When people collect ex-battery (ex-caged) hens for the first time they can be pretty shocked at the state of the hen’s appearance. This is because it’s pretty normal for them to have varying degrees of completely bald patches along with thinning feathers.
We got our latest batch of ex-commercial hens in September and one was totally bald on the back end exposing soreness to the skin underneath, it’s pretty heartbreaking to see them like this.
The main questions which most re-homers want to know are why aren’t the feathers growing back and will they ever go back to somewhere near to a normal fluffy chicken?
It takes time for an ex-battery hens feathers to start growing back and to thicken out, but it’s unusual for them not to come back at all. You can give ex-commercial hens supplements and healthy foods which can promote feather re-growth and general well-being. Given time and good living they should start to look much better.
Read on to find out more on how to deal with an ex-battery hen whose feathers don’t seem to be coming back along with supplements you can give them to improve health and promote feather growth.
Why do battery hens have no feathers?
When chickens are farmed on a commercial basis the hens are usually kept in confined spaces along with thousands of other chickens.
In this environment, the hens don’t have much space to move and will generally have bald back ends where feathers have rubbed away along with burns which can be caused by sitting in their own muck.
Hens become frustrated when they can’t move which leads to pecking which is one of the main causes of bald patches.
Caged hens are also removed from the commercial environment when they reach about 18 months old and at this point it’s likely they’re moulting or about to moult. At this point, the hens are deemed as unproductive and it’s no longer commercially viable for farms to keep them.
The fact the chickens are moulting is the reason that most ex-commercial hens feathers are thinned out revealing white under feathers below.
The image below shows one of our rescue hens not long after she came to us, as you can see her feathers are very thinned out and non-existent to the back end and underneath her wings.
This didn’t stop her coming in and taking over the top spot in the pecking order and the good news is she’s fluffed up well and you can’t tell that she used to have a bald bum!
Do battery hens feathers grow back?
In most cases, ex-commercial hens feathers will grow back given time, although they might not be as thick as they would be on another hen of a similar age. It’s normal for the fluffy under feathers to come back first and from there they will start to thicken out.
Hens are normally released from commercial farms when they’re around 18 months old and their in or going into moult. Chickens usually moult in late summer where they will lose most of their feathers so they can be replaced by new ones in time for winter.
When you first get your rescue hens it’s easy to think that their feathers won’t grow back when they have completely bald patches, but they will come back once they begin to recover.
There are some rare circumstances where the feathers don’t come back at all if the loss has been particularly bad, but more often than not they will come back although some hens take longer than others to get to the re-growth point.
Hens can also stop laying during this time due to the stress of the moult, but in some instances, they will carry on laying as normal.
How long does it take for hens feathers to grow back?
When your hens have got bad patches it’s natural that you’ll be willing those feathers to grow back as fast as possible.
On average it takes about eight weeks after moulting and re-homing for an ex-commercial hens feathers to start growing back. The smaller fluffy under-feathers will usually start to grow back first followed by the larger feathers in time.
By winter-time hens who have moulted should have a good coverage of feathers which will help to keep them warm during the winter months.
It’s normal not to see any regrowth at all in the first four to six weeks and then you’ll start to see re-growth all at once.
What if feathers aren’t coming back
If it’s only been a few months since your hens moulted or since you re-homed them, don’t panic if you’re not starting to see much re-growth just yet, chances are it will come, but the hens just need to recover from their past life and moult.
In many cases, these hens have been through an ordeal where they’ve gone from being kept in an artificial and cramped environment, to a new life outdoors with natural grazing and exercise they’ve never been used to before.
It’s only natural that all of these things are going to have a big impact on the hens general health and well being, but giving them the best life possible will help them to recover as soon as possible.
There are some things you can do to help the process along to ensure the hens are getting the best chance of recovery possible, these include:
- Adding a post-moult supplement to the hens normal food helps to boost the nutrients in the hen’s diet – we use Verm X Poultry Zest which is natural and can be sprinkled over their normal food.
- Allow the hens some free-range time and natural grazing in daylight.
- Give the hens a tin of sardines as a treat, which are high in Omega 3 and calcium.
Should ex-battery hens wear a jumper/sweater?
Recently there has been a bit of a craze of putting chickens in a jumper or sweater to keep them warm or for photo opportunities.
Although it can be tempting out of kindness to put your hens in a woolly jumper, it’s really not a good idea, for the following reasons:
- Chickens like to preen their feathers on a regular basis which they can’t do if they’re covered up.
- Hens will self regulate their own temperature and they’re actually pretty hardy so wearing a jumper can actually cause them to overheat.
- Chickens like to stretch their wings, so covering will prevent this behaviour.
- Wool can become caught on feathers and it could become snagged in bushes leading to the chicken becoming trapped.
- Pulling an item of clothing over a chickens head can cause distress to the bird.
The best way to keep your hens warm is by providing them with a shelter they can go to if they feel cold, along with other steps you can take to keep hens warmer without jumpers or sweaters, you can find out more about this topic in the article below:
I hope this post has helped you to find out more about feather loss in ex-battery hens, you might also find the following posts useful if you’re starting out with rescue hens:
Our recommended coop
Chicken coop for different flock sizes and different weather.