If you’re a beginner chicken keeper, then you might be surprised to learn that one of the most common ailments a chicken can have is bald spots. But why do chickens get bald spots? What causes them? And can you fix it?
Chicken bald spots are most likely from their yearly molting process as a natural way for them to grow new feathers every year. However, chickens can also develop bald spots from stress, predator attacks, poor nutrition, disease, parasites, and preening.
In this article, we explain what causes bare patches on your hen’s feathers and how you can treat these issues. So, let’s get started, shall we?
Why Has My Chicken Got Bald Patches?
It’s the bane of every chicken-keeper’s existence – bald patches on your chickens. But why do they happen in the first place, and more importantly, how can you fix them?
The most common cause of bald spots in chickens is annual molt. Chickens naturally go through a molt every year as they lose their old feathers and grow new ones. During the molt, you may notice your chickens have bald patches where their old feathers have fallen out. However, it could also be due to health issues.
However, if your chicken has suddenly lost a lot of feathers in a short period of time, it could be due to one of the following reasons.
Stress (Mini Molts)
One of the most common reasons for chickens losing their feathers is due to stress. If your hens are feeling stressed, they may start to molt prematurely. This can be caused by several things, including:
- Changes in their environment (such as moving to a new house)
- Being bullied by other hens
- Being sick
- Lack of food or water
- Improper handling
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Too high or low temperatures
- Adding new hens to the coop
The first sign that your chickens are stressed is stopping to lay eggs. After this, the chickens may stop eating and go into a mini molt.
The best way to address the issue of mini molts is to remove the stressor. Once you have done this, with some luck your chickens will lay eggs again, and the bald spots will go away.
If you cannot determine what is causing the stress or if it is a chronic issue that keeps happening, talk to your vet about offering supplements to keep their immune system in top shape (such as vitamins and electrolytes) and help them through the stressful times.
- It’s also crucial to ensure your chickens routine isn’t disrupted.
- Chickens thrive on routine, and when their environment is constantly changing, it can lead to mini molts.
- If you need to change anything, do it slowly and make sure your chickens have time to adjust before making another change.
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Another common cause of bald spots in chickens is predator attacks. Hawks, raccoons, opossums, and other predators can cause a lot of damage in a very short amount of time.
These frequent attacks cause stress to the entire flock and not just the chicken that was attacked. The attack can result in a chicken losing many of its feathers and sometimes even some flesh.
Due to the attack and induced stress, your flock may go into a molt and may even stop laying eggs. It takes several weeks for the chickens to recover physically and emotionally from a predator attack.
It is important to take steps to protect your flock from predators.
Make sure your coop and run are well-protected and that the fencing is sufficient enough to keep out critters. Keep an eye on your flock and make sure there are no weak spots in the fence line as well.
Here’s a quick video with some tips on keeping your chickens safe from predators:
Poor Nutrition and Disease
Another culprit could be a lack of nutrition or disease. However, most diseases that affect chickens don’t necessarily cause feather loss. Nonetheless, the poor nutrition resulting from the disease could be a cause of feather loss.
Some of the diseases that may result in feather loss in chickens include:
- Gangrenous dermatitis
- Cutaneous Marek’s
- Fowl pox
The good news is that most of these diseases are rare. Therefore, if you suspect that your chickens have any of these diseases, you should have them tested.
If you suspect the issue may be related to their nutrition, there could be several explanations for this:
- The brand of feed they are eating could be low quality, and a different brand may have more nutrients.
- The chickens could have limited access to food and water. If this is the case, you should make sure that their feeders are full at all times.
- They may not be able to reach their feeders or waterers because of the size of their coops.
- You made your own feed, and it did not have enough nutrients.
- The chickens could be eating something that is taking the place of their feed, such as grass or insects, hence not getting enough nutrients from their feed.
If you suspect that your chickens’ diet is the reason they are experiencing bald spots, here’s what you can do:
- Find a higher quality brand of chicken feed to give them.
- Make sure their food and water are within easy reach of every bird in the flock.
- Ensure all waterers have enough fresh water at all times.
- If you have a large enough yard, allow your chickens to roam and forage for food on their own. This will give them the opportunity to eat plenty of grass, bugs, and other natural foods that will help keep them healthy. However, ensure they’re also getting enough to eat from their feeder, too.
The most common reason why chickens lose feathers is during their annual molt. It’s part of a chicken’s natural cycle to grow new feathers each year.
Chickens will begin to shed their old feathers and regrow them for the first time between the 15 and 18th month (depending on when they were hatched).
They do this to replace their feathers that have become damaged from outside elements like the sun, rain, or snow.
Chickens will generally start by losing a few of their outermost tail feathers and move on to lose some wing and body feathers. However, the molting process is different for every chicken and can last anywhere from two to four weeks.
Some chickens will go through a heavy molt where they lose a lot of feathers, while others may only lose a few. Some chickens will also replace their old feathers with new ones quickly, while others may take a little longer.
How to Ensure Successful and Stress-Free Annual Molts
While annual molts are a natural process, there are a few things you can do to ensure they go as smoothly as possible.
- Avoid touching the chickens and keep an eye on predators.
- Increase their protein intake to help them build new feathers.
- Make sure they have plenty of fresh water and feed.
- Use a coop heater if they start molting in the winter.
If you follow these tips, your chickens should experience a stress-free molting process and will be back to their old selves in no time! (source)
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Your chickens may also be losing their feathers due to a parasite infestation. Mites and lice are common parasites affecting chickens, causing the birds to lose their feathers in isolated spots.
Most mite species prefer living on your chicken’s skin rather than their feathers, while lice like to make their home under the bird’s wings or close to areas that feel warm and moist.
When your chickens are infested with parasites, they tend to scratch more violently than when they molt. Consequently, the affected areas of your birds’ bodies tend to become crusty and irritated, with scabs appearing on the skin if it is scratched excessively.
If you suspect that your chickens have parasites, speak to a vet about getting some treatments for them. You may need to clean out their coop at the same time and treat the surrounding area to prevent reinfestation.
Also, make it a habit to have regular vet checkups for your chickens. This way, any parasites that are in their bodies can be detected early enough to stop them from spreading quickly.
Your chickens may also lose feathers as a result of preening. Preening is when birds clean and groom their feathers, often pulling out bits and pieces until the feather looks neat and tidy again.
This process doesn’t cause too much damage and is not likely to lead to bald patches. But it should be noted that your chickens may end up looking slightly different after they are done preening, because they pluck several of their feathers.
You don’t need to intervene or do anything about this behavior. It’s normal, natural, and healthy for them to preen their feathers in this way.
Broody hens are hard to miss. They are bad tempered, moody, and seem like they’re always ready for a fight.
When these hens settle in their nesting mode, they tend to pluck feathers from their breast for two reasons:
- To line the nest with warm downy feathers for the chicks.
- To ensure the eggs are right next to their skin, thereby ensuring the temperature is right for the eggs.
Consequently, a broody hen can end up looking quite bald. You may not be able to see the bald spots easily since broody hens won’t let you pick them up, but you may notice it when they’re moving around.
There is nothing you can do to stop a hen from going broody, but there are a few things you can do to make the experience less unpleasant for her and everyone else around:
- Don’t disturb her while she’s nesting.
- Let her have plenty of time to sit on her eggs.
- Make sure she has a good supply of food and water.
When the hen is done nesting, she’ll go into a molt, and her feathers will grow back with time.
Pecking and Bullying
It’s also possible that your chickens are bullying one another, especially during the winter months when they spend more time indoors.
Chicken bullying happens for many reasons:
- They may be bored and need more stimulation.
- Your flock is too large for the space you have.
- There’s an imbalance in your flock. A hen might be weaker than the others and become a target.
- The birds are not getting enough vitamins or protein in their diet.
- Some chickens are bullies, and some are more submissive.
All of these can contribute to chicken bullying, which leads to bald spots on your chickens’ skin as well as broken feathers from pecking at each other.
There are several things you can do to help reduce chicken bullying and keep your flock looking their best:
- Provide your flock with enough space.
- Keep an eye on each bird to try to identify the bully.
- Adding pecking order aids like mirrors or brightly colored plastic items.
- Separating the birds for a few days until the injured bird has recovered if necessary.
- Increasing their protein intake.
Mating and Roosters
Your hens may also develop bald spots due to mating behaviors. Roosters tend to become very aggressive during the mating season and will peck at the hens’ heads to assert their dominance.
You may also notice bald spots on the hen’s back where the rooster treads her with his feet and the back of her comb where the rooster grabs her with his beak for stability. If the rooster is enormous, he may also tear the hens flesh, causing injuries.
Mating is a natural behavior and cannot be stopped, but you can protect your hens from the rooster’s aggression. You can do this by placing a physical barrier between them or by removing the rooster from the flock. If you choose to keep the rooster in the flock, make sure that there is plenty of space for him to roam so that he does not have to tread on the hens.
It’s also important to separate the injured hen from the rest of the flock. Give her a safe, quiet place to recover and treat any wounds she may have sustained. If the wounds need stitching, consult a veterinarian. (source)
The sight of bald patches on your feathered friends may be alarming, but the good news is that most feather loss in chickens can be treated and prevented. So, use the tips we’ve provided to keep your chickens happy, healthy, and well-feathered.