First-timer with bald chickens... HELP!

gena30(z5 NY)August 17, 2005

I have 6 free range hens, who at one year old (this past spring), began to lose their soft downy feathers down low on their butts. Three grew them back and three only continued to get worse. Most of the summer these poor girls have been totally bald from up around their tails to down low on their butts. Their skin looks painfully red and chapped but not bloody. One even has a dark, wrinkly, scaley area above her tail. Recently I have seen some of the less effected chickens begin to lose more feathers as well. We have had people tell us they must be picking at themselves or each other as some bad habit. I see new pin feathers emerging and then a few days later they are gone. But I have been observing them and I haven't seen them pecking at each other or themselves, just some occassional scratching. I thought that if they had mites they would all be effected in the same way, but they seem to have varying degrees of this problem. This has been going on for months and with a cold winter coming, we are worried!

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erinluchsinger(z4 - Upstate NY)

They are around the age that their first molt occurs (approx. 18 months). My guess is that they are molting and there is nothing to be concerned about. Something they just have to go through. How is your egg production?
Erin (also in NY)

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 12:38PM
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gena30(z5 NY)

Our egg production is fine. We've been getting 4-6/day right along. If this is just a molting thing, why would they be picking their new feathers out as they come in? And how long does the molting go on for? This has been going on for 4-5 months.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 1:48PM
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gena30(z5 NY)

And just to add...the reason we are wondering if it's not something other than molting is because the few people we have asked who have had some experience raising chickens have never had this issue before...and my husband who raised his own chickens as a boy, has never seen this before either...and he also never had a mite problem. That's why we are wondering if it's not that.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 2:11PM
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velvet_sparrow(Zone 5b, Gardnerville, NV)

If you are seeing new feathers and then they disappear, someone (either other hens or the hen itself) is plucking them out. Possibly it has become a bad habit out of boredom, possibly they have a mite problem, possibly the red areas itch so that they can't help themselves. Could be a combination of all three. Also, do you have a rooster who may be overstepping his welcome with the girls? :)

I'd try several things. Dust for mites and also think about worming your birds. Provide plenty of free range opportunities for them to get away from any bullying, especially on the roost at night--avoid overcrowding. Also provide alternatives to the game of 'pick each other's feathers' by offering things that are challenging, diverting and fun to eat, like raw corn on the cob. Anything that keeps beaks busy with something other than picking each other is good. If their skin is irritated and itchy, look into some non-toxic topical sprays, creams or oils to help. I think I read somewhere that Vitamin E capsules, broken open and smeared LIGHTLY on the affected area (don't soak down the feathers) helps, but look into it yourself before trying it as I have not.

If you click on my 'My Page' link there is tons of chicken info there, including on worming and dusting your birds, that may help you,

Good luck! :)


    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 4:32PM
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gena30(z5 NY)

If their problem turns out to not be mites, but just a nasty habit, will they finally allow their feathers to grow back once the cold weather comes???? We get 0 degree weather here and I'm worried they'll freeze...

No, we no longer have a rooster...he was too nasty. Getting up to roost at night usually results in a peck or two to the head but I really don't see a whole lot of harassing going on, the kind I believe would have to be going on to result in the bare nakedness of some of these girls. So I'm pretty sure they are doing it to themselves. They don't have a lot of time to be bored...they spend all day roaming in our yard. I think we will dust for mites and worm them since we haven't done either. All along I've felt that it may be mites so we'll give it a try. Also I'd like to learn more about some kind of cream, lotion, vit E rub.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2005 at 9:07PM
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sullicorbitt(z5 MA)

Gena, please let us know how you make out, someone else recently posted a similar problem, I'm not sure how it turned out for them but I sure want to know what this strange problem is. Here's a link to the other post.


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   August 18, 2005 at 5:26AM
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I too am a first timer with bald chickens. They are a year old and laying well. Did you try the worming and dusting. Did this help. Any advice gratefully received. Thank you.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 3:58AM
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We have had hens with bald spots at different times and for different reasons. In most cases the location told me it was from the roosters. But one just looked awful and scraggly all over at the start of last winter, so I brought her in for about a week and in that time her feathers did grow (she had the base of the feathers) and now she is fine. Another henthe head henÂhas had a bare back since last summer. I brought her in for a week but because she did not have the base of the feathers, nothing was happening. Before I put her back out, I rigged up a baby bib for her back. I sewed a piece of elastic from one side of the bib to the other. The bib part was covering her back, the bib fastened in front, around her neck. And the elastic went around her middle. I made sure she could move her wings and walk. She got around fine and wore that bib for couple of weeks (from time to time I had to adjust it). When I finally took it off, she had started to grow some feathers by the base of her wings. She seems to fare ok in the coldÂsheÂs a tough old bird, though the week indoors cost her some statusÂsheÂs not as mean as she used to be.
Now three of our 9 month old pullets are getting thinned out places on their backs. I saw one pecking the feathers of another and then at her own feathers. I put Vicks on both of themÂI had heard somewhere that discourages pecking. ItÂs messy though.
The good news is that our four oldest hens (almost 2 years) look as good as they have ever lookedÂand this is after feather loss at various times.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2007 at 6:42PM
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gena30(z5 NY)

We have talked to many people about our naked chicken problem...local farm stores, cooperative extension, online...I have found that only people who have chickens as pets have been able to relate to this problem. The people at cooperative extension had no idea what I was talking about.
At the end of the summer (2005), we dusted the coop and the chickens for mites, even though we saw no signs of a mite problem. We thought it was worth a shot. That didn't make a difference. As I said in my original posting, they kept growing shoots but then they would be gone within days. We didn't know if they were picking on each other, or if they were doing it to themselves. With the cold winter approaching, we planned on heating the coop with a heat lamp. Once the weather started to get cold, low 40's and 30's, miraculously, they started growing feathers and this time the shoots didn't disappear within a few days like before! They eventually all grew their feathers back, some took longer than others. But it got pretty darn cold before they were back to normal. At the time we didn't have a rooster, so we thought maybe we needed one to keep the peace. This past spring we got two new chicks. One rooster, one hen. Once the warm weather came, our girls, once again, got naked. They stayed that way all summer. Some worse than others. We introduced the rooster and new hen to the pack and they moved into the coop at the end of the summer. They all got along well but the original 6 remained naked. The two newbie's remained fully covered. We had a warm start to the winter, and in early January once it finally got cold, they let their feathers grow in, once again! One took alot longer than the others but she got it eventually. From all of this, it seems to me, this is mostly, if not completely self inflicted. Apparently, they know to let them grow in once it gets cold enough and they also must like a little air conditioning in the summer. This is our second winter with this problem. They will be 3 yrs. in April. We will see if we go through this again or if the rooster does the trick for this group. I don't have high hopes though. He is basically one of the girls, and has his own problems...He has Marek's disease (I learned this from the poultry expert from Cornell University), which is some neurological disease. We had to nurse him along...has has alot of balance problems, no longer crows, and no longer has "interest" in the girls. I wonder if the new hen will catch onto the behavior in the spring? I have decided chickens are wierd! I think this group has a pretty sweet life, free ranging and eating the day away. I guess they get bored... This group has worked out a system for themselves and I guess we are okay with it, even though they look hideous ("What's with your chickens?"). Although, every time they have to re-grow feathers, we have a major egg slow-down. I think if they have spotty feather loss it's probably because they are low-hen on the totem pole. But the kind of allover and complete feather loss, like mine have is self inflicted. I mean, they get EVERY last feather and in places it would not be easy for another chicken to reach. I don't know what you should do if they don't grow them back, other than heating the coop. I LOVED the baby bib idea and hadn't heard of the Vicks idea. I think I may try that one. Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 12:37PM
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marquisella(z4 NY)

Some thoughts come to mind, thought I'd throw them out..

There is a mite that prefers mature feathers, so it does't show up as much in young birds. Dusting for mites usually takes more than one application. They like the dark, so you usually don't see them during the day because they hide in the coop where it is darker. Mite infestations in cold areas seems to get better during the cold months, then with the warm months the mites become active again. So the hens pluck out the feathers when it is warm due to irritation, etc. but when it is cold, they don't so feathers can grown back.


During the summer they are using their protein up in egg production, so feather growth is poor or non existant.
That would also correlate to the growing back in winter when they slow down egg production, so the protein then can go back into feather growth.

Just 2 stabs at guessing...


    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 1:48PM
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gena30(z5 NY)

That's interesting about the mites that prefer mature feathers...I had never heard that before. My husband raised chickens as a boy and never had this problem before. We have not witnessed them scratching heavily...At the time it first started happening (bare butts)we inspected the coop and the chickens carefully and dusted both one night in the dark. If they do have mites, would we be able to see them in the coop bedding? What is the name of the mite? What do you recommend to dust with?

    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 3:15PM
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marquisella(z4 NY)

This is not where I read about a certain lice preferring adults birds, but it has quite a few types of mites & lice I thought were interesting, including feather mites.

There is a skin mite, kinda sounds like it would fit.

I just read about the mite yesterday, now can't remember where it was, darn.

I would dose them with Ivermectin, it gets almost all of these bugs. See if it helps. Then, do the dusting again with Seven, twice, a week apart.

I put a couple of drops right on my chickens back, making sure to get it on the skin.

It doesn't affect fertility, that is a wives tale.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 4:00PM
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hi i have question too and i cant find out how to make a new post.....
a few months ago our chickens where vent pecking, we treated it and it seemed like they seemed to be growing back... untill yesterday, they have TONS of food and water, roosting space hen boxes and things like that... they also don't have mites, (i looked and it is -20 celceus)
so what could it be, i am going out to put more no peck on right now. 3 of the chickens seem fine ( they must be at the top of the peck order) but i don't see the chickens pecking at one another. there is 8 hens at all, one red Sussex cross and the rest are Rhode island reds they where born june 5th ish. there egg production is great. but i saw a bit of blood on a egg today.. sorry about my spelling but i am trying to hurry out to out more anti-peck stuff on.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2011 at 6:51PM
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