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chicken losing feathers

tracey Junior Member
edited October 2012 in Poultry Health and Welfare
can anyone help me - one of my chickens is losing a lot of feathers off of its head and wings - any ideas?


  • TraceyB Senior Member
    edited November 2008
    I expect she's moulting.
    How old is she? How long have you had her?
  • Sandy Senior Member
    edited November 2008
    Molting ...

    Importance of feather loss

    Feather-loss generally is a natural process with fowls. However, aside from the aesthetics, feather loss is important as an indicator of problems in the flock. These could be nutritional, medical, environmental, social or welfare in nature but they indicate a problem with the management of the flock. Most remedies for feather loss require alteration of flock management.

    Economically, plumage deterioration results in increased food consumption and hence less efficient egg production. Thus a substantial improvement in plumage condition will be of appreciable economic value to the producer.

    Table 1 summarises the various causes of feather loss, identifying the prime factors involved and the remedy required.

    This is a physiological phenomenon, which consists of the shedding of existing feathers, followed by replacement with new feather growth. It is usually accompanied by a reduction in egg production or even a complete halt.

    Natural moulting
    Prior to obtaining adult plumage, fowls at several stages during their life undergo a number of moults where the old feathers are replaced by new feathering.

    First moult –
    when down is replaced by the first juvenile plumage occurring at 6-8 days and ending at 4 weeks.
    Second moult –
    when the first juvenile plumage is replaced by the second juvenile plumage. This occurs over a number of weeks starting between 7 and 12 weeks of age.
    Third moult –
    occurs in the hen at 16 to 18 months. This is the 'moult' of most importance for producers.

    In the laying hen, natural moulting occurs at the time of year when the days are getting shorter, ie. from January to June. Hormones secreted by the thyroid gland determine the course of the moult. The use of artificial lighting to maintain a constant daylength can be used to avoid this natural moult. This occurs principally by altering the daylength 'hormone-clock' within the bird.

    Moult characteristics
    Male birds moult before females. Shedding is first observed in the feathers of the head and neck, then those of the breast and finally of tail and wings. Moults can be partial (occurring on particular body parts) or complete. The extent of moulting depends upon the breed and the individual bird. The length of the moult is variable, poor layers reconstitute their plumage in 6-8 weeks while good layers following a pause in laying can replace their feathers in 2-4 weeks.

    Physiologically, the stop in egg production allows more dietary protein to become available for production of feathers which are primarily proteins themselves. Oestrogen, a hormone released during egg production, retards feather formation. Cessation of lay reduces oestrogen levels so that feather formation is enhanced.

    Induced - paused (forced moult)
    This is a management strategy to extend the economic life of layer flocks. It principally involves feeding whole grain barley or oats for 5-21 days depending on the required length of the subsequent laying period. The strategy has advantages in rejuvenating egg production, improving internal quality (raises Haugh units) and shell quality in older birds. During the induced - pause, laying can stop with some feather loss occurring.


    Feather loss can be caused by vices such as feather-pecking. Once established it is difficult to control and prevention is the best remedy. Social order pecking occurs primarily at the head and is not severe. Severe feather pecking due to overcrowding, lighting problems and unbalanced diets will hurt the bird.

    With feather-pecking any subsequent injury with drawing of blood will attract further pecking leading to cannibalism. To prevent cannibalism it is best to isolate the sick or victim bird from the flock or cage. The injured bird should have cuts treated with antiseptic powder and the wound should be coloured with a dark food dye or Stockholm tar to reduce further pecking attacks by other birds. Alternatively the victim birds can be dusted with a repellent. Beak-trimming or purchase of beak-trimmed stock will reduce the likelihood of feather-pecking and cannibalism especially if problems associated with lighting, stocking density and nutrition have been corrected. In addition it has been observed that some breeds of birds are more likely to feather-peck than others.

    Wear and tear


    Feather loss is also caused by rubbing against other birds or surroundings, particularly if the birds are closely confined. To reduce feather loss stocking densities should be lowered and all sharp and rough surfaces in a cage eliminated. Alternative cage materials may also assist, in that feathers wear away at different rates when mechanically rubbed against different types of cage materials.


    During mating the hen may lose feathers by the rooster treading the hen. The feathers are torn from the hen's back by the rooster's claws. To reduce this feather loss the rooster's claws need to be trimmed with nail clippers. The rooster's spurs can be trimmed to about 1.5 cm in length with secateurs.


    A number of factors act as stressors which can contribute to a cessation of egg production and the onset of a moult. Generally a lack of food or water is the most frequent stress causing feather loss. Poorly balanced diets or mouldy feed can also bring on moulting. Lack of cool, clean water even for a short time can cause birds to moult. To minimise this an emergency backup water-supply is advisable. Feather loss can also be caused by chilling, overheating and poor ventilation. A good housing environment will eliminate temperature extremes and still provide good ventilation for the birds. Ill-health either from injury, disease, parasitism or bullying may also contribute to moulting. Medication and regular monitoring of birds will minimise stress and reduce further feather loss.

    Table 1. Prime causes of feather loss and their remedy

    Cause of feather loss and Prime factos involved = Remedy


    Natural molt – Decreasing day length from January to June = Maintain constant day length by use of artifical lighting with adequate wattage

    Induced molt – pause molt – Feeding whole grain barley or oats = A management strategy; return toa balanced diet


    Feather picking – Social order = Occurs ususally at the head, no treatment is required unless severe

    Severe Feather picking – severe pecking due to overcrowding, strong lighting or dietary imbalances = occurs at other body parts, prevention is the best remedy. This is attained by providing adequate lighting, continuous access to balanced diets and reduction in overcrowding. Change bred of bird used. Isolate victim birds, provide antispetic treatments for cuts. Color wound with dye, not red as it attracts further pecking. Beak trim birds when young. Purchase birds already trimmed

    Cannibalism = flow on from pecking

    Wear and Tear

    Abrasions – Rubbing against other birds or surroundings = Lower stock densities. Use alternatie cage materials. Eliminate all rough and sharp surfaces in pen

    Mating – Roosters claws in the hen’s back = Trim roosters claws with nail clippers

    Food – lacck of good food = Provide a balanced diet. Remove old or mouldy food

    Water – lack of cool water even for a short period = Always provide access to cool clean water

    Climatic environment – Overheating – Chilling – Ventilation = Provide a uniform climatic environment which eliminates temperature extremes while providing adwquate ventilation to reduce ammonia build up

    Ill health – parasites, disease, injury, bullying = Eliminate problem with management and medication and monitor affected birds

    References and further reading
    ANON (1989) 'Keeping Poultry' Department of Agriculture Tasmania.
    KENT, P (1988) 'Poultry - household layers'
    SAY, RR (1987) 'Manual of poultry production in the tropics' CAB International.
    To access DPI's information and services
    DPI Call Centre 8 am to 6 pm weekdays: Phone 13 25 23 (Queensland residents); non-Queensland residents phone +61 7 3404 6999; E-mail [email][/email].
    This DPI Note is also published on the DPI's PrimeNotes CD-ROM.

    Information contained in this publication is provided as general advice only. For application to specific circumstances, professional advice should be sought. The Department of Primary Industries Queensland has taken all reasonable steps to ensure the information in this publication is accurate at the time of publication. Readers should ensure that they make appropriate inquiries to determine whether new information is available on the particular subject matter.
  • cerises Junior Member
    edited December 2010
    Can you tell me please what extras I need to give my molting chicks to ensure optimum health?
  • BaltiAngel Senior Member
    edited December 2010
    I give extra protien , mealworms , scrambles, and soaked dried cat food(I use Burns cat food , its excellent). This will help with feather regrowth. Also supplement with seeds like organic sunflower, hemp, linseed, or sesame at a push for all the oils they need.
    Good luck with your scruffys!
  • Rodered888 Junior Member
    edited October 2012
    I need help all my chickens are loosing all their feathers really quickly and one day there fine and the next they won't move one is loosing loads on her neck the other is loosing loads every where I'm so worried about them and what are they going to be like when is snows I don't want them to be to cold
  • MEGAN Senior Member
    edited October 2012
    I would start a new post with this as this is a very old one. Are you sure they are not just moulting although I dont know why it should stop them moving. My girls are a real shabby mess most of them look half plucked but I know in a couple of weeks they will have lovely new feathers. If you are worried about them getting cold you can knit them jumpers
  • Rodered888 Junior Member
    edited October 2012
    MEGAN said:
    I would start a new post with this as this is a very old one. Are you sure they are not just moulting although I dont know why it should stop them moving. My girls are a real shabby mess most of them look half plucked but I know in a couple of weeks they will have lovely new feathers. If you are worried about them getting cold you can knit them jumpers
    but what I don't know about is is this ment to happens at this time of year
  • MEGAN Senior Member
    edited October 2012
    where abouts are you. If you are in the UK then the answer is yes
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