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Are My Chickens Molting, Brooding, or Something Else?

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Walking into a coop filled with feathers can be a shocking sight to any new owner. Your first instinct might be to panic. But you must remember to stay calm and look at all the clues. First, you have to ask yourself, are my chickens molting or brooding?  And take a close look at all the clues. Let’s take a look at all the clues, what they mean, and how to resolve the problem. 

What is Molting

If you have had your chicken for a few months, they could be going through their first molt. Molting happens for the first time after about 16 months. So if you are here asking, “Why do my baby chickens have bald spots?” Molting could be your answer. Molting is also a yearly thing that will happen around the end of summer through the beginning of winter. 

Signs Of Molting:

  • Your chicken is 16 months or older
  • Lasts about eight weeks
  • Increased appetite
  • Feathers missing in patches all over the body
  • A decrease in egg production
  • And moodiness. 

What is Brooding?

This is very common and easy to recognize. Having a broody hen means that your hen is trying to hatch her own baby chicks. It’s kind of like baby fever in humans. Broody hens often pluck feathers to make their nests nice and soft. Even if the hen doesn’t have a rooster, they might go through a broody stage. 

How Is It Resolved?

There is no cure for molting but brooding is a common occurrence. You just have to wait it out and give them a little extra protein for feather regrowth. Sometimes it takes up to 16 weeks for the feathers to grow back. It might seem like a long time to wait, but it is entirely natural. Plus, it will happen every year, so you might as well embrace it. 

Bullying?

We all know that chickens have a precise pecking order. And if any hen objects to that order, a fight might break out. But bullying can be caused by other reasons as well. If a chicken is very sick or dying, other hens will pick on them. Boredom and stress could also cause a flock to bully a weaker hen. After it gets started, it could cause cannibalism to set within the flock, and they won’t stop. 

Signs Of Bullying:

  • Chickens losing feathers on the head
  • Hen with missing feathers left out from the flock
  • Hen isolating herself at feed time
  • Peck or scratch marks
  • Attacks seen on hen repeatedly

How Is It Resolved?

First, figuring out why your hen is being bullied will help you resolve the issue. If your chicken is sick, you will need to remove her from the flock for treatment. And when it’s time to reintroduce her, take it slow and cautious. If your hens are bored or stressed, you will need to find out the cause. Giving your chickens more room to forage, more entertaining toys, or even a larger coop could resolve the bullying. 

Feather Picking

Are my chickens molting and not brooding? Occasionally chickens will pick their feathers when their diet is lacking. Your hens will pick their feathers and then eat them because they are high in protein. 

Signs Of Feather Picking:

  • No feathers in coop or run
  • Chickens losing feathers on chest mostly
  • Happens after a change of food
  • Or the diet hasn’t been supplemented enough

How Is It Resolved?

If you suspect a protein deficiency in your hens, the best way to resolve it is to switch up the diet. Changing to a different feed might help. You could also give your hens mealworms to forage in the run or a few scrambled eggs. Chickens go crazy for these treats and are sure to perk them up and help their feathers to grow back. 

Parasites

Mites and fleas can be a factor in why chickens lose feathers. If all of your chickens are molting and not brooding, then parasites could be the reason. You will be able to see the fleas and mites on your hens easily, and they can be hard to get rid of. 

Signs Of Parasites:

  • Chickens losing feathers red skin
  • Visible parasites
  • Scratching in flock
  • Rolling in dirt

How Is It Resolved?

Using flea and mite medication around your coop and run will help prevent parasites. Some repellents, like Diatomaceous Earth, can be dusted directly into your flocks feathers. 

Mating

Roosters can be very aggressive unintentionally when mating. They will commonly pull out feathers in the process, but it does not seem to hurt the hens. If you own a roo, this could be the issue. 

Signs Of Mating:

  • Chickens losing feathers on the neck
  • Chickens losing feathers on the back
  • They want to make a nest for brooding or hatching eggs

How Is It Resolved?

Since losing feathers during mating is natural, there isn’t much you can do to prevent it. But if you notice that your rooster favors one hen more than the others, you might want to remove her. She could become stressed from over mating and lose more feathers than necessary. 

Change In Diet

If you are asking, “Why are my chickens molting or brooding?” You should also ask if anything has changed in the past month. If you have changed their diet at all, that could be your answer. 

Signs Of Malnutrition:

  • Feathers are dull
  • Chickens losing feathers in patches
  • Happens slowly at first

How Is It Resolved?

If the cause is a new food, you might want to switch back to the old formula. If the old food is not available, you will need to find something more nutritious. You also might want to supplement your chicken’s diet with more foraging opportunities and protein for feather regrowth. 

Signs Of Broodiness:

  • Feathers mostly in the nesting box
  • Chickens losing feathers on the bottom
  • Moody
  • Decrease appetite
  • Puffed up a lot

How Is It Resolved?

In most cases, broody hens will get over it by themselves. If you don’t plan on breeding, you might not want your chicken to be broody for long. There are a few ways to cure broodiness, but you should take caution will all of them. Some owners let their hens lay on dummy eggs until they finally give up. And other owners have better luck merely shutting their hens out of the coop for a few days. If none of these work, you can also try dipping your hen in a bucket of cold water. But we only recommend this method if it is warm and you have tried everything else. 

Preening

Preening is when a chicken straightens, cleans, and fluffs its feathers. They do this by producing a waxy substance near their rear and pulling it through their feathers to keep them sleek. Sometimes in this process, they will pull feathers that are coming out or damaged.

Signs Of Preening:

  • Chicken “dander” on the ground after
  • Sometimes is a group activity
  • No signs of redness or irritation

How Is It Resolved?

Preening is a natural thing and should not be stopped. Without grooming, you might not think your chickens are so attractive. But if you notice excessive preening, you might want to check for mites or fleas. 

Vent Gleet

Vent gleet is a fungal infection that starts around the bottom. It can be the cause of unclean living conditions or water. Cleaning all areas will prevent future outbreaks. 

Signs Of Vent Gleet:

  • Chickens losing feathers on the bottom
  • Redness and swelling around the vent
  • Bloated stomach
  • Pasted feathers on rear

How Is It Resolved?

The easiest vent gleet treatment is to take your hen to the vet. They will prescribe an anti-fungal strong enough to cure it within days. When diagnosed, you need to sanitize the roost and nesting boxes. 

Egg Bound

Egg bound hens are chickens that are having a hard time passing an egg. Also, egg binding caused by a lack of nutrition or producing too many eggs. Making sure that your hens have enough protein and calcium will prevent future incidences. 

Signs Of Egg Binding:

  • Hens walking bow legged
  • Loss of appetite
  • Straining to lay eggs

How Is It Resolved?

The most effective way to treat an egg bound hen is to soak them for 20 minutes in a warm Epsom salt bath. After your hen has passed the egg, make sure to give her lots of added protein and calcium to prevent it. 

Predators

If your chickens free roams, they could be susceptible to predators. If a predator attempts to get your chickens, they might lose some feathers in the fight. 

Signs Of Predators:

  • Chickens losing feathers on neck and chest
  • Scratches or bite marks
  • Limping in chickens

How Is It Resolved?

Until you identify what has attempted to kill your hens, it is best to keep them inside. If you don’t already have one, you will need to build a predator-proof run. 

Rodents

When mice and rats get into your coop, they might see feathers as excellent nesting material. If they don’t find suitable feathers around the ground, they might attempt to take them directly from your hen. 

Signs Of Rodents:

  • Feathers chewed off from the end
  • Droppings around the coop
  • Holes in coop
  • Sometimes a missing egg or two

How Is It Resolved?

The best way to prevent rodents is to keep food locked up and the coop secure. A rat fit into a hole as small as 1/2 around. So you might want to double-check all of your vents, walls, and flooring.

So, Why Are My Chickens Losing Feathers?

Chickens that are losing their feathers could be molting or brooding, is scary. It’s good to know that your chickens will soon look beautiful again soon. Other times there can be an underlying issue. Playing a little detective, along with this article, can help you get to the bottom of this. 

Below is a Pinterest friendly photo…. so you can pin it to your Backyard Chicken Board!!

Are my chickens molting or brooding?

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