Feather loss in poultry caused by other factors

Other causes of feather loss in poultry (not natural moulting) can be an important indicator of problems in the flock. These include social factors such as feather pecking, and environmental factors such as climate and nutrition.

Identifying the cause of a feather loss problem quickly can help to improve the health and profitability of your flock.

Excessive feather loss can result in:

  • injuries, infections or bruising of the exposed flesh
  • reduced egg production
  • an increase in feed consumption and poor feed conversion.

Feather loss caused by pecking

Feather pecking and pulling can be a learned behaviour and is usually the result of 1 or a few members of the flock exhibiting the behaviour.

Birds are curious and will peck at objects that attract their attention. If their attention focuses on the feathers of other birds, then pecking begins and can become a habit that spreads to other members of the flock. Once this behaviour is established it is difficult to control, so prevention is the best remedy.

Preventing and treating feather loss in poultry in the early stages is crucial to reduce injury to the flock. Some breeds are more likely to feather peck than others.

Severe feather pecking can be due to:

  • overcrowding
  • lighting problems
  • poor nutrition
  • lack of environmental enrichment
  • territorial disputes or aggressive behaviour by some members of the flock.

Cannibalism in poultry

Cannibalism can often be the result of severe feather pecking. Injured birds with open and fleshy wounds (often around the vent area) attract further pecking, leading to cannibalism. To prevent this condition, it is best to remove the sick or victim bird from the flock or cage.

Carefully reintroduce the injured bird to the flock once it has healed. Monitor the flock to ensure pecking is not repeated.

Purchasing beak-trimmed stock will reduce the likelihood of feather pecking and cannibalism, especially if problems associated with lighting, stocking density and nutrition have been corrected.

Read more about cannibalism in poultry and how to prevent it.

Feather loss caused by environmental factors

Environmental factors that cause birds to become unhealthy or stressed can lead to feather loss and may indicate that improvements in management are required.

Observe your birds to identify any possible diseases and use farming best management practices to keep them healthy. Provide adequate feed and water, and minimise stressful conditions in the flock to help ensure strong feathers. Infestations of external parasites such as lice and mites can also cause skin irritation and feather loss in poultry.

Causes of stress in poultry

A number of factors can cause stress in poultry. Stress can stop egg production and lead to the onset of a moult. Stressful conditions that can cause feather loss include:

  • excess heat
  • excess cold
  • disease
  • lack of adequate feed and water.

Lack of food and water

A lack of food and water is the most frequent cause of stress-induced feather loss in poultry. Good feather growth and egg production requires a diet with adequate levels of proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Keep in mind that birds require different levels of protein and have different energy requirements at different stages of life. Mouldy feed or a diet that is not balanced can also bring on moulting.

Lack of cool, clean water, even for a short time, can cause birds to moult. To minimise this, always have an emergency backup water supply.

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