Sign up for the
Weekly Harvest Newsletter!

Published every Wednesday, the Weekly Harvest e-newsletter is a free Web digest of sustainable agriculture news, resources, events and funding opportunities gleaned from the Internet. See past issues of the Weekly Harvest.
Sign up here

Sign up for the Weekly Harvest Newsletter

What Is Sustainable Agriculture?

Master Publication List

Search Our Databases

Urban Agriculture

Energy Alternatives

Beginning Farmer

Field Crops

Crop Insurance

Horticultural Crops

Livestock & Pasture

Value-Added Food Products

Local Food Systems

Food Safety

Marketing, Business & Risk Management

Organic Farming

Pest Management

Soils & Compost

Water Management

Ecological Fisheries and Ocean Farming

Other Resources

Sign Up for The Dirt E-News

Home Page

Contribute to NCAT


Newsletter sign up button

· Privacy Policy · Newsletter Archives

RSS Icon XML Feeds

RSS 2.0: Events, Breaking News, Funding Opportunities Atom: Events, Breaking News, Funding Opportunities


NCAT strives to make our information available to everyone who needs it. If you are a limited-access or low-income farmer and find that one of our publications is just not in your budget, please call 800-346-9140.


How are we doing?


Home  > Question of the Week

Question of the Week

Permalink 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:

- 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.

- 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 OMRI

Additional resources can be found on the Livestock: Poultry section of the ATTRA website, at

Also see ATTRA's Biorationals Pest Management database at



« I’ve inherited an orchard with four- to five-year-old apple and pear trees that have been suffering fire blight. What can I do? :: What can you tell me about using weeder geese as a sustainable weed control method in my asparagus field? »


No Comments for this post yet...

Question of the Week Archives