I had a recipe to share today, but Elena woke up really early today and changed my usual blogging schedule. But I had a question for any chicken farmers out there. Our chickens have given us no trouble at all, but we have recently noticed them starting to pull out their feathers. We didn’t think too much of it, because it was only here and there. Now they are pulling them out rapidly (this has only happened in the last few days) and they are getting quite scrawny looking. It’s so sad.
What in the world is making them do this?
Anyone have any ideas or suggestions?
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I know that when Eagles go through a cleansing process, they pull out all their old feathers and hide out until the new ones grow back. ( Like, ‘your youth is renewed like the eagles’) Supposedly this renews their vitality. Maybe chickens do something similar sometimes? Just a thought…
I’m sorry I don’t have an answer, but there are some true chicken experts at backyardfarming.blogspot.com–they are prompt at answering questions also. Best of luck and keep us updated!
“My” farmer’s chickens decided to molt (loose lots of feathers and grow new ones) at the end of December, and are only just starting to lay again. Usually they do this during warm weather, not when it’s below freezing. He rolled his eyes and shook his head when I asked if I could buy eggs around Chirstmas. He’s never had this problem before… Maybe someone’s been selling defective chicks? (Grin)
Rhonda at Down to Earth has lots of good backyard chicken information here: http://down—to—earth.blogspot.com/2009/01/biggest-kitchen-table-keeping-chickens.html
Can indicate stressed out animals, can be molting, can be cannibalism, could be some change in pecking order.
Do you have roosters? They might be causing some of it. Our roosters can be hard on the girls. I need to separate our boys out.
For us, feather loss usually indicates some sort of stress going on.
When you say they are pulling out their feathers–have you actually seen this behavior? They could be losing feathers for another reason. The two most likely possiblities are an early molt–unusual, as chickens usually molt late summer/early fall so they go into winter fully feathered (and in many birds, so they have a new set of good strong wing primaries before they migrate)–or mites. the latter is most likely if you notice they are losing feathers more on the tail end at first and then gradually working up their backs and chests. There are several insecticides on the market that work well for mites. You’ll need to catch each chicken and powder them down (keep Elena away from the activity, wear rubber gloves and do it outside). There may be some herbals you could use–pennyroyal might be an option but I don’t know for sure. It would be a good idea to clean out all their bedding and burn or compost it at the same time. One treatment usually does it. Good luck.
Protien deficiency causes them to pull each others feathers.
However, its more likely that they are molting. Have they gone through a full season of egg laying, and then slowed down?
The molt takes about 2 months time.
I highly rec. getting on http://www.backyardchickens.com and ask your question, with pics, in the forum section
Sound like it could be a calcium defiecency, so put them on oyster shell and local feed store. Could be stress do to to many birds to a pen.
Could be lice, check and use a poultry dust to dust birds.
Ours were doing the same thing when they picked up mites from wild birds (sparrows, etc.).
They normally molt. And stop laying for the molt, check out backyard chickens website/blog. I recently read that MSM is supposed to help with feather picking. Which is different than the molt.
What is MSM ?
I wonder if it isn’t a ‘nesting’ behavior. . .preparing for the nest. I grew up on a farm and chickens were in my chores domain. Every hen would go through a grumpy time; they were out of sorts. We found she would not leave the nest. She was difficult. We had no roosters because we didn’t want propagation. When a hen would have a personality change, we would put her in a special coop a few days until her mood normalized. Then we let her out. We always had 5 or 6 out of our flock in the special coop at any one time.
We had about 35 or more laying hens and sold eggs weekly.
I raise ducks rather than chickens, but I think they are some similarities for poultry in general. My question would be how old they are. Our girls went through two different molts before they had their mature feathers. In the wild, ducks are almost always born in the spring, and so these molts take place before the cold sets in. However, because of incubation, folks sell ducklings and chicks way late in the season, meaning the maturation process takes place in the cold. It isn’t a huge deal, but they require a TON more food to keep warm.
I would check what some of the others mentioned, but I would also add: parasites sometimes do weird things. The easiest way to get rid of a parasite in fowl is to generously dust food grade diotomaceous earth on their food. It’ll kill worms/multi-celled parasites in their digestive tract, and it is harmless to the bird.
Would second the diagnosis of stress and molting. If you are in a cold weather area this can be more pronounced.
My CA chicken are well feathered all year round but occasionally get mad at each other and peck each other to the point of feather loss.
If there is an aggressor, separate them. Could be one of the hens wants to set and it asserting herself.
Ann Marie @ CHEESESLAVE
What an adorable photo, Kimi! So sweet.
I had no idea you had chickens. When did you get them? How many do you have?
Sorry I can’t help answer your question.
I’ve had them for….maybe a year? We have 7, we had 12 but five got killed by a wild animal. 🙁
If they are a year old, probably molting. If not they need more protein, either way I would feed them more protein. They can look really sad when they are molting, but it will come back.
sounds like classic molting, all our neighbor’s birds are doing it right now. Usually egg production goes down at this time too.
Echo-ing the others, it sounds like they are molting. If that is the case, they will probably stop laying as much for a little while until their new feathers come in. We’ve had chickens for years and I haven’t heard of any other reason for them to lose their feathers.
I seem to agree with most of the answers you’ve gotten….they are probably molting….which is so pathetic to see a naked chicken in the winter time. One of my old ladies is dropping some feathers over a hawk attack but she seems to have stopped which is good cause it’s dang cold here!!
Hi, I don’t know much about chickens but heard a radio piece about a family raising chickens in their Brooklyn apt. The hens happily laid eggs for a year or more, then started pulling their feathers out and stopped eating. Someone told her the hens wanted to brood – to raise a chick every so often. So she took them to a farm where they could meet up with a rooster and hatch some chicks. They lived long happy lives after that. Good luck with whatever it turns out to be!
Raising chickens in their APARTMENT!?!?! I live in a tiny city apartment. I cannot imagine that. Props to that family!!
Brooklyn here – that Must be unsanitary. Thank goodness they are not next door to me.
Rebecca in Michigan
In my book that I just received today, “Raising Chickens for Dummies,” states on page 194: Research has shown that chickens on diets without animal protein and/or low roughage are more prone to feather-picking. Properly balanced commercial diets supplement vegetable protein with the needed amino acids found in meat based diets.
very bright lights in brooders, stress caused by predators, too much handling, excessive noise, and other conditions sometimes cause feather-picking. Changing brooder bulbs to infrared bulbs or bulbs with lower wattages may help…….
I have no idea – but I am enjoying reading all the comments with suggestions. When you figure it out, please let us all know.
I’d lean towards protein deficiency. Feathers are made of protein and when chickens are getting enough, they go for each others’ feathers. Winter is a typical time to have that problem.
that would be when they *aren’t* getting enough.
This is normal…they will look goofy as all get out…and then they get their beautiful feather’s back and look normal again!!
Kimi, Have you seen them doing it? Is it possible that they are doing it to each other? If that is the case, when I took the Raising Chickens Class from Novella Carpenter of “Farm City” and from her upcoming book “The Essential Urban Farmer”, this is what she said, “What isn’t normal is chickens picking feathers off others chickens so much that the entire back areas of the chicken become exposed. Picking behavior may signal that the chickens are over-crowded or aren’t getting enough food (specifically greens – kale, dandelion, etc.). Some people suggest adding a salve to the picked on chicken. We haven’t found this to be a successful remedy. Once a picker, always a picker is out motto. The picking chicken must be culled.” – Novella’s words. Hope this is of help.
Wow! Thank you everyone for the help! You all have been great.
To answer a few questions. I haven’t actually seen them pull out any feathers on themselves or each other. So maybe they are just molting? They also stopped laying eggs recently. Hmmmm…..
Most of them just look a little shaggy, but one looks pretty bad with bare spots on it’s neck. Is that normal?
Also does anyone have any good tips on how to tell if your chickens have lice/mites?
Yes, they are molting. Just give them lots peace, and also feed them some extra oatmeal for good feather regrowth, when that starts to happen.
Kimi, If the chickens look like the feathers are broken off and the base of the feather is showing, there is probably some picking going on. Egg laying stops with molting, but it will also stop or slow down if the feathers need replacing for other reasons and if their isn’t enough protein in the diet to do it all (build feathers, keep warm and make eggs). Molting looks pretty shaggy!
One common indication of mites is blood spots on egg shells (of course this one is tough if they’ve stopped laying eggs!). If you think they have mites, you can put a dust bath of Diotamaceous Earth in their coop/yard.
If they have also stopped laying, I would say it’s molting. They sure do get scraggly and thin, don’t they? They will look horrid for a few weeks. Some lose all at once and look naked, others lose gradually and it’s not as noticeable. You can give them more protein to help grow new feathers. Mine just finished molting and are starting to lay again.
Just to be cautious, do check for mites.
Also, if a hen goes onto a nest and won’t come off, acts generally grumpy at you and the world, she would be broody – wanting to hatch some chicks.
Pamela @ Seeds of Nutrition
Sounds like Molting to me. Unless they are attacking each other which is rare and usually happens that only one chicken is being picked on by the others. When they all are loosing……it’s MOLTING. Vicki’s comment on checking for mites is a good one just to be sure – so you can treat that if so.
Pamela @ Seeds of Nutrition
Kimi I just read back…….you said they stopped laying. They definitely do that when molting. Happens every time. Egg production won’t pick back up until after that is all done.
I live in a cold climate and in late fall we start giving the chickens whey in their water (I actually periodically give whey in their water to help keep them healthy) and oyster shells to help prevent feather loss. If we don’t we notice that they lose feathers more than usual and will eat the eggs, if not collected early in the am.
I’d say to try diatomaceous earth. Put a tub of it out for them to dust themselves in. If it’s mites, that should take care of it, and if it’s not, it’d be good for them anyway. Here’s the website where I bought some for our chickens:
I am so glad you asked this question, Kimi. We are having the same problem with our chickens. We thought it was because we had too many roosters (5 roosters to 19 hens), but now we are down to one rooster and still having problems. Only about 7 or 8 of the hens have lost feathers and in all different places (one on the neck, one on the back end, a couple on the head, but most on the back). We get an average of about 9 eggs a day from our 19 hens. Perhaps it’s a combination of things: cold (we live in AK), not enough greens, not enough protein (the only organic feed available is lower in protein), or even mites. Now I have a better idea what to do from all these great comments. Thanks again.
hey! we are in AK as well! Let me know if you need help at all. We learned all kinds of good tricks for cold weather chickens.
Sheri @ Moms for Safe Food
Coming in late here, but I agree with moulting and wanted to second the mention of diatomaceous earth. I give our girls commercial organic feed and per 50 pounds of food add one pound of DE and one pound of kelp. I get our DE here, http://www.earthworkshealth.com/products.php and they have a lot of great info on it. I also put DE in their dust bath box and mix a little in the alfalfa that I use in their nest box. And the BackYard Chicken forum is great! I’m also on a yahoo group called Organic Chickens that I love. URL’s are:
Diana @ Spain in Iowa
Sounds like molting to me. They will go through this after about a year and stop laying 🙁 But… regain beautiful new feathers and start to lay again 😀
Sounds like molting to me as well. Our chickens are right about a year old also, and one has already been doing this over the past couple months and a couple more are starting, despite the cold weather.
All animals–including humans–pull their feathers (chew their fur, cut their wrists, etc.) during times of stress. Has anything changed in the farming environment? Sound/noise, culling environment, light/dark eminssions, etc. I’m sure you can figure this out–Leslie Hilleary (Behaviorist)
I didn’t read all of the comments above but I echo some of the advice I read, If you feel your chickens have plenty of space (ie they aren’t pecking each other) they are probably molting. Make sure they are getting plenty of protien. Animal protien is best – you can buy fish meal to feed them or meat scraps and organ meats can be a good supplement. I think the reccommendation to change their bedding is a good one as well. They will turn around, don’t worry!
If it is mites, give the girls some dirt that they can give themselves a dust bath. If the ground is frozen or snow covered, try placing a big (non-tippy) clay pot or half barrel with some dry dirt for a luxurious dust bath.
Sounds like molting if they are not laying. Keep checking the temperature of your hen house to make sure they don’t get too cold while they are balding. Lee Valley sells high/low thermometers so you can see how hot or cold it gets in the hen house.
Don’t make the hen house too hot (with a heat lamp) in mild winter weather as that might trigger a molting.
hi i have read all of these comments and replies with much interest. i am from the uk by the way. i have 2 hens and have some important problems that i need help with.
1; has blown up to possibly double her size, is bald on her red breast and has what looks like a gas bubble.
2; has got really skinny and has lost loads of feathers. she still has the stalks attatched to her in most places.
we are not farmers or anything, we just bought them for our son as a present. we really do not know anything about them or what to look for. we know that they are about 3 yrs now but that’s about it.
any help or advice would be greatly appreciated
sorry for butting in on this conversation
We have had a flock of Chickens they are 4 weeks old. I have one chick they stop growing she is really small. I had to remove her from the flock any ideas of whats wrong? Her wing and legs seem fine but she has no blance at all when she walks she falls on her face or side some times she can get up others times we need to help. They are RReds
ok well i just got chickens one of them haves some thing on there but it is brown but is no pop!?
Hi, I’m Australian and just found this page. If the small chick is falling she is weak. Are the others stopping her from eating, is she getting water? dehydration will do it too. The feather fall on my hen turned out to be tiny red parasites. Dusting insecticide powder all over will do the trick.
I have five hens and one of them is loosing her feathers and is so nasty I have had them for three years now and they all have stopped laying is it mites or is it molting and its December and cold any advice on what I should be doing.
My girls are 8 weeks and one of my 2 buff or is losing feathers under wing and around vent.seems to be pruning more than other birds.have not seen the other birds pulling feathers after inspection have not seen any bugs . What could be happening ?going to try putting wood ash in dusting areas.HELP!!Newby