Chickens losing their Feathers?
Reasons for this common occurrence
If you're fairly new to Chickens, it can be quite a shock to open the Coop door and be confronted with masses of feathers around. The first thought is usually that you've had a Fox get in during the night, but looking around the flock, you will find a somewhat dejected and scraggy Hen waiting for her food! So, let's look at the reasons for feather loss....
As with many things, Chickens are very unpredictable creatures. Some say that Hens will molt every year, but that is not always the case.
When they do, it's normally (in the UK) between January and June.
In fact, if you got your Chickens after them being about 16 weeks old (Point of Lay) they will have already gone through possibly two 'Juvenile Molts'. If that's the case, the Hen will more than likely not have the first molt for a year after that.
Molting usually starts on the head, works down to the neck and body. At that stage some stop, but others will go into a full molt through the rest of their body.
You will usually know if it's a natural molt or another of the reasons written below by where you find the feathers. If it's a natural molt, they will shed them more in the Chicken House than outside.
Some worry about their Hen suffering if molting during cold weather, but they are following their natural cycle and all should be well. If you are concerned just add extra bedding in their House and this should suffice. There is no need to make one of those Chicken Jerseys, which I have to say, I don't agree with. I've never had a Molting Hen, or featherless ex-battery hen, show any signs of ill health.
This is usually where a Chicken is at the bottom of the pecking order, new to the flock or just plain being picked upon. The only way you will confirm this is to watch them closely at feed time. Although they'll all run for the food together, after a few minutes you will notice that one is being pushed away or being pecked. I don't see this as bullying because it's not a purposeful thing, it is a natural thing and one can usually overcome this by following the guides set out in the 'Introducing New Chickens' page.
Another reason for this could be that you have a broody chicken and she has taken it upon herself to build a feather nest. I've had this quite a few times and it is quite hard to get them back to normal, but let patience prevail.
Chickens can suffer from Stress and the most common reason for this is overcrowding, basically the chickens have nothing better to do than squabble amongst each other whilst waiting for attention of some sort. The stress level causes them to lose their feathers either through being run down or pecking each other.
Another big reason for stress is lack of food and water and / or a badly balanced diet. Having a constant well ventilated House will help as well.
Watch out for
If feather loss is causing blood to draw, it is then wise to separate that particular bird. Chickens I'm afraid are quite prone to liking blood and at the sight of a wound on another chicken (or indeed on you) they will make a beeline for it.
I know this is something that many people find hard to take, but we have to accept that they have their natural ways just like us. Chickens are not politically correct!
Overall, by giving a Chicken good food at regular times and allowing them to be their natural selves as much as possible will reward you and them great benefits. During feather loss, they will very often go off lay altogether and although there is no evidence for this, I have found that if one goes off lay, many others follow along behind!
Finally a note to new owners of Ex-Battery Hens - Because they have been kept caged in an artificial environment where each day is simulated as a Summers Day, they will very often go into molt almost as soon as you get them.
It can be quite worrying to see your new hens arrive with not many feathers, give them TLC only to find they lose even more - it is not your fault, they have been through a lot - so see it as a kind of re-birth and all will be well.