Chickens Losing Feathers, Going Bald – Is Molting Season Back?
There are several possible reasons why a chicken might lose feathers. You will want to observe the feather loss pattern, the condition of the exposed skin, and the time of year.
Is My Chicken Moulting?
If you notice a chicken missing feathers in the fall (any time from late summer through to December) it is probably safe to assume that the chicken is molting. Every year, chickens drop their old feathers and grow new ones. This is similar to a dog or cat shedding its coat.
A chicken which is molting will lose feathers in funny, ugly, random patches. They may start molting at the back of the neck, underneath the wings, or at the base of the tail. Every chicken is different. There is no typical “chicken pattern baldness.” Some chickens seem to lose every other feather and look shabby; others become bald in huge pink patches.
Moulting chickens have three characteristics:
- They often become skittish or shy. A molting bird will drop its flight feathers, and be unable to fly (or to fly well) until they grow back. Birds which are molting will often be secretive, and inclined to stay in the coop.
- They can be cranky, or act as if they are feeling unwell. When the new feathers grow in, it no doubt itches terribly. This irritation, combined with the physical demands of growing a new crop of feathers, often makes for a bird with a bad temper.
- The skin which is exposed will not be bloody, bruised, or show other signs of damage.
The bald patches will eventually become covered with quills. The new feathers emerge as narrow tubes at first, and can look quite prickly. If you see any of these tiny quills, your chicken is definitely molting.
It is normal for chickens not to moult in their first season. Typically a chicken will first start shedding its feathers at 18 months of age.
Is My Chicken Being Attacked?
Chickens can also lose patches of feathers when other chickens pluck or rip them out. This happens in two ways:
- Inter-hen aggression. Chickens which don’t have enough room will often turn on each other. This can also come from jostling within their social rankings. After all, that is why it is called a “pecking order”!
- Over-enthusiastic rooster. A rooster which treads a hen’s back too vigorously, or too often, can tear out her feathers. If this is the case, she will be bald on the two sides of her back, above the wings, where the rooster stands during breeding.
Feather loss due to rooster action can be prevented by fitting your chickens with “chicken aprons” or “chicken saddles.” These can be purchased online, and are very affordable.
Does My Chicken Have A Parasite Or Skin Condition?
There are some skin conditions which can lead to feather loss. Bird mites are notorious for causing these problems, but some skin fungus infections can do it, as well. In some cases the feathers fall out as a direct result of the illness. In other cases, the hen plucks them out as she attempts to scratch the underlying cause.
If your chicken is losing feathers in odd places, and it is not moulting season, then this may be the problem. Examine your chicken carefully, and seek medical attention if necessary.
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