All About Chicken Feathers

January 3, 2024

I’ve written a lot of blog posts over the years, but I got to thinking, I don’t think I’ve ever written one about of feathers. Today I want to share with you some fun information about feathers. Did you know that chickens have five main types of feathers each with a different function? Feathers are made from protein just like eggs. So it is no wonder why during molting time, chickens stop making eggs. Instead, their energy is put into making feathers. Feathers have a blood supply as they grows. This blood supply helps to create the feather and is contained inside the feather’s sheath. After the feather is fully developed, the blood supply will fade and cease.

Each feather emerges from a feather follicle and these follicles follow a particular pattern on the body. Some areas on the body are featherless, like the vent. These areas are called apterylae. When new feathers begin to emerge from the feather follicles, they appears as pins. The new emerging feathers are wrapped in a keratin (protein derived) sheath, that will fall from the feather once it is fully developed. Pin feathers are very sensitive and can be painful if manipulated. That is why I don’t recommend holding your chickens while they have pin feathers. It takes 4-6 weeks to grow a feather.

The Four Types of Chicken Feathers

After your chickens are one year of age, they typically will molt only once per year during the late summer/early fall. These feathers that your chickens grow will last for the entire year until the next molt.

 

Webbed Feathers

These feathers are the ones that you are most familiar with. These feathers cover the wings and tails. In fact, they cover the majority of the body and are responsible for protecting the body against wind and rain. These include tail feathers, flight feathers and contour feathers.

Down Feathers

Also called plumules, down feathers grow closest to the skin. They provide warmth.

Bristle Feathers

These are tiny little feathers and if you look closely around your chickens’ eyes you will find them. In addition, they are near the nostrils and beak and serve to keep dust and pests at bay.

Semiplumes

Semiplumes are an intermediate feather that bridge the space between the webbed feathers and the filoplumes. They help to add insulation and warmth to the chicken’s body.

Filoplumes

Theses small hairlike feathers puff out to add retain extra warmth for the chicken during cold weather. You may also notice them in action with an ill chicken or broody chicken. These add to the appearance of a puffed out chicken.

Bald Spots

Sometimes, chickens develop areas of missing feathers. Did you know that if the feathers break off or another chicken pecks them off and the tip of the feather is still in the feather follicle, then the chicken’s body believes there is still a feather attached? To remedy this, there is nothing you can do but wait until the remaining tip falls out during the next molt and a new feather grows in it’s place. You can read more about that and other reasons for missing feathers. 

Broken Chicken Feathers

Lastly, if a feather breaks and is dripping blood, you must act to stop the bleeding. Try applying some corn starch, flour or styptic powder. If the feather continues to bleed after 3 minutes you should seek veterinary assistance. Do not attempt to remove the feather from the skin. This is painful and can lead to worsening bleeding. Therefore, you might want to create a chicken first aid kit to have on hand.

Encouraging Strong Beautiful Feathers

Chicken feathers during molting and the presence of pin feathers.
Pin feathers emerging

During molting, it is a good idea to bolster your chickens’ protein temporarily. This is done by supplementing their diet with sunflower seeds, mealworms molting products and more. You can find my favorites here.

Melissa

Author/Blogger/Freelancer-Sharing adventures with backyard chickens, beekeeping, gardening, crafting, cooking and more.

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15 thoughts on “All About Chicken Feathers”

  1. I’m so glad I found you again. Thank you for the info on feathers. I am starting over, building a new coop, getting a dog and hope to have new baby chicks this spring. I am happy to come back here for inspiration and information. Thank you for all you do.

    Reply
  2. One of the things I love about my chickens’ feathers is how good they are for my compost – they add a lot of nitrogen, and when added to my bin with a bunch of their bedding, it’s perfect.
    I also read about a man who owned a chicken farm and saved all his chickens’ feathers. In the late fall, he spread the feathers all over his daughter’s soccer club’s playing field. In the spring, the grass on the field was so thick and lush, none of the girls got hurt falling on the grass. It gave them the courage to play way more ferociously. Sounds good to me.
    Thanks for this fun and interesting posting Melissa,
    Sharon

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  3. What do you do with the feathers, any project ideas? We usually put them in the compost, but it seems like there might be better ways to put them to use. Thanks for the info!

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    • I have added them to wreathes, displayed them in vases, incorporated them into pottery and I also keep them in a scrapbook. I have feathers from all of my chickens.

      Reply
      • I save the prettiest fluffiest down feathers from when my chickens molt, and after making sure they are clean, I loosely fill those glass ball ornaments you find around Christmas. These are so lovely on the Christmas tree, reflecting the shining lights. I have given them to friends and relatives too. My only regret is that I did not include which hen the feathers were from. I love the idea of keeping a few feathers from each hen in a scrapbook. I have included a feather in a framed photograph of one of my favorite hens.

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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.