Your birds' balding could result from the natural process known as molting or from environmental or behavioral factors. Telling the difference isn't always easy, but careful observation gives you clues. Providing your chickens with high-quality feed and a constant supply of fresh water, along with clean living conditions, prevents stress and illness that can lead to feather loss.
Depending on the breeds of chickens in your flock, your birds might experience relatively minor feather loss during molting or they may appear practically naked. Every year, all of the old feathers fall out, replaced by new ones. Molting generally occurs in the fall and winter, starting as daylight hours decrease. If your chicken is molting, whether feather loss is heavy or light, you'll be able to see the new feathers coming in. While it's a natural process, stress can also induce molting. It's common in very hot weather and when illness affects a flock.
If only a few, low-status chickens lose feathers, you could have a pecking problem. You know there's a pecking order in your flock, with those higher in the hierarchy calling the shots for the lesser members. Aggression and feather pecking and pulling can result. Take some time to watch your birds and you're likely to witness feather-pecking in action. Removing the worst offenders for a few days can break the cycle. If the behavior recurs once you readmit the feather peckers, permanent removal might be the only solution.
If you keep a rooster with your hens, you'll notice that some, if not all, of the hens might end up with bare patches and feather loss on their backs. That's the result of constant mating. Chicken sex is fast and frequent, so some hens experience feather loss from rooster mounting. If you can't separate the rooster from the hens, you can purchase hen saddles or aprons to put on birds to protect their backs.
Parasites could be behind your chickens' feather loss. Severe mite or lice infestations, two of the most common external parasites on chickens, can cause feather loss. Even if only some of your flock lose feathers, all of the birds must be treated if mites or lice infest any of them. Chickens infested with mites look like they've got small bits of pepper all over them. Wingless lice bite at your birds, making them look balding or moth-eaten. You can purchase pesticides for dusting your chickens and their living quarters to eradicate these parasites.
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.