What could be causing the tail and back feathers to fall out of my flock of backyard chickens?
Answer: There are several possible causes for feather loss:Molting: – Occurs in flocks at least a year old- Takes several months to complete- Can be triggered by stress (hot or cold weather, feed, disease)- Usually occurs once a year (fall)- Typical molting sequence: head -> neck -> chest -> back -> wings -> backsides and tails – Level of molting varies year to year, and depending on breed- Sometimes chickens molt at different times and different ways- Rooster: If you have a rooster, most likely you’ll see feather loss around the neck and back. Nutritional:– Active layers need a well balanced ration with adequate protein and energy. Inadequate quantity or quality of protein and energy in the feed can cause feather loss. Make sure you are providing adequate feed for the current stage of production and that all the chickens have access to the feeders.Hen pecking:– Pecking is a bad habit, and it is hard to stop. One possibility is to darken the affected areas with ‘blu-kote’ or other gentian violet materials (not OMRI approved). This dyes the skin purplish blue, so the hens don’t peck (use gloves to apply). – Pecking may also be due to unbalanced nutrition: more roughage and protein may be needed. Access to oyster shell, as well as greens and other fun things to eat like melons and squash, can also be helpful. Reduce empty calorie treats like cracked corn or stale bread.- Pecking may be due to boredom/crowding. Make sure there is enough space in the chicken coop and access to feed for everyone.Parasites (mice, lice and fleas):– Usually the whole flock is affected- Lice: look for them at the base of the feathers. – Mites and fleas: look for them in the barn. White cotton-like substance will show up where they are hiding (barn floors or walls). You can also look for mites on the birds at night. – Lesions in chickens: scratches and bite like lesions on skin. Look for parasite feces: part feathers and look for “dirt” around belly and tail area. – If you find parasites in the birds or barn: clean the coop, remove cobwebs, and treat chickens and barns. Clean walls, floors, nest boxes, and the birds themselves. Roosts can be spread with natural oil. Diatomaceous earth in dust baths can also be a treatment.- Prevent contact with wild birds and rodents (though this can be hard to do on backyard poultry flocks).Other alternative treatments: – Spray vent area of birds with a 10% garlic solution in water- Sulfur solutions (high concentration: >5.3%). Note: Sulfur is ‘allowed with restrictions’ by OMRIAdditional resources can be found on the Livestock: Poultry section of the ATTRA website, at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/poultry/.Also see ATTRA’s Biorationals Pest Management database at https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/biorationals/.