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Preventing and treating feather loss in poultry

Feather loss, outside of a natural moult, can often be a sign that a problem exists in your flock.

Identifying the cause of feather loss and rectifying the problem can help to improve the productivity and health of your flock.

The following table outlines:

  • the main causes of feather loss
  • contributing factors
  • areas on the bird that may be affected
  • suggestions on how to prevent feather loss
  • and
  • possible treatments.
Cause of feather loss Main factors
involved
Affected areas
and treatment

Feather pecking

Social order

Occurs usually at the head

No treatment is required unless severe

Feather pecking

Severe feather pecking and cannibalism due to:

  • overcrowding
  • strong lighting
  • dietary imbalances

Occurs on all body parts

Prevention

Provide adequate lighting

Provide continuous access to a balanced diet

Lower stocking density

Provide enrichment such as hay or string to redirect inappropriate pecking

Change breed of bird

Treatment

Isolate victim birds

Provide antiseptic treatment of cuts

Colour wound with dye - not red as this attracts further pecking

Seek veterinary advice

Feather pecking

Territorial behaviour - likely to be the reason if only a few birds have feather loss

Observe flock to determine if some birds are being overly aggressive

Remove birds causing the problem for a few weeks. If this doesn't fix the problem, permanent removal may be required

Abrasion

Rubbing against other birds or surroundings

Lower stocking densities

Use alternative cage materials

Eliminate all rough and sharp surfaces

Mating

Rooster claws in the hen's back

Trim rooster claws and spurs

Poor nutrition

Not enough food

Lack of a balanced diet

Mouldy feed

Provide continuous access to a balanced diet

Feed diet appropriate for stage of production

Remove old or mouldy food

Water

Lack of constant cool water even for a short period

Always provide access to cool clean water

Climatic environment

Overheating

Chilling

Poor ventilation

Provide an even climate which eliminates temperature extremes

Provide adequate ventilation in sheds to reduce ammonia build-up

Ill-health

Parasites

Disease

Injury

Bullying

Put a health management program in place including vaccinations

Monitor birds and make adjustments to management as required

See veterinary advice

Fright

Predators (e.g. cats, dogs, wild birds, snakes, foxes)

Noisy people

Prevent predator access by:

  • having adequate fencing
  • locking up birds at night

People must behave calmly, quietly and alert birds to their entry

Management

Other stresses such as:

  • wet litter
  • vaccinations
  • movement to another shed

Handle birds quietly using appropriate restraint and support

Keep litter dry and change when necessary