Anyone who owns chickens, or anyone who owns any bird for that matter, knows that chickens periodically lose feathers.
You’ll always see one or two blowing on the breeze around the run or coop, and sometimes you’ll find a handful after a scuffle or some other altercation.
It’s far from uncommon, and just a part of life for any chicken if they live long enough. But losing feathers is one thing. Do chickens get them back? So, can a chicken’s feathers grow back?
Yes, chickens can regrow their feathers after loss for any reason. So long as the chicken is healthy and not suffering from permanent injury, feathers will grow back over time.
Generally, unless a chicken is dealing with chronic illness or has lost feathers from a severe injury due to fighting or a predator attack, you can rest easy knowing that they will come back when given enough time.
However, there are several more reasons why chickens might lose their feathers, and you’ll need to know about each of them so you can provide the proper care when and if required.
I’ll tell you everything you need to know and the rest of this article.
How Do Chickens Lose Feathers?
As I mentioned above, there are many reasons why a chicken might lose its feathers, either singly, in small groups, or a whole bunch all at once!
We never want our birds to lose lots of feathers in bunches, because that is usually indicative of some serious trauma or other health problems, but it can and does happen.
And all the reasons for feather loss are not created equal: some are natural and virtually meaningless, just a part of life as a chicken. Others are invariably indicative of major trauma.
You’ll need to understand each of these reasons to correctly assess the situation and apply the right remedy, if any is required. Familiarize yourself with the following:
1. Natural Loss
Chickens just naturally lose feathers from time to time, seemingly for no reason at all.
Maybe they wear out, maybe they get incidentally damaged during their explorations or from other activity, or they “drop” for any number of other factors.
Feathers that wear out tend to fall out periodically. They don’t last forever and this is entirely natural and nothing to worry about.
Seeing one or two feathers here and there or even a single larger feather missing from one of your chickens is no cause for alarm.
Believe it or not, sometimes a chicken might deliberately pluck out one or more feathers.
This behavior is sometimes natural, as with natural loss above, but other times it is a bad habit or a sort of psychosis brought on by some stress or ailment the bird is suffering from.
In the case of a feather that’s badly broken or mangled, the chicken might try to grasp it with their beak and just pull it out.
Other chickens resort to self-plucking, over and over again, to deal with stress, sickness or even a nutritional deficit if you can believe that.
If a chicken stops plucking after removing one or two problematic feathers, you don’t need to worry about it.
But if they are plucking and plucking and plucking, leaving a trail of feathers wherever they go or showing obvious bald spots, you’ll need to take action and investigate.
This is always a symptom of a serious problem with an individual chicken, with one exception. See the next section.
Hens that are getting broody, meaning they are preparing to lay eggs with the intention of hatching them themselves, will quite regularly pluck out all of the feathers on their underside, or at least all the ones they can reach.
They do this to expose the skin of their stomachs so they can better warm the eggs when they are sitting on them.
Broody hens act a little crazy anyway, usually refusing food, making a lot of noise and getting very belligerent with anyone or anything that comes close to their nesting box or nesting site.
This behavior is certainly alarming for beginning chicken keepers, but assuming that the behavior itself is not unwanted, it’s nothing to worry about.
If you notice serious plucking in a hen, but she is concentrating on her underside, she’s probably just going broody- assuming she is of laying age!
Molting is another entirely natural reason for chickens to lose lots of feathers, and is a process that will happen regularly throughout a chicken’s life either on a yearly basis.
The molt is a natural process whereas a chicken, or other bird, will drop and refresh many feathers at the same time.
This can lead to substantial but temporary baldness or a very tattered appearance overall, so don’t be surprised!
Though the molt can occur during different times most breeds and most individual chickens molt in the fall before winter arrives, though the usual “window” for the malt can vary as a chicken ages.
Again, as alarming as it might be to newbies, it’s nothing to worry about.
This is another distressing cause of feather loss, and one that can be minor or quite severe, depending. Let’s face it: chickens do fight.
Sometimes, these fights are relatively minor and borderline ritualized, fights over pecking order or hierarchy. Other times they are gruesome, bloody and occasionally to the death.
Whatever the reason, whoever the participants, feathers will start flying and you will soon learn the reason for the old expression!
Most chicken fights stop before they get too serious, but the victor and the loser alike can have a few bald patches as a result.
Assuming serious physical injuries weren’t inflicted, these feathers will grow back nonetheless.
The worst and scariest reason for chickens to drop feathers is due to a predator attack.
If a predator makes a pass at a chicken and gets claws or teeth into them a substantial loss of feathers on one or more parts of the chicken’s body is guaranteed.
A protracted fight might leave feathers all over the place.
And, sadly, if the predator is successful you’ll usually see a pile of bloody feathers left behind and little else.
Predator attacks, more than any other reason, are most likely to leave injuries that will prevent feathers from regrowing.
Lost Feathers Take Time to Regrow
However chickens lose feathers they are capable of regrowth and they will (outside of other mitigating factors), though the process takes time.
Depending on the feather, the chicken and the reason for the loss, regrowing a feather can take anywhere from weeks to months.
Growing Feathers is Nutrient-Intensive for Chickens
One thing to keep in mind is that producing feathers is a very resource-intensive process for chickens. When I say resources, I mean nutrition.
The more feathers a chicken has to regrow, the more nutritional support they will need.
This means that recovery after a nasty fight chickens will need more protein, more calories, more vitamins and more minerals, and the same is particularly true during the molt.
There’s no reason to deviate from their usual diet of chicken feed, but if you aren’t supplementing their pellets with other whole, protein-rich foods now is definitely the time to start.
If Chickens are Stressed or Sick, their Feathers Might Fail to Regrow
Something else to note is that the success rate and timetable for feather regrowth is dependent on the overall health of the bird.
A chicken that is battered, sick, old or chronically unwell is likely going to regrow their feathers slower than other birds, and if the cause for feather loss was a serious penetrating or lacerating injury, the feathers might not regrow at all.
Always Intervene in Cases of Serious Fights or Habitual Self-Plucking
As mentioned above, most of the reasons that chickens might drop feathers do not require any intervention on your part.
Old and tattered feathers, broken feathers, and the occasional social scuffle among members of the flock are not major issues.
However, a serious fight that results in genuine bloodshed or habitual plucking that goes beyond what a broody hen might do means you must intervene and investigate the cause.
In the case of a fight, you might have to exile a problematic rooster, or see if there are nutritional deficiencies or other illnesses, or some other stressor, that is causing the destructive self-plucking behavior.
In short, with a little experience and the benefit of this guide you’ll know when you must intervene and when you can let it go.
Serious Feather Loss Warrants a Vet Visit
Just a reminder: any major feather loss that is not explainable as molting or brooding behavior probably warrants a call to the vet.
Only a veterinarian has the skills and equipment needed to diagnose illness and other potential causes before they progress past the point of no return.
If you care about your chickens, don’t let them go around bald! Call your vet, find out, then deal with the problem.
Tom has lived and worked on farms and homesteads from the Carolinas to Kentucky and beyond. He is passionate about helping people prepare for tough times by embracing lifestyles of self-sufficiency.