Feather Loss in Backyard Chickens

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One of the biggest questions that I am asked is, why are my chickens missing feathers? There are a number of reasons for feather loss that can include dietary deficiencies, molting, feather picking, pests and parasites. It will take a bit of detective work on your part to determine why your flock is missing feathers. However, once you determine the reasons why, you can encourage those feathers to return.

Dietary deficiencies are probably the easiest to correct. Be sure that your flock is on the appropriate feed for their age and do not over treat your flock. A good ratio to remember is that at least 90 percent of their diet should be chicken feed and the other 10 percent can come from treats, garden veggies, fruits and free-ranging. Feather picking or eating can be related to inadequate protein in their diet.

Poultry parasites such as mites and lice can also cause missing feathers. A good place to see if you have these unwanted bugs is to look for them and their eggs around the chicken's vent. If discovered these parasites can be treated. Seek out a product to treat your entire flock and be sure to thoroughly clean your chicken coop to break the life cycle of the pest.

backyardchickens.com.jpgDid you know that after chickens are a year old, they will go through an annual molt typically in the fall? During this molting period, chickens undergo the replacement of the feathers on their bodies. It is a naturally occurring phenomenon and the degree to which a chicken molts can vary. Sometimes molting chickens appear to be “naked” missing many feathers, while other times you can hardly tell that a chicken is actually molting.

Anytime chickens are replacing feathers, it can be a strain on their bodies because it takes a lot of energy and protein. The time it takes for a chicken to regrow a single feather takes weeks and typical molts can last as long as 3 months.

Sometimes, chicken keepers will notice that egg production slows or even ceases when their hens molt or they are replacing lots of feathers. This is because both eggs and feathers are made almost completely of protein.backyardchickens.com-1.jpg

Two main questions usually arise for chickens keepers during the molt. The first is can I encourage the feathers to grow in any faster and the second one is when will my eggs return? The answers to those questions vary. Flock nutrition is probably the single most important thing to speed things along to encourage the return of beautiful feathers and fresh eggs.

Traditional poultry feeds for laying hens are approximately sixteen percent protein. During the molting period it is often recommended to place your molting birds back on a grower feed formulation until the molt is through. During the molt, you can also boost their diet with protein-rich products or supplements.  Treats such as mealworms and sunflower seeds are also a great source of protein during times of feather replacement. It is important to only boost your flock’s protein intake during the period of the molt and then return to their regular diet when the molt is through.

Lastly, feather picking can be a result of boredom or a bully chicken. Be sure your chickens have plenty of living space and have the ability to engage with their environment. Living in confined quarters that are cramped can cause chickens to peck at one another.

Feather loss can be minimized by feeding your flock an excellent quality feed, giving them plenty of space, cleaning the coop on a regular basis and not spoiling them with too many treats. Feathers often are quick to return once you get to the root of the cause.  Sometimes making a few changes in the way you manage your flock will not only bring about the return of feathers but also the return of eggs.

To help your flock combat missing feathers and ease the molting process check out Manna Pro’s Poultry Protector, Poultry Conditioner, Mealworm Munchies, and Calf-Manna.

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Melissa Caughey

Melissa Caughey

Melissa Caughey is a backyard chicken keeper, beekeeper, gardener, and cook who pens the award winning blog, Tilly's Nest. She lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts with her family of four and her Miniature Schnauzer.

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