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Loss of Feathers

Scottish Flo Junior Member
edited November 2006 in Poultry Health and Welfare
Can someone advice - I have 3 hens and 1 of them has virtually no feathers left and her skin round her neck and head has gone very thick and hard and has two very hard white growths round her ears - she takes her own feathers out and is virtually left with none. The other two are no loosing their feathers to - removing them themselves - particularly round neck and bottom - no mites that I can see off - could it be something else? The bald one looks truly awful - don't know whether its best just to end it for her. Would love to know if anyone has had similar experiences?


  • Sandy Senior Member
    edited November 2006
    This is totally normal for a bird... don't put any of your birds down

    Once each year birds renew their plumage. This process of replacing old feathers with new ones is called molt.
    Hens usually go through their annual molt in the late summer, the fall, or early-winter months.
    Factors that determine the time of the molt are:

    1. Time of the year the bird was hatched.
    2. The individual bird or breeding.
    3. Management stresses to which the bird is exposed.

    Just as bleaching is most helpful in determining layers from nonlayers during the first 8 or 9 months of production, the molt is most useful during the last several months.

    When a bird starts its molt, it goes out of production and its repro*ductive tract shrinks to the size of that of an immature pullet.

    The bird will not come back into production until shortly before or just after the molt is completed and the reproductive tract returns to normal size.

    The pattern depends to a certain extent upon the type of management and

    Friendly reminder during the moult those fowl have fever, are cranky, and it does hurt them for you to handle them.

    Just like you or me having a bad case of the flu.

    We don't want anybody or anything messing with us.

    And remember when they are molting they need more protein to help them re-feather and keep their energy up

    I use tin cat food or I buy in Meat Meal from my local abattoir

    I also use “Food Grade Kelp” at 2% of dry feed, it helps with feather quality and if you intend to hatch chicks you will find that your chicks will be much healthier if you use Food Grade Kelp

    These are two sites you should visit if you want to learn more about molting
    Moulting - a natural process

    Layer Management – 100’s of links with information


    Each year chickens molt, or lose the older feathers, and grow new ones. Most hens stop producing eggs until after the molt is completed. The rate of lay for some hens may not be affected, but their molting time is longer. Hens referred to, as "late molters" will lay for 12 to 14 months before molting, while others, referred to as "early molters," may begin to molt after only a few months in production. Late molters are generally the better laying hens and will have a more ragged and tattered covering of feathers. The early molters are generally poorer layers and have a smoother, better-groomed appearance.

    Early molters drop only a few feathers at a time and may take as long as four to six months to complete the molt. Early molters are usually poor producers in a flock. Late molting hens will produce longer before molting and will shed the feathers quicker (two to three months). The advantage of late molters is that the loss of feathers and their replacement takes place at the same time. This enables the hen to return to full production sooner.

    The order in which birds lose their feathers is fairly definite. The feathers are lost from the head first, followed in order by those on the neck, breast, body, wings, and tail. A definite order of molting is also seen within each molting section, such as the loss of primary flight feathers before secondary flight feathers on the wings.

    The primary wing feathers determine whether a hen is an early or late molters. These large, stiff flight feathers are observed on the outer part of each wing when the wing is spread. Usually 10 primary feathers on each wing are separated from the smaller secondary feathers by a short axial feather.

    Molting birds lose the primary feathers in regular order, beginning with the feather nearest the axial feather and progressing to the outer wing-tip feathers. Late molting hens will lose primary feathers in groups of two or more feathers, whereas early molters lose feathers individually. Replacement feathers begin to grow shortly after the old feathers are shed. Late molting birds can be distinguished by groups of replacement feathers showing similar stages of growth.

    Estimating Duration of Molt

    The time a bird has been molting can be determined by examination of the large primary wing feathers. Length of molt can be estimated by allowing six weeks for the first mature group of primaries and two weeks for each additional feather or group of feathers. If the primary feathers are not fully-grown, the time of molt can be estimated based on the feathers' present stage of growth.

    A primary feather reaches half its full length after two weeks, two-thirds its growth after three weeks, and completes its growth six weeks after the old primary is lost. The growth rate of the replacement feathers is the same for both early and late molting hens.
    Often pullets undergo a partial molt, involving the neck and tail feathers. This condition can usually be eliminated by purchasing pullets hatched in April or later in each year and by following proper management practices. The length and incidence of a molt are influenced considerably by the bird's body weight, physical condition and environmental conditions such as nutrition and management.
  • Scottish Flo Junior Member
    edited November 2006
    Hi Sandy - this has been ongoing for a few months - I don't think it is her molting - the others molt and loose their feathers a bit but she is pratically naked - and has had naked patches on her for several months. I am wondering whether its a skin irritation or a parasite? They have not been wormed before - could this be it?
  • Sandy Senior Member
    edited November 2006
    With all birds you have your fast molter and you have your slow molters

    She is obviously a slow molter

    To help her with re feather this is what I do for my birds that are slow moltes.. it has hastened up the molt from months to only a few weeks... so worth the effort

    I add tin cat food to the diet of the birds in questions... get tin beef if you can.. not dog food

    Give this bird 1 large tablespoons each day .. just put her to one side..the other birds will try to get it .. they love it

    Also if you can find a place that sells ... Food Grade Kelp.. it comes in a powder form.. you add 2% to the feed volume .. it impoves feather quality and re feathering of all your birds.. so give this to all of them

    You'll find that by increasing the protein in the birds diet it will help her a lot

    I actually have a higher protein level for all my birds.. I can only get layer pellets at 14% here in Australia.. and when they eat other things.. such as other grains... some green and some treats.. this bring the total protein level they are getting down to around half of what it says on the packet of layer pellets..

    So I pick up a huge bag of .. Meat Meal.. from the local abbatoir.. cost is low for a lot ..

    I have 26 birds.. and make up a nice hot mash for them each morning with grated vegetables in the mash... and the meat meal.. about 3 or 4 tablespoons .. I use hot water to mix up the mixed grains and layer pellets.. I make it into a wet mash .. not runny.. they can still pick it up easily with their beaks..

    The exrta protein improves the weight of the eggs being laid.. doesn't actually make them larger .. but does make them heavier

    And all the birds that used to take months to molt.. now only take a matter of weeks.. some of them are actually molting and they are still laying through it .. and not really showing any distress over it since I have been doing this.. so I feel its an effort well worth doing

    I honestly don't think this birds is having a problem with lice.. can you see any.. if you cant on a bald chicken.. then more than likely she hasn't got any..

    I would put bets on it being a molts... and due to low protein content in her diet that she is taking so long to re feather

    What do you feed them ... ?
  • Scottish Flo Junior Member
    edited November 2006
    Hi Sandy - just feed them mixed grain and occasional scraps from kitchen - they LOVE cat food - they are constantly trying to get into the house to get at the food! Will go to feed suppliers today and get mash and see if they have any of the kelp stuff - will also buy a tin of beef cat food. So it could most definatley be a protein deficiency

    Thank you for your help
  • Sandy Senior Member
    edited November 2006
    If you haven't been feeding them the pellets then DON'T CHANGE IT QUICKLY

    do it slowly... put only 1/4 pellets and remove 1/4 grains.. to introduce them to the birds.. do this for at least a week

    Following week give them 1/2 and 1/2.. maybe you should stick to that mix for them .. and just add some tin cat food for the next few weeks.. unless you would like to continue to add it .. it sure won't hurt them

    If you find they are not eating them.. just mix them up with the grains and hot water into a soft wet mash.. but not runny.. they must still be able to pick up the mash with thier beaks

    Add the cat food this this mash so they all get some and mix it well .. make sure the mash is not hot enough to burn their mouths when you take it out

    Sort of like thick poridge .. gluggyish

    Seeing as you have only been feeding them grains .. yes proteins lacking in your birds diet is the main reason why this hen isn't re feathering

    If you look at a birds egg it is high in protein.. and they have to get it from someplace.. the grains offer a small amount of proteins.. but not enough for them to lay a really good quality egg and stay healthy themselves

    Its all a learning curve..

    Your doing great
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