“Feather Loss in Backyard Flocks”

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Do your chickens look like they need the Hair Club for Hens? Chickens loose feathers for a variety of reasons, and most loss is just part of the normal cycle of poultry life.

Chickens naturally drop feathers as part of the molting process that occurs when a hen comes to the end of her laying cycle. For a naturally lighted, in season bird, that cycle starts in late December or early January, and lasts for about six to eight weeks.

During this time, hens drop a few feathers a day and start re-growing them in the order they are lost. This process is fairly specific, starting with the primary wing feathers.

While molting, egg laying is greatly decreased and usually stops. But since each hen is operating on her own cycle, if your flock is large enough or you have mixed ages or breeds, you may maintain some egg production.

If you have a rooster in your flock, the mating process can also lead to some feather loss, though this typically occurs on the backs and necks of the hens. If your flock is loosing feathers from the vent area (chicken posteriors), or you notice that feathers look chewed or covered in dandruff like debris, they may have lice or mites.

When you notice blood, see whole feathers, or hear or see birds pulling feathers from one another, then you have a social issue to deal with. Feather picking can be a tough problem to solve, but like many things, the sooner you realize it is occurring and take action, the easier it is to stop most of the time.

Birds may pick feathers for a variety of reasons, so there is no one silver bullet approach to stopping it. Many of the cures can be utilized to prevent it from becoming an issue in the first place.

First, space is often a contributing factor. Make sure chickens have at least two square feet of floor space if in constant confinement. If they have access to a run or yard for several hours, the coup can be smaller.

Make sure to maintain adequate feeder, drinker and nest space. As well, each bird should have 3-4 inches of feeder and drinker space and a nest box for each 3-4 hens. Allow 6-8 inches of roost space also if your setup utilizes roosting poles.

Many have heard the term “Pecking Order.” Well chickens are social animals, and this is their system of hierarchy. Establishing this dominance can lead to some feather picking.

Upsetting this order by introducing new birds, or having several ages or breeds in a flock can lead to some birds being bullied. Some times there are only one or two birds doing the damage, and if you can identify the offenders, isolation or permanent removal can bring peace to the flock.

Finally, as with most of nature, there are some breeds that are more likely to pick feathers than others, and examining the parent flock is a good indicator of how the chicks will develop.