Why Does My Hen Have a Bare Back? And how to prevent it

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? It’s a pretty simple fix, actually. Though, to be honest, we’ve only dealt with it 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 reasons “why” this happens, and how you can fix it.

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 feathers on your hens backs. 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 favorites, 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 down falls of allowing multiple roosters to manage your one large flock.

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 chickens of external parasites.
If your hens have lice or mites, or if your coop is simply filthy, this could be another cause for bare backs and ruffled feathers. Because your hens are constantly preening themselves to try and rid of the parasites, feathers become weak, ruffled, and even begin to fall out. Though this isn’t often the case with bare backs, it can certainly happen.

Picking and Pecking

If your chickens are bored or dirty, they will pick and peck at each other. This 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. 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.

Annual Molting

Chickens (roosters and hens) molt their feathers every year. Usually in the late Summer or Fall, you’ll begin to see feathers laying about your homestead and your chickens will start looking unusually “thinner” and less fluffy. Chickens molt their feathers every single year as a way to prepare for the coming Winter season and as a way to keep themselves clean and in good health. While 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.

So, how do I fix it?

Good question.
You have a few options.

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.

Rid Your Flock of Parasites and/or Filth

Clean your coop out and choose a different bedding such as cardboard or wood shavings if you can’t keep up with straw. 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.

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.

Up their Vitamin and Nutrient Intake When Molting

This is such an important thing for all homesteaders to do when their chickens are molting. Add extra vitamins, black oil sun flower seeds, and natural feed to your chicken’s daily rations. Extra love during molting seasons is essential to a healthy flock.

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. Hen saddles allow your hens to still remain in the flock without losing anymore 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 over heating 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.

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