About a month a go, 4 of my 7 hens started losing their feathers just in front of their tails. The feathers have started growing back nicely. Today, I found one hen dead. :c( Now I am reading that molting usually starts behind the head. I'm wondering if the missing feathers could be the sign of a problem? The hen that died is just about a year old. Help! I don't want to lose any more of my girls!
Is there something wrong with my chickens?
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I'm sorry for your loss. I have a couple of questions. Do you have a rooster? Do the girls have mites or lice? Have you noticed any picking from any of them, like, could other chickens be pulling the feathers out? Usually pecking order changes will result in feathers being plucked but normally they pull them out from the neck but who knows, maybe your girls are a little backward lol. My girls molt from the wings first then throat, chest then back of neck and move back to the tail. As for the one that died, it's so hard to know for sure what caused it when you have a mystery going on. Keep a close watch on your remaining flock for telltale signs of distress like lethargy, going off their food, variances in their normal routine, lack of egg laying etc.
Ckissner: if you aren't having a parasite issue and everyone seems to be getting along fine then my next thought is it's the roosters. Sometimes the roosters will both prefer the same hen and they can do a lot of damage and yes, even kill the hen in their voracious attempts to mate and especially so if the both roosters want her at the same time. Just because you have multiple hens to choose from does not mean that the rooster will choose a different hen every time he has his urges. It is not uncommon for them to prefer the same few hens. I can't say 100 % positive but an educated guess would tell me it was your roosters doing what they do (to keep it clean ). I would keep a close eye on the roosters and see if they are choosing the same hens over and over. If they are then my best advice would be to find a way to put one rooster and some of the lesser chosen females into a separate pen/area where they can't mingle with the remaining flock. Everyone can be together over night but you should be diligent in letting them out of the coop at first light in their own group to avoid over mating the same hens. Your ratio of roosters to hen is fine, no problem there in an ideal situation but it does sound like a case of favoritism on the rooster's parts. If you can't tell your girls apart to identify which is being chosen most often you can always buy leg bands at any farm store to help you figure out which one the rooster is "playing" with at any given time.
I wish you the best of luck!
horsesnchkns: I have to agree with your father, this looks like the work of a rooster. The only way to avoid this is to separate the worst off of the hens until they grow their feathers back and heal a bit. If the other chickens are pecking at the bare patches you can use a product called "blu kote" on the bare skin, it disguises the spots and is antibacterial to keep infection out. Like I said to Ckissner, sometimes a rooster will prefer certain hens to others and the poor hens get pretty beat up while ignoring the other hens. You mentioned that you don't have a way to separate them but maybe you can be creative and make a temporary mini run inside the big run with chicken wire or something until everyone is healthy again, you do want to keep everyone in sight and sound of each other so that won't be any integration issues when the girls heal up.