It’s something that a lot of new and experienced chicken keepers experience every now and then. Chickens with bare backs. Why are they missing feathers on their backs? What can I do to fix it? Chickens losing feathers has a pretty simple fix, actually. Though, to be honest, we’ve only dealt with bare spots once ourselves.
The only time my hens have had bare backs were when our rooster to hen ratio was uneven. As a typical rule of thumb, you should have 6 to 8 hens per rooster. Otherwise, your hens will be mounted over and over again, and hence, the bare back.
So, let’s go over a few different causes for chickens losing feathers and how you can fix it.
Chicken Bare Back Causes & Solutions
Let’s take a look at a few common reasons chickens lose feathers.
Why are My Chickens Losing Feathers?
1. TOO MANY ROOSTERS, NOT ENOUGH HENS
On farms and homesteads, we like to have an abundance of things. But as with anything, we must have the proper methods so that all animals live in harmony. Again, as a general rule, you should have 6-8 hens (or MORE) per rooster. And if we want to get even more technical, you should only have one rooster with those 6-8 hens.
However, on a homestead, we like to free range. Therefore we may have multiple roosters living together. There are multiple different issues with that, but for now we’ll concentrate on this one issue.
If you have too few hens for your rooster, he will continuously mount the same hens over and over, causing irritation and loss of a chicken’s feathers. Some more than others. Broken feathers can be painful to your hen, as can raw bare skin.
If you have enough hens but have multiple roosters (again, 6-8 hens PER ROOSTER), then your issue is that your roosters have a favorite hen, or they are fighting for dominance. Whenever an alpha rooster mounts a hen, the other roosters want to mount her as well. This is one of the downfalls of allowing multiple roosters to manage your one large flock.
2. PARASITES AND BAD ANIMAL HUSBANDRY
Parasites can happen to even the most experienced of homesteaders in the most cleanest of situations. Trust me, I receive messages daily from people seeking advice on ridding their sick chickens of external parasites.
If your hens have a mite or lice infestation, or if your chicken coop is simply filthy, this could be another cause for a chicken bare back and ruffled feathers.
Because your hens are constantly preening themselves to try and rid themselves of the parasites, feathers become weak, ruffled, and even begin to fall out. Though this isn’t often the case with chickens losing feathers, it can certainly happen.
3. PICKING AND PECKING
If your chickens are bored or dirty, they will pick and peck at each other. Feather picking isn’t uncommon on any homestead, however, you could have a bully in the group, or your chickens could need some extra free ranging time.
Pay extra close attention to feather pecking and picking when you add a new chicken to the flock as they will work to establish a pecking order with the new hen.
If your chickens don’t free range, try giving them feed wreaths, heads of lettuce, and things they can peck at to pass the time.
4. ANNUAL MOLTING
Chickens molt their feathers every year. This means they lose old feathers in order to grow new feathers. Roosters and hens alike go through this process.
Usually in the late Summer or Fall, you’ll begin to see feathers lying about your homestead and your chickens will start looking unusually “thinner” and less fluffy.
Chickens go through the molting process every single year as a way to prepare for the coming cold weather season and as a way to keep themselves clean and in good health.
While chicken bare backs aren’t necessarily common with molting, they can happen if you have a rooster, and if your hen has a hard molt on a certain area of her body.
How do I Fix Chicken Feather Loss?
You have a few options for treating and preventing chicken bare backs.
1. ALTER YOUR FLOCK KEEPING METHODS
This means section out your roosters and hens into mini-flocks. Add more hens. Or even just get rid of your extra roosters.
2. RID YOUR FLOCK OF PARASITES AND/OR FILTH
Clean your coop out and choose a different bedding such as cardboard or wood shavings for the nest boxes if you can’t keep up with straw.
Make sure that they have constant access to clean water.
Check your flock over for parasites, such as lice and mites, once a month. Treat them if they have it, and add preventative measures to your homestead.
Adding wood ash and DE to their dust bathing areas helps prevent lice and other external parasites.
3. FREE RANGE MORE OFTEN OR ADD BOREDOM REMEDIES
I understand that not everyone can free range, nor do they want to. However, boredom in chickens can lead to cannibalism. And you don’t want to walk in on that one day.
Try supervised free ranging in the evenings. Or hang a head of lettuce in the chicken run so that they can peck at that all day instead of each other.
4. UP THEIR VITAMIN AND NUTRIENT INTAKE WHEN MOLTING
Optimizing the chickens’ diet is such an important thing for all homesteaders to do when their chickens are molting. Add extra vitamins, black oil sunflower seeds, and natural feed to your chicken’s daily rations.
Extra love during molting seasons is essential to a healthy flock.
5. WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, BUY A HEN SADDLE
I’ve never used a hen saddle, ever. Because I’ve just never had to.
However, there are a lot of amazing people in the homesteading community who either make them, or have created tutorials on how to make them. You can also purchase them in sets of 5 on Amazon.
Chicken saddles allow your hens to still remain in the flock without losing any more feathers or becoming irritated. However, that doesn’t necessarily fix the issue.
Hen saddles can also be very hot in the Summer months, so make sure your hens aren’t overheating should you decide to use them.
Ultimately, do what is best for you and your homestead, but remember that there could be an issue that needs to be fixed, not just masked with a band aid.
As homesteaders, it is our utmost responsibility to make sure our animals are not only working out for us, but working out for themselves. They need attention, proper housing and ranging, and good husbandry skills in order to flourish and be at their greatest potential.
My hens won’t keep chicken saddles on. No matter what the style or design, they manage to get out of them within a couple of hours. I have 8 hens and a rooster who’s managed to wear the feathers off of the backs of most of the hens. I’m going to try to separate the hens that are worst-affected in a separate run/coop for awhile if I can figure out how to do this and still keep them within view of the other chickens so they remain nominally part of the flock. I’m sure they’ll heal up and regrow their feathers, but then the other hens will get more pressure from the rooster, so I’ll probably need to rotate the hens in and out of the hospital coop! I need a rooster for fertile eggs, which I plan to hatch out in the spring, so there’ll be a larger hen-to-rooster ratio and maybe they won’t get all beat up by him. Also, I’m looking forward to the molt, when hopefully the rooster’s libido will die down a bit. My hens look terrible but don’t seem uncomfortable, and they have plenty of room with fencing that is moved every few days and a dry run and coop. They get lots of natural forage and high-quality food, and there is a lot of variety for them, so I don’t think there’s any boredom-pecking going on. It seems to be just the rooster over-mating the hens. The roo’s feathers are fine.
In the meantime, I plan to try some blu-kote and veterycin to keep their bare skin from becoming raw and being pecked. I hope they grow their feathers back after the molt!
I was wondering if you would recommend isolating the chicken with the missing feathers to give her time to regrow them in peace? I have 11 chickens and 1 mating rooster, but one of my larger buffs seems to be his favorite. Should I give her some downtime alone? Seems like we’re right at the beginning of the molting season (mid-Sept.) so hopefully her pretty feathers can grow back fully!!
You could! But a hen saddle would probably be better.