Why Is My Chicken Losing Feathers? (13 Common Reasons & Fixes)

If you recently walked out to your chicken coop to see a pile of feathers lying on the floor, don’t panic.

There are several reasons why a chicken might lose feathers, but most of them are not anything to be worried about.

Here are some of the most common reasons as to why your chicken might lose feathers – as well as what you can do about it to prevent it from happening (or stop it) altogether.


Where Might My Chickens Lose Feathers?

Anywhere they might spend their time! In the coop, on the run, on the lawn…

That’s a joke, of course.

If you’re reading this article, you probably want to know where on their bodies your birds might begin to lose feathers.

The answer will likely depend on the cause behind why your chickens are shedding. Here are some common locations for your birds to lose feathers:

  • Back
  • Neck
  • Bottom (near the vent area)
  • Chest (the most common)

If your chickens are losing feathers in any of these areas, it’s not anything to be alarmed about.

Chickens commonly drop feathers, and there are many possible reasons as to why they may have started.


1. Preening

This is a common cause of small amounts of feather loss.

Because preening happens around the year and is a natural behavior, you won’t usually notice the results or think that you rhen is losing an abnormal amount of feathers at all.

However, you may be alarmed when you notice feathers around the coop.

Preening is a natural process that birds use to move oils from the glands at the bottom of their tails to their feathers. It also helps them examine themselves for parasites.

Preening oil helps waterproof the feathers and also makes it easier for the body to convert vitamin D from the sun into a usable format.

It’s the most common chicken grooming behavior.

What to Do About It

Don’t be nervous if you see feathers on the ground – as long as your chickens seem healthy otherwise and aren’t missing large clumps of feathers.

Preening will result in dropped feathers all over the place, but you don’t need to be alarmed unless there is visible sign of feather loss on the bodies of your chickens.


2. Molting

Molting is a natural process that happens to every chicken at one point or another.

This causes your birds to stop producing eggs and to lose feathers around its breast, neck, head, back, and wings.

Molting is a process that is highly variable depending on the individual chicken, so while some birds will go through it quickly, losing feathers for only a couple of weeks, others may molt for months.

Molting is seasonal and not something you will have any control over. It most commonly occurs in the fall.

Your birds will begin to drop feathers to put on new winter plumage.

You will notice that egg laying has dropped off significantly, and as long as there are no other signs of stress in the flock, you have nothing to worry about.

What to Do About It

Check your chickens for any other damaged or bleeding spots to ensure that the bird is actually molting, and that another factor is not to blame.

Molting is more likely if its fall and the days are getting shorter. If you can cross all of these other feather-loss causes off your list, it’s probably molt.

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot that you can do to adjust the amount of time that motling takes, or to mitigate the impact that it has on feather loss.

You can try feeding a higher fat and higher protein content feed, but forcing a quick molt is not recommended as you need to allow your girls to recover from a long egg laying season.

Feeding occasional high-protein treats like mealworms can also help speed up the molting process.

Just make sure your chickens are well taken care of until the molt passes, and be patient!


3. Broodiness

Sometimes chickens will pull their own feathers when they become broody.

Broodiness is caused by hens who really want their own eggs to hatch, and so will sit on them for long periods of time.

Occasionally, they will pick their own feathers to build a nest, which helps to prepare for the hatching chicks and also helps keep the hen and eggs warm.

If you notice you’ve had the same hen hanging out in the nest box for quite some time, broodiness might be to blame for her loss of feathers.

What to Do About It

Nothing – if you want her to hatch her own eggs. Allow a hen to sit on her eggs, and know that she wills top picking her feathers once the chicks hatch.

Broodiness is not dangerous, and is actually quite a miracle to witness if it happens in your chicken coop.

However, if you don’t want a hen to become broody – whether it’s for behavioral or egg production reasons – you can break her broodiness to stop her from pulling out her own feathers.


4. Bullying and Dominance Issues

Bullying – and other issues related to dominance and the pecking order – is a common cause of feather loss among the flock.

Chicken run behavior is learned, and it typically is caused by a need to establish the pecking order.

If you’ve just introduced a group of chickens to the flock – or if you have chickens of varying ages, breeds, or dispositions – don’t be surprised if you find some missing feathers.

Chickens will bully each other if they see any weakness in the flock at all.

You might have hens who are high on the pecking order and feel the need to establish their dominance frequently through pulling the feathers of other chickens.

You might have some chickens that are just downright mean.

If you think bullying might be to blame for a loss of feathers on one or more of your birds, but you aren’t one hundred percent sure, it’s pretty easy to figure out whether that’s the case.

Check for any other physical damage to the chicken, including damage to the feather shaft.

If you see dried blood on the skin – or if your chicken is exhibiting behavioral changes, like withdrawn or anxious behavior – there’s a strong likelihood that bullying behavior was to blame.

What to Do About It

The most important thing to mention is that chickens are very drawn to blood and will become cannibalistic if any is exposed.

Therefore, even if bullying behavior has only led to a few pulled features or just a small patch of skin being exposed, it’s important that you take steps to isolate your bullied chicken immediately.

This will save its life!

Otherwise, spend some time observing your flock. Watch them interact with each other, and see what leads to displays of aggression among the flock.

You might have to separate or cull a particularly aggressive hen to allow the pecking order to reestablish itself.

Boredom is another common cause of bullying behavior, as is overcrowding.

Consider putting some chicken toys, like lettuce balls, in the coop, and make sure you are providing plenty of space for your birds.

You can even add swings, branches, and treats for them to hunt for.

Providing enough space is crucial.

A good rule of thumb to follow is three square feet inside the coop and ten square feet in an outside run. More space is better, and allowing your birds to free range is always best.


5. Mites or Lice

Lice and chicken mites are common causes of feather loss, and while you may not be concerned about the fact that your chicken is losing its plumage, you should be – especially if it’s for this reason.

Even if you don’t see mites or lice on your chickens, they can cause serious problems.

They will hide in corners of the coop and come out at night to snack on your chickens. They can spread infections and cause your chickens to lose scales on their legs.

Left untreated, a mite infestation can even cause your chickens to die, as they’ll rob them of the nutrients they need to stay healthy.

What to Do About It

Clean your coop on a regular basis – at least once a week – or use other methods to keep lice and mites away.

Some good herbal remedies include herbs like peppermint, cinnamon, and lemongrass, as well as the regular application of diatomaceous earth.

These remedies can make your coop smell better too.

Make sure your chickens have access to a clean dust bath. You might want to add diatomaceous earth to that, too.

This natural powder has sharp edges that cut the exoskeletons of insects like mites, killing them almost immediately.

However, your chickens won’t even know the powder is there.

If you do choose to apply diatomaceous earth, make sure you do so in a well-ventilated area – preferably outside.

Chickens have a delicate respiratory system and they shouldn’t inhale it or it can cause serious problems.

You can also soak your hen in a tub of warm water, dish detergent, vinegar, and salt.

The lice should float to the surface, after which you can dust your bird with diatomaceous earth. You may need to do this several times.


6. Vent Gleet

This fungal infection takes up residence in the vent of your chickens.

If you don’t already know, the vent is the place on your chicken where it expels both waste and eggs.

This disease can cause a disgusting whitish yellow discharge to ooze from the vent, along with serious loss of feathers.

It can cause feather loss anywhere, but it will usually be around the vent area.

This fungal disease is much like a yeast infection in humans. While it’s definitely not healthy for your chickens, it’s also not healthy for you – do you really want that touching your eggs?

Therefore, you need to take action immediately to both prevent and eliminate it.

What to Do About It

If you suspect that vent gleet is to blame for the loss of feathers, make sure you bring your chicken to a veterinarian and have a full work-up done immediately.

You will need to medicate your chickens for this disease, and it can be spread among the flock.

That being said, it’s often cheaper – and easier – to prevent this disease for settling in in the first place.

Make sure your coop is kept clean (including the nest boxes) and provide your birds with access to fresh, clean water and food at all times.

You can also ensure and improve the gut health of your birds by adding apple cider vinegar (just a few tablespoons in a five-gallon waterer).

Just make sure you don’t add apple cider vinegar to a galvanized system, as it can cause chemicals to leach into your chickens’ water supply.


7. Mating

If you have a rooster, overzealous breeding behaviors might be to blame for some feather loss.

You’ll only see this in the hens, because roosters will be the culprits behind this behavior.

While it’s usually harmless, “overmating” can be dangerous in that roosters will pull so many feathers from the hens that they will be completely bare on their backs and chests.

They have also been known to pull skin, which can cause injury and even death.

A loss of skin can cause fly strike, which is when flies lay eggs that develop into maggots on your hen’s body.

Often, you will need to euthanize her to put her out of her misery.

That being said, mating usually doesn’t progress to this extreme.

However, it can cause feather loss in that the roosters will stand on top of the hens while they are mating, cutting them or causing them to lose feathers as they pull on the hen with their beaks.

What to Do About It

If you have an extreme feather-pulling rooster in your flock, you may need to separate him or cull him altogether.

You can also put a chicken saddle on your hens, which will cover the bald area and prevent other chickens from pecking at the sore spot.

If you have more than one rooster, they may occasionally argue over the hens. You might need to reevaluate your hen to rooster ratio and add or remove chickens as needed.

A good ratio to follow is ten to twelve hens per rooster.

This will make sure that no one hen is getting too much attention, and ti will also limit fighting between aggressive roosters.


8. Protein Deficiency

Protein deficiency is one of the most common reasons as to why chickens lose their feathers.

Birds need lots of proteins, minerals, vitamins, and amino acids in their diets to help develop and maintain luxurious plumage.

Luckily, most feed manufacturing companies have made it easy to figure out how much protein chickens need.

You can look at the label and specific formulation of your brand to determine whether your chickens are getting the protein they need.

Remember that chickens will have varying requirements for protein depending on the following factors:

  • Stage of life (baby chick vs adult bird)
  • Gender
  • Laying ability
  • Activity level
  • Access to pasture

What to Do About It

Check the formulation of your chicken feed to make sure it has the recommended amount of protein for your chickens at their specific stage, gender, activity level, and other conditions.

You can add high-protein treats or supplements like black soldier fly larvae, or upgrade to a feed with a higher protein content if this factor is to blame.


9. Change in Diet

Evening you consistently ensure a healthy, high-protein diet for your chickens, any change can accidentally trigger a molt or loss of feathers.

For many years, industrial farmers often forced their chickens to molt and to improve their egg quality by aggressively changing their diet.

Today, this is illegal in most places.

You need to be careful about altering your chicken’s diet too quickly or abruptly. Not only can this cause some serious feather loss, but it can cause other health problems, too.

What to Do About It

Avoid changing the diet of your birds unless absolutely necessary, and if you do, make sure you do it gradually to avoid shock.


10. Vent Pecking

Vent pecking usually results out of curiosity among your birds.

It is most common in a laying flock, because the vent of a chicken remains red and swollen for a few hours after an egg is laid.

Given extreme boredom or an overcrowded situation, this can cause pecking.

What to Do About It

Darken your nest boxes so that the red does not appear as vibrantly to other chickens.

Do not light your chicken coop with intense light, as this will illuminate any potential redness.

You might also consider not letting your birds interact with each other until after 10 am, when most of your chickens have already laid.

This can be hard to control, however.


11. Rodents

In rare cases, rodents may go after your chickens.

This will result in feathers that seem to be missing the ends, as well as those that have jagged edges, as if they’ve been cut.

While most rodents make their way inside a coop in search of the free grain, some will stay and go after the chickens if they’re bored – or large.

They will often chew on the chicken feathers while the birds are sleeping, sucking protein from them.

Sometimes they will even pull the feathers to be used in building their nests!

What to Do About It

Ensure that the door to your coop is securely locked each night.

Check the corners of your coop and make sure there are no existing rodents nests in the coop. You should cover any potential openings with ½  inch hardware cloth.

This will prevent opportunistic rodents from making their way into your coop. You can also place mint in the coop to deter rodents, as they dislike the smell.


12. Hawk Attack

An aerial attack can cause some serious damage – if a few pulled feathers are all that you lose, you are lucky. Most hawk attacks will be fatal.

However, sometimes, juvenile hawks are too small to lift off with chickens.

This may result in the bird letting go of the chicken and flying away with a talon full of feathers instead.

You’ll know a hawk attack is to blame if you hear your chickens vocalizing loudly, see a pile of feathers on the ground, or actually see the hawk approach.

What to Do About It

After the fact, there’s not much you can do – but you can prevent a hawk (or other raptor) attack in the first place by keeping our birds inside a covered run.

This will mitigate the damages caused by aerial predators and reduce any feather loss that results.


13. Poor Environmental Conditions

If your chickens are stressed or are at all experiencing stressful conditions, they might experience feather loss.

This can be a hard one to rule out as well as to treat, because sometimes, you won’t have a lot of control over the environment.

However, if your chickens are losing feathers because they are too hot, you can try providing them with additional shade.

If they are losing feathers because they are cold, you can give them more heat.

It could also be that your chickens are not getting enough water – or that the water they are receiving is dirty.

Make sure you rule out all of these other potential causes, but then work through the environment of your birds to make sure you aren’t missing anything.

Feather pecking can result from poor environmental conditions such as:

  • Overcrowding
  • Lights that are too bright (or left on for too long)
  • Too much heat
  • Too much cold
  • Poor ventilation
  • Too few feeders and drinkers, or feed and water stations that are not evenly distributed
    Boredom

What to Do About It

Follow the best guidelines for raising chickens to ensure that your bird is not freezing, overheating, thirsty, or hungry.

Make sure they are comfortable, checking the run and the coop to make sure there are no hazards present.


How to Help Your Chickens Regrow Their Feathers

You may notice that your chickens grow back their feathers slowly, with large bare patches seemingly glaring until they are refeathered.

You may be able to put a chicken jacket or saddle on your bird to protect her from sunburn and excessive picking from other chickens.

However, in most cases, feather loss is completely normal and doesn’t need any intervention from you.

Provide your chickens with a proper diet, and they will likely grow their feathers back in less than a month – no need to worry!