What Could Cause Feathers to Fall out of Chickens?

There are several possible causes for feather loss, explains the US National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service.
calendar icon 25 June 2014
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Here are some of the causes of feather loss listed by ATTRA.


  • Occurs in flocks at least a year old
  • Takes several months to complete
  • Can be triggered by stress (hot or cold weather, feed, disease)
  • Usually occurs once a year (fall/autumn)
  • Typical moulting sequence: head - neck - chest - back - wings - backsides and tails
  • Level of moulting varies year to year, and depends on breed
  • Sometimes chickens moult at different times and different ways
  • Rooster: If you have a rooster, most likely you will see feather loss around the neck and back.


Active layers need a well balanced ration with adequate protein and energy.

Inadequate quantity or quality of protein and energy in the feed can cause feather loss. Make sure you are providing adequate feed for the current stage of production and that all the chickens have access to the feeders.

Hen pecking

Pecking is a bad habit and it is hard to stop. One possibility is to darken the affected areas with 'blu-kote' or other gentian violet materials (not approved by the Organic Materials Review Institute, OMRI). This dyes the skin purplish blue, so the hens do not peck. Use gloves to apply it.

Pecking may also be due to unbalanced nutrition: more roughage and protein may be needed. Access to oyster shell, as well as greens and other fun things to eat like melons and squash, can also be helpful. Reduce empty calorie treats like cracked corn or stale bread.

Pecking may be due to boredom and/or crowding. Make sure there is enough space in the chicken coop and access to feed for each bird.

Parasites (mice, lice and fleas)

  • Usually the whole flock is affected
  • Lice: look for them at the base of the feathers.
  • Mites and fleas: look for them in the barn. White cotton-like substance will show up where they are hiding (barn floors or walls). You can also look for mites on the birds at night.
  • Lesions in chickens: scratches and bite like lesions on skin. Look for parasite faeces: part feathers and look for 'dirt' around belly and tail area.
  • If you find parasites in the birds or barn: clean the coop, remove cobwebs and treat chickens and barns. Clean walls, floors, nest boxes and the birds themselves. Roosts can be spread with natural oil. Diatomaceous earth in dust baths can also be a treatment.
  • Prevent contact with wild birds and rodents (though this can be hard to do on backyard poultry flocks).

Other alternative treatments:

  • Spray vent area of birds with a 10 per cent garlic solution in water
  • Sulphur solutions (high concentration: more than 5.3 per cent). Note: Sulphur is 'allowed with restrictions' by OMRI.

June 2014

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