Chickens Losing Feathers, Going Bald – Is Molting Season Back?

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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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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:

  1. 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”!
  2. 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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Comments 25 comments

bayoulady profile image

bayoulady 5 years ago from Northern Louisiana,USA

You nailed it. Great report! I raised chicken for over three years. I wish I had this article when I got my first ten chickens! rated up,useful.


Blogging Erika profile image

Blogging Erika 5 years ago Author

Thanks, I really appreciate it!


big red 5 years ago

hi I have 9 chickens 2 are roosters one of the rosters is loosing his tail feathers he is only 12 weeks old ,is this normal.


Blogging Erika profile image

Blogging Erika 5 years ago Author

It's probably not a seasonal molt. Even though it's the right time of year, 12 weeks is pretty young for that.

People don't usually keep more than one rooster together, because they will fight. My guess is the other rooster is to blame for the missing tail feathers!


Mardi profile image

Mardi 5 years ago from Western Canada and Texas

Great article. As a fellow backyard chicken raiser I have also seen poor feed cause some extreme feather loss. Chickens, especially the laying hens, need to have high quality feed as well as scratch, even if they are free range like mine are. In the summer they do OK with bugs and vegetation but in the fall and winter they do need to be supplemented with feed ( I do year round actually!). Since I live in Texas they are outside even in winter and they do scrounge around a bit.


Silver Poet profile image

Silver Poet 5 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

My chickens used to look so funny when they'd molt! Thanks for the good hub.


roxy 5 years ago

Our Hens are under lights at night, not only to keep them laying but also to keep them warm. Their Molt has lasted 3 months.In the third month their laying less eggs. I am afraid if I turn off the lights at night now they will go into molt for even longer.I am not sure I want to delay laying.


Blogging Erika profile image

Blogging Erika 5 years ago Author

Roxy, it sounds like you have the lights on all night for them? Light all night will definitely throw them off - their bodies need some darkness at night in order to adjust their biological clock correctly.

One thing you can do is use a red lightbulb. Chickens cannot see the red light. Sounds weird, but it's true! A red lightbulb will keep them warm, but they will think it is dark.

Then have another set of lights, just 15-20 watts is plenty, to serve as their daylight clock. I have heard that 8-10 hours of darkness is about right for hens every night.

Leave the red light on all the time, put the "daylight" lamps on a timer, and you'll be all set!


Skeffling profile image

Skeffling 5 years ago from Wiarton, Ontario, Canada

Great article Erika! It is hard to tell the difference til you have seen it all! Another sign we have seen that it's the amorous rooster can be little bald patches on the back of the hens head.


Blogging Erika profile image

Blogging Erika 5 years ago Author

Aha - good point, Skeffling, thanks!


reggie 5 years ago

Theas are young chickens about about 12 weeks olds and never and did not grow feathers in spots I feed them good food and they are free range too. I have 6 chicks and 3 ducks all to gether o I have 1 hen that is a year old. i have the problum with two of the babys.


Blogging Erika profile image

Blogging Erika 5 years ago Author

Reggie, what breed are they, and where are their bald spots? Some breeds are naturally bald - like Auracanas, who often have bald heads, or turkens who have naked necks.


Miss Lil' Atlanta profile image

Miss Lil' Atlanta 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Wow, I didn't know that chickens went bald. Then again, I don't really know that much about chickens. Either way, really interesting hub and definitely a unique niche topic to write about!

~ Miss Lil' Atlanta


reggie 5 years ago

They are banteys. bald under the wings and a little on the necks.There is all black and their feathers are tuen up.


Harshini 5 years ago

Hi, i'v got a hen of about 13 months or more. Its feathers are falling and iv examined its skin and found it has got some tiny insects of brownish red colour but im not sure if they are mites. So please help me to cure my hen from becoming bald.


Blogging Erika profile image

Blogging Erika 5 years ago Author

Yep, those are poultry mites! You can buy Sevin dust at the feed store. Many people swear by food-grade diatomaceous earth, but for a hen in such bad shape I would go straight for the insecticide.


RichardCMckeown profile image

RichardCMckeown 5 years ago

I love your article, Erika. It is great and interesting to read.


Henney Penney 5 years ago

I have a barred rock hen who is almost bald. It looks like the rooster is causing some of it but her whole hind end is bald. She looks really weird!!! Any ideas out there????


lynz 5 years ago

thank you, as a first time keeper of 3 chickens I was gettin really worried that 1 of them half looked like it was ready to roast


Mumatpompey68 4 years ago

Hi my hens have just started their first moult. Honestly, how many feathers, its unbelievable and they have both stopped laying now. I have found out that if you put garlic cloves in a watering can of water for their feeding water the garlic keeps the worms at bay, it works as a insectiside. I have been doing it and its fantastic, it also means that you don't have to use chemicals so you can continue to enjoy eating the eggs with the medicinial benefit of garlic for ourselves.


Didley 4 years ago

My white frizzle L/F cockerel has got red sin around its vent and both legs, no feather loss infact he has so many feathers its hard to find his flesh, we have dusted him for mites twicw in last 6 weeks, due to introdusinc new lady friends, what is wrong with his skin


cindycap 4 years ago

I have 15 hens and one rooster, Most of my hens have their feathers off of their backs and butts and they are really red, sorta like sun burn. I have put lice powder on them, given them ivymec and sprinkled wood ashed around for them to flop around in . they still look really bad what else could I do. some are getting a few fuzzy feathers back in.


PHILL 4 years ago

HI EVERYONE IVE JUST STARTED WITH CHICKENS,I HAVE 5 HENS SO I AM TRYING TO LEARN AS MUCH AS I CAN ABOUT THEM.I HAVE BEEN READING A LOT OF THE COMMENTS MADE WHICH HAVE BEEN VERY INTRESTING.I HAVE A HEN THAT IS LOOSING HER FEATHERS FROM THE FRONT PART OF HER NECK ..IVE CHECKED HER OVER BUT CANT FIND ANYTHING THAT'S NOTICEABLE TO ME ..

HI


calett 4 years ago

I have 5 chickens 2 R. Island Reds and 3 Brahmas. They are all about 6 months old, one of the girls was sick about a month back, we think she got into something, no one eles got sick, but now all the fethers on her head are thining out and she is acting really scared. About a week ago she was losing her soft under fethers. None of the others seem to having any trouble. any thoughts, can she just be molting??


Olivia 2 years ago

we have 3 bantams ans one wont leave its "nest" when we grab it i squaks at us and it currently has no feathers on its "tummy"

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