Feather Loss in Laying Hens
Feather loss in laying hens, is it normal, and potential problems.
Feathers on chickens serve a variety of purposes. They regulate temperature, facilitate courting and mating between sexes and of course, for flight. They can also serve as protection, such as when it is used for camouflage in the wild to protect them against predators. Feathers are often the first sign of potential chicken health problems.
Feather loss in chickens is a normal process during molting season. Laying hens will not lay eggs during the molting period. This is the time when worn out, tattered and old feathers are replaced with newer, glossier, and brighter ones. During this stage, the bird will shed off their old feathers as new ones sprout to replace them. This takes place within two to four months and usually in the late summer or autumn. After the molt, the bird is ready to breed again. Where feather loss in chickens is concerned, this is normal.However, there are instances when your bird will shed off feathers due to some external factors and this is usually where problems occur. One of the causes of feather shedding is if your bird is infested with mites or internal parasites. There are many types of mites but they all have a drying effect on the feathers as they sap the nutrients from your bird. As a result, the feathers will not be as strong, are brittle and will lose their shine even if your bird has just finished molting. Take note that shiny feathers serve the purpose of repelling water during heavy rains so if this is lost, your birds will suffer from the cold. You will know if your chicken has mites when you check the back of the tail feathers. There are patches of white powder-like spots that are immediately visible. You will also notice your bird listless and seem to preen constantly. Treatment should be initiated right away if you suspect mite infestation. Feather pecking or pulling, also known as cannibalism, is another cause of feather loss in chickens. For chicks in the brooder, the main cause is lack of space. You will know if cannibalism is present among your chicks if some will not have feathers on their backs or tails while others of the same age have. Bleeding and cuts are also obvious. This should be immediately addressed. Make sure that they have enough space so they don’t peck each other to the death. In older birds, this happens when you introduce new birds to the flock and disturb the pecking order. The ones in the bottom are most likely going to be pecked at the most. You should immediately remove the poor bird lest it dies because of the pecking. In both incidents of cannibalism in chicks and older birds, you should also see to it that you are giving them adequate nutrition since chickens can feather peck if they don’t get enough nutrients. Feather loss could also occur when your birds are under stress or are sick because of temperature extremes, poor nutrition and management practices. Your birds are your responsibility. You should provide them with adequate feed, water and sufficient housing and protection from the elements and predators while they are under your care. Remember that unless it is molting season, your birds should be fully-feathered. Otherwise, check if the conditions mentioned above are the cause for the feather loss and take the necessary steps to treat it.