If you own chickens, you already know that they will regularly lose feathers. Much of the time you’ll come outside only to see a clump of feathers on the ground, or else a few scattered here and there.
Why this happens varies, but it could come down to fighting, self-plucking behavior, predator attacks, or just the occasional dropping of a feather or two.
Feathers are part of a chicken’s biology, but the feathers themselves are not inseparable from the chicken! What we need to know is if a chicken’s feathers will grow back in time. So, will their feathers grow back after a while?
Yes. A chicken’s lost feathers will grow back after some time, and every chicken will shed and grow new feathers yearly during the molt.
Virtually all the time you don’t need to worry about your chickens regrowing their feathers after they drop some for any number of reasons, including scuffling with each other or in the aftermath of a predator attack.
If your chickens are healthy and alive you can generally depend on their feathers regrowing. There is surprisingly quite a bit to know about this subject and will be delving into all of it below.
Why Do Chickens Lose Feathers in the First Place?
Chickens lose their feathers for all kinds of reasons, including no reason! Some of the common reasons your chickens might lose their feathers include:
- predator attacks
- fighting among themselves
- self-picking behavior
- accidental damage and natural loss
- Clipping feathers to stop them from flying around
They will also lose and regrow their feathers during the molt. More on that in a minute.
Predator attacks are one of the most destructive and dramatic ways your chickens can lose their feathers. Grasping talons and gnashing teeth will easily dislodge feathers and likely some blood as well.
When you see a bunch of feathers scattered around, you are right to fear the worst. But sometimes through luck, grit, or providence a chicken survives the attack and winds up looking worse for wear!
Fighting is another way your chickens might lose feathers. Chickens are social creatures, and generally, get along well with their flock mates, but sometimes things can go a little too far.
One chicken might be feeling like a top bird, or maybe they are just cranky that day, but whatever the reason, when two chickens start fighting there will be, literally, feathers flying!
Rarely as destructive as a genuine predator attack, a serious fight can nonetheless result in many lost feathers from both birds.
Self-picking is not as dramatic as an attack or a fight but can still result in substantial feather loss.
Some chickens are notorious for self-picking their feathers out and it can become a real problem if not nipped in the bud.
This bad habit is usually started by environmental stress, malnutrition, or boredom but can quickly spiral out of control.
This behavior can over time result in near-total baldness. A chicken with no feathers looks pretty pathetic, so this is one behavior you’ll want to keep an eye on.
Accidental or periodic loss is quite common, but rarely much cause for concern. One of the reasons chickens lose feathers is that they are constantly moving around, scratching in the dirt, and generally being active.
In all this activity it’s not surprising that a feather or two might become dislodged.
Whatever the cause, feathers will come off from time to time. So what happens next?
Chickens Will Regrow Feathers in Time
However, if a chicken has lost its feathers, you don’t need to worry too much. Chickens are built to lose feathers and regrow them on a regular basis.
Regrowing feathers is a surprisingly involved process that does take time, but unless something has gone very wrong you will see feathers coming back in soon enough.
First as small, fine, blood-rich pin feathers and then as the full-grown feather that we are all more familiar with.
Expect Chickens to Have a “Bald Spot” for a Time!
It is worth pointing out that feathers take time to grow and develop, especially when lost due to trauma.
For example, if a chicken has been attacked by a predator it is likely that it will have a large bald spot where the feathers were pulled out.
The skin in this area will be raw and possibly bloody and the new feathers will be slower to come in.
The resulting bald spot is definitely unsightly, but should be expected and is not generally a cause for alarm.
Chickens that lose a feather or two from an accident or incidental damage will rarely show signs that it is missing unless it was a very large or prominent feather, say like the ones in a rooster’s tail.
Chickens that engage in habitual self-picking will slowly and steadily go completely bald; everywhere their beak can reach, they will pluck!
Chickens Will Refresh Their Feathers During the Molt
The process of naturally losing feathers and replacing them (or growing new ones to refresh old and weathered ones) happens periodically throughout a chicken’s life and is called molting.
Chickens generally molt once a year, typically in the fall, but this can vary depending on the chicken’s age and breed. Some will molt more than once a year, while others may go two years between molts.
The molt is a gradual process whereby a chicken will first stop laying eggs (if a hen) and then start to lose its feathers.
The entire process can take several weeks to several months depending on the chicken. During this time your chickens will look pretty ragged as they will be dropping feathers in bunches.
But don’t worry, all of their feathers will grow back, and your chickens will be looking good as new in no time!
You Should Support Chickens That are Growing Feathers with Good Nutrition
A chicken’s feathers, as biological resources go, are quite intensive for their bodies to produce and install.
Chickens that are in the process of growing multiple lost feathers or molting should be supported with additional calories and nutrients in general, particularly protein.
This will help them to maintain their health and energy levels during the feather-growing process.
A good quality chicken feed that has all the necessary vitamins, minerals, and nutrients is a must, but you may also want to supplement it with additional protein in the form of high-protein foods like cooked beans, tofu, scrambled eggs, or bugs.
Unhealthy Chickens Will Be Slow to Re-feather, if at All
A chicken’s feather growth is largely dependent on its overall health. Birds in good shape and healthy will reliably regrow feathers quickly enough.
The opposite is also true, as chickens in poor health or with vitamin deficiencies and other health problems can take much longer to regrow feathers if they manage to do so at all.
Similarly, serious or repeated physical trauma might destroy the bird’s ability to regrow its feathers in the affected spot.
This is not just an aesthetic problem as chickens rely on their feathers for insulation and protection from the elements.
A chicken that is unable to adequately replace its feathers is at risk for exposure-related illnesses like hypothermia.
A chicken that seems uninjured but is slow or laboriously growing its feathers back, or one where growth seems to stall out, should be taken as a sign that you should investigate further.
Feather Picking Behavior May or May Not be Bad
Feather picking is behavior that most owners rightfully dread. After all, it’s not fun to see your chickens literally picking themselves bald.
This sort of psychosis seems to seize some birds and become impossible to break no matter what you do. However, not all feather-picking behavior is bad or indicative of problems.
For example, mother hens will often carefully preen and pick the feathers from their bellies and backsides in order to transfer more body heat to their eggs and chicks.
This sort of behavior should be expected of laying hens, particularly broody ones. It doesn’t indicate a propensity for harmful plucking.
If You Have Any Doubts, Call Your Vet
If your chicken is taking an unusually long time to grow back feathers after molting or losing them for any other reason, it’s definitely worth a trip to the vet to check for underlying health issues.
It might be something as simple as a vitamin deficiency that can be remedied with a change in diet, or it could be something more serious.
If a chicken is just not going to regrow its feathers due to an injury or some other issue, you’ll know and can stop worrying. Better to be safe than sorry.
Tom has built and remodeled homes, generated his own electricity, grown his own food and more, all in quest of remaining as independent of society as possible. Now he shares his experiences and hard-earned lessons with readers around the country.
Find out more about the team here.