. So yesterday we did a DE dusting & romp in the shaded areas in the backyard. I noticed the white silkie trying to roll onto his side. After close inspection found the mess! The blue silkie is just fine, very healthy.They have been inside & together since they were chicks & this is the first time I have seen anything wrong with them since they arived 6 months or so ago.
    Any recommendations or cautions would be appretiated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Wow! Sounds like you did a great job. Now I think you just need to give it a little time to see if all of your efforts paid off. See how he is in a few days. Do keep me posted and thank you so much for sharing. The only advice I might suggest is to avoid the citrus. You could also take a peek at Nutri Drench for poultry. Many fans have had great success with that. Best of Luck!

      Delete
  8. I really appreciate your blog - especially because you give detailed and specific recommendations rather than simplified generalizations - thanks for being so practical!

    Now my question - I clicked on the picture of the chicken missing some feathers and found it was a link that led to about 5 pics - the 4th picture - with two birds eating some cantaloupe scraps - what is the cause of the feather loss in the one on the right? We have a couple of hens that look like that Do you think it is lice or worms? Or something else?
    Robin - rchap113@highspeedlink.net

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are very welcome. I would say that photo depicts vent gleet and probably some feather picking from others or that chicken herself from the irritation. I have a link to what you can do above where I mention vent gleet.

      Delete
  9. Hi Melissa,

    HELP! I am trying to find out an answer for a chicken vent problem. Have you ever run into, or heard of a purple reddish sack under a hen's vent? Apparently the vent itself isn't the problem. Unfortunately, there are no pictures to share. What is it? What causes it? If it's bad, how is it cured? This is for someone on the Back Yard Chicken forum, I don't yet have my own chickens, I'm just researching on how to care for them before I get any, and I ran into this problem. Any information would be a great help.

    Thanks,
    Heather Z.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Heather, Oh boy! Poor chicken :(
      Without having photos or more information to go on, I think this chicken is best to see a vet. It sounds like it might be combination of things. First, if it is coming out of the vent, I think vent prolapse. If it is under the vent, I am thinking an infected abscess, growth, or tumor. (Was the vent poopy or dirty?) This chicken will most likely benefit from a vet for proper diagnosis, if it is an abscess determining if it needs to be drained. She will also most likely benefit from antibiotics as well. Best of Luck!

      Delete
  10. Hi im in 4h and my blue andelusions feathers are looking horrible Its not that shes molting its just that its not together and organized is there anything I can do to get them looking better thx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If you can, do share a photo to our Facebook page. Pictures tell so much.

      Delete
  11. Hi, great info,
    We have a small chantecler that is just over a year now. We got 16 more hens and a rooster as day olds in the spring ( they are now 20 weeks old) when we introduced them together they seemed to get along fine ( she bullied them a little but just to let them know who ran the show, not hurt them) eventually the rooster reached maturity and singled her out and over mated and one day she came back blood on her neck and a peice of flesh ripped off from the back of her neck. I thought it was from a predator but then i saw the rooster on top of her pulling at the flesh! So now we have separated her, she seemed fine for a week, healing nicely but now she is loosing lots of feathers (including all her tail feathers) and has stop laying. Otherwise she is eating and drinking fine. I would like to know if you have any advise. Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Poor thing! I would assume this is most likely a stress molt from the situation. Once she is done molting the eggs should resume. (Check out my blog post on molting.) I would keep her separated until all of her feathers return. You might consider getting her a hen saddle as it is likely that this could reoccur. You might even have to consider removing the roo from the flock. As painful and upsetting as that might be to you, sometimes a flock is more peaceful that way. Good Luck and do keep me posted.

      Delete
  12. hi,
    i have gotten 5 hens this last february and they have been laying eggs for a couple months now and theres this one hen that keeps pecking on the others from their buts to the stomachs and i have kept the bully out of the cage for a while now and i still dont see recovery from the feathers , ived checked all of them for lice and mites but it doesnt seem to be the problem that the feathers arnt coming back, they areeating and drinking just fine but every so often one is slow at laying as well , is it normal to be slow on eggs and not have feathers on their butt? can you give me advice please!! :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sometimes if there are small pieces of feathers still intact in the skin then the feathers will not return until a complete molt. Slow eggs, how old are the chickens? Also, if they are molting now, feathers will be missing and eggs will slow down or even stop. Also, vent gleet comes to mind and you might also have a case where other birds have learned to peck at the feathers. Sometimes even at night when they roost. Feathers do take approximately 3 weeks to form.

      Delete
  13. I have a Rooster and a Hen. We had 2 other hens, but both died. One became egg-bound (I think) My hen has started losing feathers across her back. I noticed my rooster pecking on her back after they went in for the night. I plan to remove her from the coop and put her into another nice little coop we built for my last hen that passed. This little hen has gotten very mean, she has jumped up and pecked me on my face, she acts like my very mean rooster. If I separate them, will she settle down, or continue to be mean? Is it safe to separate, or will they not survive without each other? I know he is over-mating (after reading your comments) I can't put her with any new chickens, she was party to attacking the comb on my last hen. That's the reason we built a second coop. Any suggestions? Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi nikki! I am so sorry to hear of these things. Yes, I do believe you are right, she is being over mated. As chickens prefer to be in a flock, you might consider adding about six new hens to your flock. This will help with the overmating problem. It might even adjust this henny girl's attitude. No guarantees of course, but this is probably what I would do myself. Best of luck!

      Delete
  14. If my chickens are loosing their feathers, are the eggs still edible?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why do you think the eggs would be bad?

      Delete
  15. one of my chickens lost a bunch of feathers on her chest and ive been noticing that she isnt leaving her nest. is she broody or just cold because of the missing feathers? and also why do broody chickens lose feathers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She is definitely broody! They pull the feathers from their chest. It is self- inflicted. This is called a broody patch. They put this patch directly on the eggs to help maintain the proper humidity :) Smart girls!

      Delete
  16. I think my RIRs are moulting, as they've lost a lot of feathers. I think I'm seeing the shafts of the new feathers around their heads and neks, so I'm not too worried about the feather loss. I am worried about the temperature, though. Do I need to do something for my birds on these cold nights, if they're currently low on feathers?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The feathers should return soon. Chickens will slept very closely on the roosts at night to keep warm. As long as they are tucked in a well ventilated draft free coop at night and have it available as well during the day to go in and out of as they please, they should do just fine.

      Delete
  17. Thanks for the info. Had me really worried when they started losing their feathers. The only thing that worries me is that they've become a little stand-offish since they started losing the feathers. Is that normal? They seem to spend a lot of time inside the coop and don't want to come out unless I open the gate for them to free range around the yard. It's kind of been like this for about a month now and they both practically stopped laying eggs.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are welcome! Without seeing your flock it is always difficult to know, but my hens do not like to be handled when their new pin feathers are coming back in. As handling them can cause them pain during this time.
      http://www.tillysnest.com/2011/11/love-hurts.html
      Egg laying will also decrease or stop due to the high protein demands.
      http://www.tillysnest.com/2012/09/got-eggs-top-ten-reasons-for-decline-in.html
      These links might help.

      Delete
  18. Hi, Thank you for this very informative blog. I'm very worried about my Charlotte, a 1-1/2 yr old RIR. She started losing feathers on her neck, and now it's gotten so bad she has NO neck feathers and it's spreading to her chest. Her skin looks clear, her sister hen is fine as is the 9 year old rooster. I rarely see him mate them, I don't SEE any pecking or self-mutilation. And her egg production is continuing wonderfully, even though it's winter. Her diet is exceptional--a soy/corn-free organic layer mash with grit and oystershell, supplemented daily with mealworms. Since the other 2 chickens are fine, I'm ruling out pests since they'd have it too, right? She does seem less confident than her sister--could she be being bullied inside the coop? They seem to just sleep and be fine. Since we're not early risers, they're usually cooped until late morning, so maybe this is causing a problem? I'm out of ideas here, so any input you could provide will be much appreciated. I do replace their nesting hay every couple of days, their coop is dry and secure, but their run does have a lot of wet hay due to the weather. Hmmm... Thanks for reading!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds like she might be molting. It starts at the head, goes down the neck, chest body and lastly the tail. chicken do molt annually or molt during stressful situations. Here is a post that might help: http://www.tillysnest.com/2011/09/tis-season-to-molt.html

      Delete
    2. Well, thanks for the photos--Charlotte wasn't red and bumply to begin with but she sure is now. She stopped laying and has that red rash all over her bottom and chest, and has lost her wing tip feathers. Mites!! I thought it would spread to the other 2 chickens and sure enough, a friend who is more experienced came and checked Emily, who is now missing feathers under her wings. Aha!

      Tomorrow we will disinfect the coop as best we can and plan to do a lyme dip on everyone, per our vet. I hope poor Charlotte can recover her feathers. The good news is that her neck feathers are sprouting again--I think that was originally a molt. Will keep yo posted! Thanks!

      Delete
    3. Oh no! Good luck with the mites. Their feathers should all return nicely once they are treated. If there are pins left in the skin, then the feathers will not return until the next molt. Keep me posted. Happy to help!

      Delete
    4. What if the mites get on you as you are cleaning the coop and chickens??

      Delete
  19. I have eight hens we received in June as peeps. My one hen is showing feather loss at the base of her back, where her tail starts, and now directly under her tail. Can't identify the cause, and it seems to have worsened this past week. Any solutions? Upon reading the above posts, I am more confused than ever. Thanks for any feedback.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm thinking feather picking is occurring.

      Delete
    2. Meaning she is picking it herself? And for what reason, as they are kept in a very roomy coop and pen and free range for an hour every other day.
      She is the only black Australourp (sp) I have.

      Delete
    3. Yes, she could be pecking at herself or others could be too or a combo of both. I would check for all parasites, consider protein deficiencies or boredom in the winter. Be sure they have plenty of things to climb on and roost on in the run. Add a swing and toss in a head of cabbage or try a flock block to keep them entertained. If she is at the bottom of the pecking order, this behavior is not uncommon. See if you can watch them for a bit to see who is pecking whom. That might clue you in. Also, chickens will peck at new emerging feathers (pin feathers), so you might need to separate her until her feathers return to normal.

      Delete
  20. Thanks for your help. Hopefully we can solve the issue soon. First time chicken owners, and I think I'm more nervous than when I raised my children! Lucy is a beautiful chicken, and a docile personality.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Has anyone had a rooster pin a hen by her neck with his foot and then peck at her head? My rooster seems to be very aggressive to my Barred Rock & Cuckoo Maran, but is fine with his sisters (1 older & 1 hatch mate) and his surrogate mamma (who is not keen on catching his attention).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It might be time to rehome your rooster. I refuse to tolerate any aggressive ones.

      Delete
  22. I have 4 hens and they just turned 1year old this month. A few weeks ago we noticed that they all where developing bald spots, most noticeable under their necks and backside under their tail feathers. Yesterday we also noticed that the back feathers just above their tails are also sparse. They have decreased their egg production as well. I thought they were molting but everything I have read says they do that in the fall and it is not even spring yet. Is there something else that could be wrong with them for which I should be looking?
    Help!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It sounds like your flock is certainly stressed if they have stopped laying. Chickens can also molt from stress too, such as predators, dogs etc.. I would look for pests (mites,lice), consider feather picking (protein deficiency, boredom), and also be sure they are on a good layer feed at least 17% protein.

      Delete
  23. Thanks for your detailed and well illustrated entries, much appreciated.
    Julie

    ReplyDelete
  24. This is great, thank you, it set my mind at rest re moulting

    ReplyDelete

Thank you so much for your lovely comments. I look forward to reading them with each and every post that I write and I also love hearing from you.