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Feather loss  

Feather loss

Post Fri Jul 18, 2008 4:01 pm

There are 4 causes of feather loss. Hens usually go through a moult in the Autumn, usually around October or November. The first year tends to be a small moult affecting the head and neck area but the second year is a little more drastic. Hybrids moult more than pure breeds and often look ready plucked. The whole process takes around 3-4 weeks to be completed and starts at the neck, moves along the back, breast and ends at the tail. It happens annually to replace old worn out feathers. Sometimes dramatic total body moults occur where nearly all the feathers fall out overnight but they do grow back. You should start to see and feel little quills poking through the flesh which grow and open out into lovely new feathers which will keep her warm and dry throughout the winter. Make sure you provide a good quality layers meal for them because the moult takes a lot out of your hens. Don’t give too many treats as these don’t really provide enough nutritional value but wheat is very good as a scatter feed in the afternoons or you could perhaps give a wheatgerm porridge made with warm water to keep their little bodies warm overnight. Adding Poultry Spice to their layers meal or a Chicken Tonic to their water will help correct any mineral imbalance caused by losing and growing new feathers as they contain lots of minerals and will help the hens over the moulting process. Adding protein to the diet is also supposed to help hens over the moulting process so feeding live mealworms, hard boiled eggs (if you can spare them!!), tuna canned in spring water rather than brine which is far too salty for your hens or even cat food can help. Egg production often takes a break during the moult as so much energy is put into growing the new feathers but once they are fully feathered again, the eggs should return.

If your hen is getting too hot, this could cause feather loss. Check that the coop is well ventilated and provide extra shade for them when they are outside. Make sure that they have plenty of clean drinking water too and if they can free range if it is safe for them to do so, this may also help by providing them with more space.

Another cause of feather loss is feather pulling by another hen. The neck and back area tends to be a prime target, as is the vent area. If you find that this is the case, you can get anti-pecking sprays which taste unpleasant and usually break the habit. Places like poultry feed suppliers, large petshops, animal feed merchants and online stores like the Omlet Shop all sell these sprays and you can also buy feed blocks called "Pecka-Blocks" which keep the hens interested in eating them rather than pecking each other. If the skin is red, sore or broken, you can use Veterinary Wound Powder on them to help stem the bleeding and promote healing. Hens are morbidly attracted to the colour red and will peck at wounds until they are in a dreadful state if nothing is done so Gentian Spray is very effective as it stains the skin purple and this makes it a much less obvious target for the bully. With my own hens, I've found that some of these sprays cause the feathers to clump together though and this can make them more of a target for a bully so a puff of Veterinary Wound Powder or even household cornflour in an emergency disguises the sore area effectively and helps stop bleeding.

There could also be another reason for baldness and that is skin parasites. Dirty vent feathers, lots of scratching and dustbathing, hunched or withdrawn hens and soft shelled eggs are often indications that your hen has an infestation too. Mites can't be seen with the naked eye but they leave the skin looking sore, red and featherless. The hot spots where lice tend to hide are around the vent, under the wings, round the abdomen and chest and the neck area. Ruffle the feathers against the direction of growth and look for little scuttling creatures or tiny cream eggs stuck to the feather shafts. If you come across any, you can get louse/mite powders from poultry feed suppliers, online sources such as the Omlet Shop and some large pet shops. Apply it to all your hens and repeat the treatment after a week to catch any eggs which might have hatched out. Red Mite don't live on the hens but live inside the hen house and move onto the hens during the night so if you check in all the corners, pull out roosting bars if you can, check around the roof for signs of infestation. They aren't particularly easy to spot as they are only about 1mm long and are grey before feeding and red after due to the blood that they suck from the hens and this blood sucking can lead to anaemia and lethargy. If you have a red mite infestation in your chicken coop, you may see tiny blood spots on the hens eggs and there may also be a greyish powder which can be seen around the ends of the perches. If you wipe the undersides of the perches with a clean white paper towel and find red streaks on it, this will show that there are red mite in the coop. To treat an infestation, you will need to remove everything from the coop which can be taken out and spray with a proprietary red mite treatment. Steam Cleaners will kill any lurking bugs and will get into corners and crevices very well indeed. You can get a product called Poultry Shield which is supposed to be particularly effective at removing red mite when used as a cleaner. Diatomaceous Earth sold in the Omlet Shop is very good for treating the hens themselves and any nesting material or dustbaths too.
Barbara
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Barbara
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