Why Are My Chicken’s Feathers Falling Out?

Why Are My Chicken’s Feathers Falling Out?

Why are my chicken’s feathers falling out?!?!? This is one of the biggest questions I get from concerned new chicken owners.

 

There are many reasons why your chicken’s feathers might be falling out. I’ll go through some of the main ones today and give you tips on what you should do.

 

The top reasons chickens lose feathers are:

  1. Molting
  2. Not enough protein
  3. Self-inflicted from stress
  4. Broodiness
  5. Picking by bullies
  6. Mites and lice
  7. Vent gleet
  8. Overmating by roosters

 

Molting

So, chickens molt. And it’s a very common reason why chickens lose feathers.

 

In case you don’t know, molting is when chickens lose feathers and then those feathers are replaced by new ones.

 

And luckily, it’s a natural and totally normal process. (Ducks molt, too!) that happens more or less once a year (normally in the fall), and it can be ugly. (Not always, but sometimes you’ll wonder what happened to your once beautiful hens!)

 

I love chickens, but they just aren’t that good looking when they’re going through a rough molt. It’s messy, ugly, and a little bit uncomfortable as the feathers grow back.

 

The molting process can be scary for first time chicken owners, but realize that your chickens losing their feathers in a molt is a normal process.

 

If you want, you can feed them a high protein treat (like BEE A Happy Hen, which we sell in the store) to help them stay healthy and regrow their feathers.

 


Freaked out over feather loss?

 

Not enough protein

Another reason your chickens could be losing their feathers is because they aren’t getting enough protein. This can happen if you’re feeding your chickens scratch or letting them forage for their food

 

Even if you allow your chickens to roam around the yard and they’re finding and eating bugs as they do so, you need to make sure that you are also providing them with access to feed that is nutritionally balanced and has the appropriate amount of protein.

 

If your chickens start losing their feathers without an explanation (such as molting), then evaluate their diet and feed that you are providing.

black soldier fly larvae backyard chicken treat

What to do:

Provide more protein!!! Start incorporating black soldier fly larvae (we sell them in the store right here – use coupon code FEATHERS to save 10%) or mealworms (use coupon code FEATHERS to save 10%) into your chickens diet – you can mix it with their feed or give it as a treat (we have lots of treats in the store with dried insects for just this reason!).

 

Plus chickens LOVE them  (like….really love them, LOL!) so they will eat it happily! If you want to raise them yourself, it’s easy to start a mealworm or black soldier fly larvae farm

 

Self-inflicted picking or picking by other chickens

One reason your chickens might lose their feathers is from picking, which is usually caused by environmental stress such as over crowding or bullying. Think of it as a reaction to anxiety.

 

Bullying among chickens CAN happen (personally, we’ve been lucky and not experienced this in our coop, but yours might have an alpha hen who picks on a more subservient hen).

 

Every coop has a social order and particularly if the flock as a whole is stressed or the “picked on” hen is new, chickens will sometimes peck the victim until she’s lost her feathers.

 

Or your chickens could also be stressed and so they begin picking feathers of other hens in the coop to deal with that stress.

 

What to do:

The simplest thing to do in this case is figure out why your chickens are stressed and try to remove the problem. If they’re over crowded (10 square feet per chicken in a coop is a good guideline), then give them more room.

 

If they’re bored, then provide environmental enrichment such as treats they have to “hunt” for, swings, branches for them to fly up to (this can also give them more room), places to hide, etc.

 

One popular idea is to put a treat such as cabbage, carrots, tomatoes, or cucumbers on a string and allow your flock to peck at it.

 

If your flock has a bully, then you can remove the bullied chicken from the coop and isolate her from the flock (give her a friend since 2 chickens together are likely to bond since they only have each other for company). You can then try to reintroduce everyone a few days later or continue to keep them separate.

 

If your chickens lose feathers still, then you should figure out if the problem is something else.

 

Broodiness

Chicken’s may also be picking their feathers due to broodiness. Some chickens get broody (i.e they really want their eggs to hatch) and so they’ll sit on their eggs for long periods of time and often pick their own feathers and lay them around their eggs for warmth.

 

If you want your hen to hatch the eggs, then let her do it, and understand she’ll stop picking her feathers after the chicks hatch.

 

If you don’t want her to hatch chicks, then break her broodiness. She should stop losing feathers because she’ll stop picking at herself.

 

Mites & Lice

Yuck. I hate lice and chicken mites, and they can definitely cause your chickens to lose feathers. Now, you might say “I don’t see any mites on my chickens” and assume the issue is something else.

 

I hear this a LOT from chicken owners trying to figure out feather loss. Even though you might not see mites on your chickens, they can still be the source of your trouble.

 

Mites are sneaky. They hide in corners of your coop and then come out at night and infest your flock. And eventually, they can cause more than feather loss – they can cause your chickens to lose the scales on their legs and eventually death as they rob your hens of nutrients.

Chicken losing feathers completely? Here's what to do!

What to do:

Even if you don’t think mites are why your chickens are losing feathers, you can still preemptively clean your coop and use herbs such as peppermint and cinnamon and diatomaceous earth to keep mites and lice away.

 

If you don’t know, diatomaceous earth is a powder that your chickens can bathe in. It has been shown in scientific studies to reduce the number of mites and lice in chickens because it’s sharp edges cut the exoskeletons of insects, causing them to die.

 

However, I highly recommend that you only use DE in well ventilated areas, and keep your flock out of the coop while you’re spreading it about (a little goes a long way)! Chickens have a very delicate respiratory system, so you want to be careful that they don’t inhale it on a regular basis.

 

If you don’t want to bother with DE, you can just use herbs. Mint repels insects, so hanging peppermint around the coop or nesting box is a great way to get rid of or prevent a mite infestation.

 

Another option is to provide garlic for your flock (we sell shelf-stable garlic granules in the store, which I’ve found hens prefer over fresh garlic). Because of the spicy nature of garlic, it repels external parasites (and it’ll help your flock’s immune system as well!)

 

Vent gleet

Another reason your chickens could be losing their feathers is vent gleet, which is a fungal infection in the vent (where your chicken expels waste and eggs) and it can cause some pretty nasty whitish/yellowish discharge along with a loss of feathers.

 

Think of it like a yeast infection. It’s gross and it’s definitely not good for your chicken!

 

What to do:

If you think your chicken has vent gleet, then the best thing to do is take her to the vet, who can give you medications or make recommendations for all natural solutions.

 

One way you can help prevent vent gleet is to ensure your chickens have good gut health! You can do this by adding some apple cider vinegar (about a tablespoon per gallon) to your chicken’s water. We sell apple cider vinegar granules in the store – they’re shelf stable and easy to add to water or feed.

 

 

Rowdy roosters 

So roosters like to mate. A LOT. It’s normal and part of a flock’s social dynamics. If you notice your hens are losing feathers on their back (and only their back) and you have a rooster, you can be pretty sure the issue is overmating.

 

This isn’t to be taken lightly – I’ve seen cases where roosters were overmating hens to the point where the hens lost not just their feathers, but the skin on their chests – which, of course, is a much bigger issue than losing feathers. 

 

In summer, this can end in a bad case of fly strike, and you might have to put your hen down if it’s bad enough.

 

Fly strike is notoriously difficult to get rid of, and treatment – which consists of picking maggots off your hen’s body and removing dead tissue – is painful and difficult, and a lot of animals simply die of shock).

 

Roosters stand on top of hens backs while they are mating and they can cut your hens or cause them to lose feathers.

 

If this happens you might need to separate the roosters from your hens to keep your girls safe. If the issue is only feather loss (and not skin loss), you can also use a chicken saddle, which will cover the bald area.

 

If you have multiple roosters and see them excessively bickering over the hens, then it’s time to either give each rooster his own flock of hens, or re-home one of the roosters.

 

If you have multiple roosters and notice one rooster is losing feathers on his back, then it’s time to separate him from his “prison buddy” if you get my drift. (Yes, this is a real thing that can happen because it’s about social dominance and their pecking order).

 

 

Chicken Emergency Kits: Making Stressful Situations Less Intimidating!

Chicken Emergency Kits: Making Stressful Situations Less Intimidating!

It’s always a very good idea to create your own chicken emergency kit – and in this article, I’m going to give you ideas about what to keep in it.

 

While we all might like to think our chicken-keeping experience will be bucolic and without any trouble, the straight truth is you will likely come up against some sort of trouble at some point.

 

Mites, worms, cuts, or infections tend to rear their ugly head at the most inconvenient times (like when you plan to be out of town for a week – chickens have great timing like that) and having an emergency kit on hand will make a stressful situation easier.

 

The items in this article are just a suggestion – you can add or subtract or include your own items as you find what works for your particular backyard chicken flock.

 

There’s also links where you can buy these items directly from Amazon, so you have them on hand.

What should you add in the chicken emergency kit?

 

The first thing you may want to purchase is a plastic container that also has a cover, like this one. You will want to clearly mark it (write “Chicken Emergency Kit” on it with a marker, for example) so you can easily locate it, and your family doesn’t raid it for supplies for other projects.

Once you have the plastic container ready, you will have to think about the items to include.

Here’s some that are easy to source and can save your butt (and possibly your hen’s life):

 

Nutri drench

Click here to get it on Amazon

This is powdered electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals that you mix with water. You can offer it to your chicken when they’re hurt to keep them hydrated and healthy enough to combat their illness or trauma. If they’re stressed and in pain, they’re less likely to eat and drink. Very important!

 

Saline solution

Click here to get it on Amazon

If your chicken has dust or dirt in her eyes or an open wound, saline solution will help you flush it clean.

 

Triple antibiotic ointment or natural alternative

Click here to get antibiotic ointment on Amazon

Click here to get a natural alternative on Amazon

If your chicken get an open wound, you will need to put something on it after flushing it clean. If you use over-the-counter drugs with your flock then triple antibiotic ointment is great, or a natural alternative if you’re raising them 100% natural.

 

Blu-Kote

Click here to buy it on Amazon

Another topical antiseptic alternative. I don’t personally use it, but a lot of people like Blu-Kote because it’s blue, and deters other chickens from picking at open wounds. (However, if you use an all-natural thick salve, you will have the same effect)

 

Pure organic honey

Click here to buy it on Amazon

(Check the label that there’s ONLY honey in it – no corn syrup or other additives). Honey is great for wounds, especially if the sores are wet and gooey. It can be hard to put salve or ointments on wet wounds, and honey has natural antibacterial qualities and gets into tiny crevices to battle bacteria.

 

Poultry VetRX

Click here to buy it on Amazon

This is based on an all-natural formula that’s been around since the 19th century. It’s particularly great for colds or upper-respiratory infections, and can come in handy for eye worms, scaly legs as well. Ingredients include Canada balsam, camphor, oil origanum, oil rosemary, all blended in a corn oil base.

 

Diatomaceous Earth

Click here to buy it on Amazon

Just keep a small bag around for emergencies. It’s great for scaly leg mites, but be sure to apply it on a windy day or at least in a breezy area so neither you nor your chicken inhale it. Food-grade only!

 

Coconut oil

Click here to buy it on Amazon

If you plant to use essential oils to support a healthy hen, then you can dilute it in the oil. Also great for adding moisture to excessively dry skin.

 

Heat lamp or heating pad

Click here to buy a heat lamp on Amazon

Click here to buy a heating pad on Amazon

Even if your chicken isn’t a chick, when they’re sick, keeping them warm is a good idea, as long as the ambient temperature in the room isn’t too hot. Also be sure to give them an area to get out of the heat, if your chicken wants to.

 

Penicillin or Tylan 50

It’s best to get this through a vet or from your local feed store

If you’re using Western medicine to treat your flock then having injectible antibiotics on hand is a good idea. Check with a poultry vet for the correct dosage.

 

Probiotics

Click here to buy it on Amazon

If you have a sick or injured chicken, giving them probiotics will help ensure their body has good gut health to help them heal (it won’t heal a broken leg, for example, but it WILL ensure your chicken has good gut health to maintain SOME standard of health – a wonky gut will only make healing more difficult).

 

Some standard chicken emergency kit items also include:

 

  • Gauze pads
  • A first aid tape
  • Cotton swabs
  • Wooden popsicle sticks to act as a splint for legs or wings
  • Syringes for dosing or helping a hen stay hydrated – Click here to buy syringes on Amazon

 

I’d like to hear from you!

Do you have a chicken emergency kit created yet? What do you keep in yours? Leave a comment below!

Diatomaceous Earth & Chickens: What’s The Deal?

Diatomaceous Earth & Chickens: What’s The Deal?

What is diatomaceous earth? And what’s the benefits to chickens?

 

 

No worries. I had no clue either.

 

We started using DE on our farm a while ago, and haven’t looked back since. We had a number of Cornish Cross chickens which had gotten so large they couldn’t clean themselves very well any more. 

 

 

But they liked to roll!

Ever since we started offering diatomaceous earth to our chickens, they've been so much healthier. Here's what it is and how to use it in the coop! From FrugalChicken

To help them keep bug free, we started offering boxes of diatomaceous earth with regular sand dirt for them to use. And it was a hit!

 

 

The other chickens LOVED it, and the amount of mites and lice on them began to reduce. So we were sold.

 

 

You can find diatomaceous earth in any feed store. If you want to purchase it over Amazon, here’s a great option:

 

 

But what is this stuff anyway?

 

Diatomaceous earth is the crushed shells of diatoms (aquatic alge) that have fossilized into substrate in aquatic sites.

 

 

Those sites are mined, and boom! Powdered diatomaceous earth is born (okay, that’s a very quick boom, but I’m not going to bore you with details.)

 

The upshot is that diatomaceous earth is mostly silica, clay minerals, and iron oxide – all good, natural stuff.

 

Ever since we started offering diatomaceous earth to our chickens, they've been so much healthier. Here's what it is and how to use it in the coop! From FrugalChicken

Image from Wikipedia

 

It’s also great to use in your soil since it kills soft-body insects by eliminating necessary oils from their body, causing the bugs to dry out.

 

Yup, kind of gross, but good for your chickens.

 

Food grade vs. non-food grade diatomaceous earth

 

First things first. If you want to offer diatomaceous earth to your chickens, you need to make sure it’s FOOD GRADE diatomaceous earth.

 

Ever since we started offering diatomaceous earth to our chickens, they've been so much healthier. Here's what it is and how to use it in the coop! From FrugalChicken

 

Here’s the deal:

 

That little food grade label means it’s safe for anyone, even people, to eat. Without that stamp, you’re taking a chance.

 

Chickens that bathe in diatomaceous earth will likely try tasting it too. As long as you offer food grade diatomaceous earth to your chickens, it’s okay if they eat it.

 

It’s unclear whether chickens derive any health benefits from eating it, but at the worst, it’ll do nothing.

 

Ok, so what good is diatomaceous earth?

Great question. There’s a couple answers.   Diatomaceous earth is proven to be effective in controlling external parasites on your chickens, such as mites, fleas, lice and other external parasites that might infest near feather follicles or your hen’s vent.

Ever since we started offering diatomaceous earth to our chickens, they've been so much healthier. Here's what it is and how to use it in the coop! From FrugalChicken

A good place to look for mites is around your chicken’s vent.

In a study performed by the University of California Riverside, chickens that rolled in a dust bath of sand and diatomaceous earth showed a huge reduction in the amount of external parasites after just a week – pretty powerful stuff.           If you have chickens that aren’t laying as well, it might possibly be caused by mites. If your chickens have to fight of an infestation, they have less energy for egg production.

So what’s the bad news?

 

As great as it is for external parasites like mites, diatomaceous earth has spotty results when it comes to internal parasites.

 

One study performed in Vancouver showed that diatomaceous earth is effective in controlling internal parasites, and the chickens were heavier and laid more eggs when fed diatomaceous earth.

 

However, studies in the US have been largely unsuccessful.

 

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t work, just that some studies show it works while other studies show diatomaceous earth does nothing to reduce internal parasites (like worms) in chickens.

 

It’s inconclusive.

 

The bottom line?

 

I would venture to say we really don’t know how effective diatomaceous earth is when it comes to internal parasites.

 

But here’s the thing:

 

We know it isn’t likely to do anything bad, and the bottom line is that if your chickens are bathing it it, chances are they’ll sample it too. They’re curious creatures like that.

 

So, whether it’s effective or not, they’re likely getting it anyway.

 

How to use diatomaceous earth

 

Making a diatomaceous earth box

 

The easiest way to incorporate DE into your coop is by offering a dust box loaded with a diatomaceous earth/sand or dirt mix. There’s really no formula for how much of either to offer, so I go with a 1:1 ratio. 

 

I found when I offered a box with diatomaceous earth alone, the chickens looked at me like I’d grown a second head, and they didn’t use it. So, I recommend mixing it with dirt so your chickens get the idea.

 

I first line the box with dirt, then add the diatomaceous earth and mix slightly so the chickens get the idea that it’s not just this weird grey stuff.

 

If you plan to offer your DE box in a run, you will need to remove it when it rains, otherwise you’ll be left with a gloppy mess. If you offer it in the coop, then you’re golden. 

 

 

Sprinkling it in dirt

 

Another option, if you don’t want to make a DE box is to simply sprinkle the diatomaceous earth in an area where your chickens already habitually roll. 

 

 

This is a good option for chickens who aren’t quite getting the idea of using a DE box or who just prefer a good roll in the dirt.

 

 

Simply sprinkle DE in their favorite roll area and let them use it at will. The diatomaceous earth will still be effective.

 

Offering diatomaceous earth in food

 

While the effects of diatomaceous earth in controlling internal parasites is inconclusive, you can still offer it to your chickens in their feed. 

 

 

An added benefit is that DE is proven to control insects in livestock feed since it dries the little buggers out, and there are chicken farmers out there who mix DE with their chicken feed, especially if they buy a lot of it and store it. 

 

 

Nothing is worse than feed that’s gotten infested (ask me how I know.)

 

 

There’s no proven formula for mixing DE in their food. One good option is to simply sprinkle a dusting on their dinner and mixing before offering it to your chickens. 

 

 

The advantage to mixing the DE into the feed is the diatomaceous earth will cling to the feed (whether you feed a grain, scraps, corn, etc.) and your chickens are more likely to get it into their system than if you simply sprinkle it on top.

 

 

You can also offer it separately. Remember, also, your chickens will likely sample it as they roll in it, but if you want more control over the amount of diatomaceous earth they consume, mixing it into their feed is a great option.

 

 

If you use my homemade organic chicken feed recipe, another option is to sprinkle it on the fodder. It will stick to the wheat (or barley) sprouts and your chickens can eat it that way. 

 

The effects of diatomaceous earth are still being studied, but with the mounting evidence that it’s effective in controlling mites, lice, and other external bugs, it’s something you should try in your own coop!

 

I’d love to hear from you!

 

Do you think you’ll give diatomaceous earth a shot? Let me know by email or leave a comment below!

 

 

References:

Housing and dustbathing effects on northern fowl mites (Ornithonyssus sylviarum) and chicken body lice (Menacanthus stramineus) on hens.” Department of Entomology, University of California Riverside. PubMed.

 

Effect of diatomaceous earth on parasite load, egg production, and egg quality of free-range organic laying hens.” Avian Research Centre, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, University of British Columbia. PubMed.

 

Ever since we started offering diatomaceous earth to our chickens, they've been so much healthier. Here's what it is and how to use it in the coop!

 

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