Monday, April 11, 2011

Reader Question: Why are my chickens bald on their back end?

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Our Barred Rock, after she regained
the feathers she lost because of stress
by Nancy Farrell

Q: My chickens are pretty much bald on their back ends. They are all still laying and seem fine, but we were wondering what causes this and what can we do to fix it? - Lynnette

A: Lynnette, chickens experience feather loss for several reasons.

Chickens, ducks and other poultry go through an annual molt starting when the birds are about 18 months of age. For some birds, the feather loss is more noticeable then others. The average molt lasts about a month or two, but it varies greatly between birds.

During this time egg laying ceases, because the hens need all the protein they can eat to create new feathers. Ours typically start the molt in the fall, then resume laying in the spring. During molting time is the only cure and an increase in protein in the diet is recommended.

Feather picking is another reason birds may lose their feathers. This occurs when some birds are aggressive toward others and is most often seen in crowded conditions, though not always.

Inadequate nutrition can also cause feather loss, though this isn't common with commercial rations.

An infestation of mites (commonly found near the vent opening) may cause feather loss. Treatment is recommended for the birds and coop if this is the cause.

Stress also can cause feather loss. We had a hen this past winter that got frostbite on her comb and then began to lose feathers all over her body. We treated her with a vitamin and mineral supplement in her water supply and she bounced right back.

You didn’t mention if you have a rooster in your flock. If you do, he could be the culprit.

Typical feather loss pattern
due to excessive breeding
Feather loss seen mainly on the back and the back of the neck is typically the result of over or aggressive breeding. At our coop, we’ve begun to see a sign of this as spring fever hits the birds: Increased hormone levels increase breeding activities. Even if you have several hens for each rooster, you can see this happen; often the rooster picks his favorite gals. During breeding, the males tread on the females' back, often ripping feathers. They also hold on to the feathers on the back of the neck, pulling some out in the process.

I’ve included a picture of one of our overbred hens so you can compare feather loss patterns. You must be careful if this is the cause of the feather loss: When the feathers are gone the hen’s skin is exposed to the rooster’s spurs, which can easily slice tender skin. We had one hen that ended up with her side split open this way. Luckily, she survived ... but it took a long time to heal. Separation is the cure here, or the use of a hen apron.

Additional information can be found at The Poultry Site and at AnimalLoversWeb. Hope this helps!


  1. Nancy, thanks! We had a hen lose some feathers earlier this spring; she had gotten some frost bite on her comb, and I wondered if that was the reason. Now I'm sure. Good information!

  2. I have one hen (out of 3) that has a spot the size of a quarter that is missing feathers on her breast. It is not bloody, etc. - just missing feathers. The other two hens are fine. She has been like this for almost six weeks, and I am baffled as to why? She is laying fine, seems content, and shows no signs of stress. Feed is not an issue (Purina Layena and shelled corn available) nor is water.
    Any thoughts?

  3. How many hens and roosters do you have?

  4. Lynnette, I saw that pic & had to laugh -- all our hens used to look like that!! It simply means that your rooster is enthusiastically treading his hens:), nothing to panic over!
    DBFrank -- your hen with the missing breast feathers may be plucking a few feathers for her nest. Keep an eye out for a "hidden" nest tucked away somewhere, she might be a sneaky girl;)!

  5. When my chickens had this problem it lasted well over a year so we knew our chickens were not molting and there was no rooster in the pen either. We thought mites was causing the problem and treated for that but nothing worked. Then someone told me they were not getting enough protein from the feed and they really do better with some animal protein than plant based (soy) protein. (We live in the desert so there are not alot of insects for them) So, we added high protein dry cat food to their lay pellets and the problem disapeared, never to return. Now when I don't add the cat food, I give them whey from our cheese making and sometimes vinegar cheese too. I think the animal protein added to their diet is what made the difference in my chickens.

  6. My hens are starting to get that feather loss too because of Red the Rooster. He has already caused a severe laceration on one hen from his nails...not the spur causing it, that goes pretty much straight back. It is his "thumb" nail that causes it and I've been getting the emery board out and filing his nails. Geesh. Can you say 'chicken lady'?! But even that isn't helping so I have had to separate Red from his gals and they and I am heartbroken. They miss each other so bad. Wonder if a vet could declaw a rooster like they do cats?

  7. So any suggestion on what to do with a Chester Melester Rooster LOL I have a rooster the will bounce from one girl to the next and only certain ones the others he leaves alone what can you do those poor girls are starting to loss the feathers on there head too.

  8. наших кур подрал петух ,из восьми штук три любимые и лысые.Намотал на лапу веревку хб. ,вокруг лапы и шпоры ,теперь он занят собой и их не беспокоит .надеюсь к холоду оперятся. Привет!

  9. Can a bird lose half her feathers overnight from weed killer poisening?


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