Do Chicken Feathers Grow Back?


Chickens often lose their feathers over the course of their life. For the first time chicken owner, this can be a bit of a shock, especially after so much planning and care. Your once illustrious rooster now has a bald spot, and for the life of you, you just can’t figure out where you went wrong.

Will chicken feathers grow back? Chickens will lose their feathers naturally over the year, and they do eventually grow back. Even if a chicken lost its feather in a fight with a predator, they will eventually grow back. Their feathers will not grow back immediately though and may seem unsightly for some time.

Feather growing for birds is often an energy intensive process, which can be affected by several different factors. If you want to ensure your chicken’s feathers grow back to the radiance they had before the encounter with a predator, there are several steps you can take and things to know and consider.

Will Chicken Feathers Grow Back After Attack?

Most people who have raised chickens have at one point gone to feed their birds to notice that there are feathers lay strewn about the coop, and some of their birds may be missing. This can be a bit of a shock to the system especially if you were raising these birds to depend on them for their eggs.

Chickens are often targeted by predators, and if you are lucky and have birds that survived tangling with a predator, you may notice they have lost some feathers in the fight.

Have no fear though, they have survived, and while seeming to be frail, chickens are actually quite hardy animals and will eventually grow back these feathers.

Chickens are ground birds, meaning that even though they are capable of limited flight, they will spend a majority of their lives on the ground. Unfortunately, this is also where most predators of chickens can be found as well. Over the course of several millennia chickens have evolved to take a beating and recover quickly.

Luckily, any chicken that loses some feathers in self-defense will grow them back. How quickly they will grow back depends on the overall health of the bird and what part of their life cycle they are currently in. With a little nutritional encouragement, you can help speed this process of feather development along.

A Chickens Natural Feather Cycle

Chickens are creatures of routine. Like some flowering plants, chickens are highly resonant with the natural world. Meaning that their life cycle depends and is determined by their environment.

When the days get longer, and food becomes more readily available, these birds will alter their daily behavior and prepare for egg laying.

As the year goes on and the days become shorter, these birds will stop laying and go through their annual molt.

Molting is where the birds will naturally lose their feathers and regrow them. Molting is how chickens and many other birds replace worn out, broken, and lost feathers.

Chickens lose their feathers through a variety of ways:

  • Chickens lose feathers when they become broody or begin to lay eggs, as they will self-pluck themselves to expose their skin to their eggs to keep them warm.
  • Pecking order is a real thing among chickens. As a social species, they often bully and infight in order to establish social dominance, which can result in feather loss.
  • Predators are an ever-present threat in the life of a chicken. The intense fighting will cause a bird to lose feathers while they attempt to fight or flee.
  • Molting, the natural feather loss chickens experience yearly in order to prepare for the colder months.

This cycle of molting can take anywhere from 2 months up to 6 months or longer. This process is highly dependent on their diet and species, as some species have been selectively bred for different purposes.

Some chickens are also more heavily feathered than other species, and it will simply take longer to grow their feathers in fully.

The Molting Process in Chickens

As days get shorter and the amount of sunlight available in a day shortens, chickens will begin to lose their feathers and stop laying eggs. This is due to the animal’s natural circadian rhythm.

As daylight becomes shorter and even the type of light available begins to shift in intensity, a signal in the bird’s circadian clock will cause the birds to shift in their behavior.

This signal is to prepare the chicken for the winter season when life-giving food and sunlight are less available, and the temperatures become lower and harder to survive. Throughout the year, chickens will naturally damage and lose their feathers.

Feathers play an integral part of any bird’s health and serve several purposes:

  • Feathers are part of a chicken’s thermodynamic system; they allow the bird to maintain a healthy body temperature because feathers conduct heat poorly.
  • Feathers are covered in a natural waxy coating, allowing them to shed rain and water and deflect wind easily.
  • They also allow a chicken limited flight, allowed them short bursts of flight in order to escape predators.
  • They also play a large role in the mating rituals of chickens.

So molting is an integral part of your chicken’s health. The molting process is nothing to be alarmed of, is it very important that the birds go through it. Though it may be shocking or worrisome to see feathers strewn about for no apparent reason the first time, it is nothing to worry about, but signals a change in the season.

How a Chicken Prepares to Regrow Feathers

One of the first things you may notice about your chickens as they begin their molting process is that they will stop laying eggs. This is because egg production is a very energy intensive process. Laying eggs on a daily basis takes a lot of protein and energy out of a chicken, so when they stop laying, it signals they are gathering nutrient reserves to prepare for their molt.

Something else you may notice is that the birds may not be as sociable as they were earlier in the year. They may spend more time resting or even separate from the flock in order to get some quality alone time and let their body do what it needs to do.

It is important that during this time you don’t add additional stress to the birds, and their diet really shouldn’t need much amending. As during the egg laying season, they should be on a high protein diet anyway, which will be the same diet they require for molting. The big thing here, is to keep their stress levels low.

The Molt

Chickens will begin to lose feathers, starting with their head and moving towards their tail, then the feathers will fall from their breast and then thighs, with the wings being the last to lose feathers. They can either have a soft molt or a hard molt.

In a soft molt, it may be hard to even notice that your birds are losing feathers as their feathers will grow out at the same rate they are lost.

During a hard molt, feathers will fall out much faster than they grow back. This may make your birds look sickly, but as long as they don’t exhibit stress behavior then everything is okay.

New feathers will grow in starting with the shaft and be red due to being filled with blood. Aptly these are known as Blood Feathers, which helps accelerate the growth of the feathers by delivering the adequate nutrients required for growth.

Blood Feathers are very sensitive and fragile, so it is important to not handle your birds during this time. Handling your birds can cause them pain, causing undue stress, and due to the fragile nature of Blood Feathers, they can crack and bleed, which will interrupt the growing process and cause possible infection.

These feathers are covered in a waxy coating, and the feather itself develops underneath this coating. As the feather pins grow out, the waxy coating will begin to fall off, and the feather themselves will unfurl.

As the feather pushes out and develops fully the blood in the shaft will recede, and these new feathers will resemble what you are used to seeing in your birds.

The new feathers will be glossy and whole, ready to take on the elements of the winter seasons. If you have ever spent any time watching your birds, you may notice near obsessive preening during this time. The skin under these new feathers contains oil glands that a chicken will rub their beak against and use to oil their feathers.

How to Protect Your Chickens from Predators

So now that you know that your chickens will grow their feathers back, it has hopefully put some of your fears to rest. Since molting is a natural part of your chicken’s life the main thing to worry about is keeping them on an adequate diet and reducing their stress.

If your birds lost feathers because of a predator attack, then you should be aware that it will most likely happen again. Predators are quick to exploit weakness, and there are several steps you can take to reduce the threat of a predator.

How to Set-Up a Predator Proof Chicken Coop

The kinds of predators chickens suffer from are numerous, from snakes, cats, coyotes, and owls. They often must be defended from attack at all periods of the day and many kinds of predatory attack.

The basic ways of offering your flock protection from the elements and predators are:

  • Providing a well-constructed coop that offers little access to predators.
  • Building a fortified wire cage, known as a chicken, run around the coop.
  • Ensuring there is proper lighting and visibility for the chickens and for yourself to spot predators.

The first step to protecting your flock is to build their coop appropriately. Ensuring that the coop is set above the ground by a foot and a half will discourage some predators from nesting underneath it. The floorboards of a coop should be tight with no gaps, so predators like snakes and weasels can’t access the coop by squeezing in.

Building a run around the coop with chicken wire, or even a heavier gauge wire, will help keep out four legged animals such as coyotes and cats and foxes. However, these types of animals are fantastic leapers, and when determined, have no issue digging under the fencing in order to access the coop.

It’s not unusual to have fencing 6 feet or higher and making sure the base of the fencing is buried into the ground by a foot or more. Also, providing a covering over the fencing and coop will discourage determined predators who manage to leap over the fence, as well as birds of prey.

Chickens have awful night vision, so by providing a light around the coop will not only help deter potential predators but also allow the chickens to identify predators. Since predatorial species often use their environment to their advantage, keeping the ground in and around the coop clear of brush and debris will help deter predators from getting close to the coop.

Teaching Your Chickens How to be Safe

One more thing about protecting your birds, as said before, chickens are creatures of habit. If raising your birds from chicks it is easy to train them to return to the coop at night.

Believe it or not, chickens are pretty easy to wrangle at a young age, so when night begins to fall you can either lead or corral them back to the chicken coop.

This will allow them to associate the coop with safety and shelter, and in no time at all, they will begin to lead themselves to the coop at night, and all you have to do is shut them in for the night and close the run gate.

Learning from Mistakes

Unfortunately, even with this level of preparedness, some predators will get one of your chickens. I’ve personally had a hawk pester my flock for weeks until it got bored, and occasionally I noticed a hen or two missing. She was a crafty one, always seeming to know when I wasn’t looking.

While visiting a friend a few states over, we had terrible luck with predators. He had a young fox devastate his flock in a matter of minutes while he was showering.

Even later, we found his coops run demolished and what seemed to be black bear fur stuck in the caging. That was eerie for the both of us since neither of us heard nor saw signs of the large predator in the area.

So, while proper preparation will protect your flock from most animals, you should know that sometimes there isn’t much you can do to stop a determined predator. I’ve never personally fought a bear before, and I don’t want to know how that would turn out in the middle of the night.

The key lesson is to be vigilant in the protection of your flock. Every environment has different threats, so as prepared as you may be, a predator may just show you how unprepared you can be. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just part of the learning process.

You can always amend your defenses and, most importantly, share what you have learned with others. This is the best part of being human, we can communicate in great detail, and it sets us apart from the animal world. So be it foxes, cougars, or bears, you and your friends will be prepared.

The Tax of Going Wild

Something I like to tell people who are new to the agrarian lifestyle and don’t have the luxury of a city that allows livestock in city limits is that there is a tax to going wild. If you plan to grow your own food or raise your own livestock, you will eventually feel loss at the teeth of a predator or pests.

While your chickens may survive an attack and their feathers will grow back, at some point or the other, you will probably lose some of your flock to the natural world.

Chickens naturally make up for this by having a prodigious egg laying cycle. Like rabbits, they often produce more life than the surrounding predators can take advantage of.

This is no different from simple gardeners and chicken farmers, to the altruistic free-range cattle rancher. There are all manners of predators in the world, filling niches that nature and human development have provided. At some point or the other you will pay this tax.

For instance, I once worked a greenhouse for free-range cattle rancher who had lost a few cattle to a pack of coyotes. His response was to immediately acquire three large Great Pyrenees’. These dogs were completely left outside but loved on immensely and very much part of the family. They were their own pack, and they patrolled when the rancher couldn’t.

One morning I went to the ranch to work, and this pack of Pyrenees’ came over the hill, one of them covered in coyote blood. This was just nature at work because there are sheep, sheepdogs, and wolves, and no matter of human meddling in the world, this is simply how it is at the end of the day.

April

April has owned and worked with domestic fowl including chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks, and guineas since 1998. She has a B.S. in Agriculture from Cal Poly in Pomona, CA where she studied genetics, nutrition and reproduction.

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