Causes Of Feather Loss & When To Worry
Feather loss in chickens is something every flock owner deals with on occasion. But knowing why your chickens are losing their feathers is part of every chicken owner’s responsibility in providing proper care so they can live their best lives. Let’s explore some common causes of feather loss and what to do about it, if anything.
Perhaps the most common reason for feather loss is a simple one; it’s time to molt. Molting is the shedding of a chicken’s old feathers and regrowth of new feathers. A chicken will typically molt in late summer or early fall when the day length begins to shorten. To be better prepared to survive winter, a chicken will shed their worn out, ragged feathers and grow fluffy, shiny new feathers. Some hens will shed their feathers rapidly, making them look nearly naked. Others will drop their old feathers and regrow new ones so gradually that you may not even notice they are molting.
There is no cause for concern during a molt. To support your flock, give them a little extra protein to help them regrow new feathers by giving them protein-based treats or temporarily switching to a ration designed for meat chickens (20-21% protein, any higher is excessive).
For hens, treading by a rooster is probably the next most common cause of feather loss. Roosters will often pick out a few hens that are his “favorite”. During mating, a rooster uses his claws to hold onto the hen’s back, and this can cause the feathers on her back to break and be worn off. Sometimes, a hen is mated so much that a rooster can actually cause abrasions to the skin of a hen’s back area. I personally don’t get too concerned about feather loss due to mating, but there are hen saddles that you can put on a hen to help protect the area. But if open wounds, redness, or scratches develop on the hen’s back, that’s when it’s time to do something about it.
External parasites can also lead to feather loss. Chickens who spend a lot of time preening their feathers may be dealing with lice or mites. Excessive preening or grooming can lead to feather loss as the chickens pull out their own feathers. Clearly, treating the flock for lice or mites when you discover them is something that needs to be done for the health of your flock.
A diet deficient in protein can lead to feather pulling and eating. Feathers are made up mostly of protein. Chickens who aren’t getting enough protein in their diet will find it where they can, which means they may develop ao feather-eating habit that can be difficult to stop once it begins.
There are a few other more in-depth reasons why chickens may lose their feathers, but these are the most common causes. With a bit of observation, you may be able to determine why your chickens are losing feathers and when your support may be needed to deal with it. Happy chickening!
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