Causes of bald spots in a chicken
If a chicken has bald spots or loses its feathers, several things could be going on. The chicken may be moulting, which is a normal occurrence and occurs annually. But there can also be unpleasant things going on, such as feather pecking by other chickens or diseases such as louse or mites. You do not have to be alarmed by bald spots on a chicken because in most cases there is a solution to make the bald spots disappear again. Although the cause of this must first be determined.
Unlike mammals, birds, such as chickens, do not have hair but feathers. Feathers consist mainly of keratin. Keratin is a tough, insoluble protein that contains a high percentage of cysteine. As a result, feathers have a sturdy structure.
There are four types of feathers, namely down, coverts, flight feathers and tail feathers. Down and coverts serve more for insulation and protection, while flight feathers and tail feathers are important for flying.
Chickens have feathers to keep themselves warm. Chicks’ down feathers in particular have a good insulating effect. Later chickens get real feathers with which the chickens can also fly, although this is often more of a flutter. Because the chicken can spread the feathers further apart, it is able to cool the body in warm weather.
Feathers need to be well cared for, and a chicken spends a lot of time on that. Chickens have a grease nipple located on the back of the chicken. With this the chickens lubricate the plumage. Because the springs remain greasy, the insulating and protective effect is extra large. Feathers that are not greasy absorb a lot of water which can cause problems.
If a chicken develops bald patches due to loss of feathers, this can be for various reasons. A common cause is moulting. Other causes can be stress, incorrect nutrition, feather mites, feather lice or feather pecking.
Chickens are usually moulting a few times a year. During this period the chicken renews its feathers. This is often at the end of summer or at the beginning of autumn. The feathers are gradually replaced over a period of eight to 12 weeks. Usually moulting starts at the head, followed by the belly and back, wings and tail feathers. Due to the gradual process it is sometimes not at all visible that a chicken is moulting. But it is also possible that a chicken is almost completely bald during the moulting period. How the molting process takes place depends on the temperature, the amount of light and the type of chicken. During the moulting period, a hen will not lay eggs, but will put all its energy into producing new feathers. The comb and wattles can also be paler.
If a chicken suffers from stress, it will usually not moult. It may be the case that a chicken has a shortened moulting period. The chicken often only loses the feathers at the head and neck.
Making feathers takes a lot of energy. Chickens need sufficient nutrients for this. Protein helps in the production of new plumage. You can feed a chicken extra protein in the form of insects, but some breeders sometimes feed them with extra cat food. Sufficient vitamins are also important during this period. One of the most important ingredients for a new plumage is lime. This makes it important that chickens always have enough chicken grit.
Feather lice are small parasites that live on the chicken. They live off the keratin from the feathers. There are different types of feather lice that can be found on different parts of the chicken. The lice cause itching, causing the chicken to scratch and damage or fall out feathers. Often the bald spots are spread over the entire body of the chicken, but because some lice occur locally, the feathers may also fall out locally. In the latter case, the bald spots usually arise on the butt because the lice live around the cloaca. Feather lice can be recognized by white chalky globules on the skin, scaly or dried out skin and wounds on the skin. Because lice are contagious, it often affects several chickens that are living together. Lice can be treated with sprays, drops or powders. The whole body must be treated and the treatment repeated after a week. If chickens are left untreated, the lice will not disappear and this can lead to the permanent lack of new feathers.
Bald spots can also be caused by feather pecks. The chickens then pull the feathers out of other chickens and eat them themselves. Causes of feather pecks can be various. Common causes can be boredom or improper nutrition. In the latter case, it can help to give the chickens extra lime in the form of chicken grit. Green food such as clover and birdwort also contains a lot of lime.
If the chickens already have enough of this and they are still pecking each other’s feathers, it is usually boredom. This is often the case with chickens that live in a coop that is too small. A larger coop or freeing the chickens can be a solution. You can also combat boredom by giving the chickens a distraction. One of the main activities of a chicken is foraging. Make sure that the chickens cannot reach the feed so easily. For example, sprinkle mixed grains between pine cones or hang a piece of lettuce high so that it is difficult to reach. In case of boredom, don’t assume that the chickens will immediately stop feather pecking. It is a difficult habit that is difficult to break, similar to nail biting in humans.