Loss of Feathers in Chickens

Feathers of chickens have very important roles in protecting the body and providing insulation. Excessive feather loss increases the probability of infection in the exposed flesh or injuries that cause black and blue marks on the tissues and in addition, it may cause the need for the use of more energy in order to preserve the body temperature. In conclusion, those poultry animals that lose too many feathers need to consume more feed in order to produce the energy that is required to balance the heat that is lost from the exposed areas.

This state of affairs may have a negative impact on the feed transformation and may cause the feed costs to increase. Therefore, the prevention of excessive feather loss has an important effect on the health and profitabiility of the brood. The main reasons for the excessive loss of feather in small broods are listed below:

Malnutrition:

For the feathers to grow well and to be preserved, aminoacids, vitamins and minerals must be consumed in sufficient amounts. It is not unusual that a problem related to malnutrition emerges in a brood that is raised in the backyard. Poultry feed that has been formulated in accordance with the age and type of poultry animals makes it possible for the brood to receive the nutritional elements that are required to continue its growth and protection. Feed that has been produced with a specific formulation in terms of the age of the poultry and for egg or meat production provides the best nutrition for your broods. For example, when they are growing more rapidly, those poultry animals that are raised for their meat require higher levels of protein. When they reach mature age, the amount of protein they need to maintain their body weight and feather growth is lower. In addition, the levels of protein, energy and minerals that those poultry animals that are raised for egg production need are different from those of poultry animals that are raised for their meat. Therefore, the best method to be sure that your poultry animals are receiving proper nutrition is to buy poultry feed that has been formulated according to their species and age (that is, for those poultry animals that are raised for their flesh, broiler beginning, growing and finishing rations and broiler/egg chicken feed for egg producers).

Pecking and Pulling Feathers:  

 The loss of feathers in poultry animals may be caused by the pecking and pulling of the other poultry animals in a brood. Since malnutrition may trigger this behavior, pecking and pulling feathers may also emerge as a result of malnutrition. However, if proper feed is given and feather loss appears, this loss may be due to the aggressive behavior of some members of the brood. Pecking and pulling feathers may be a learned behavior and most of the time, it is a result of one or several members of the brood displaying this behavior. Poultry animals are curious animals by nature and they peck those objects that attract their interest. If their attention is focused on the other poultry animals in the brood and pecking/pulling starts, this situation may become a habit that spreds to the other members of the brood. Poultry animals are also very territorial and pecking/pulling feathers may be a manifestation of this behavior. If the loss of feathers is only observed in some members of the brood rather than all the poultry animals, then this situation is probably a result of these types of behavior. The method to determine whether the loss of feather is a result of such an activity is to observe the poultry animals for a while and to find out whether some members of the brood are too aggressive towards the other members members of the brood. If such a behavior is observed, then the best solution is to remove the problematic poultry animal(s) from the rest of the brood. Several weeks of isolation may reduce the display of this behavior. If isolation doesn’t reduce it, it may be necessary to remove the poultry animals in question completely from the brood in order to solve this problem. For those broods in which pecking and pulling are chronic problems, it may be necessary to cut the beak in early ages. Cutting of beaks can be done when the poultry animals are approximately six weeks old, by removing a 3/16 inch part from the tip of the top part of the beak. This procedure can be done using a nail clipper, but one must take utmost care not to harm the tongue of the animal.

Shedding Feathers:

Shedding of feathers is a natural process in which the egg production of egg-laying eggs stops for a period between a few weeks and a few months and in which they experience loss of feathers in the neck, chest and back areas. Shedding of feathers takes place mostly in those natural environments in which poultry animals are subject to light in natural day lengths. The shortening of the period of sunlight in the autumn season triggers the start of the shedding of feathers. This is a natural method to ensure a resting period to egg-laying poultry animals before they are stimulated for maximum reproductive performance in the spring season. In commercial broods, shedding of feathers is prevented by exposing the poultry animals to light for a long time using about 14 hours of artificial light every day. Most of the broods that are raised in backyards are subject to the changes in sunlight and therefore, this can be a reason for shedding of feathers and feather loss.

If feather loss emerges in autumn or winter and if it only lasts a few months before new feathers appear, your poultry animals have probably started undergoing a natural shedding of feathers. Shedding of feathers is not a situation that should worry you if you do not want your poultry animals to continue laying eggs during the autumn and winter seasons.