PUBLISHED: 17:58 25 April 2014 | UPDATED: 21:06 29 April 2014
I write in the hope you can shed some light on a feather loss problem I have with my Pekin bantam (frizzled). I purchased Millie at about 12 weeks old in June 2004, and she was in very good health with good plumage. In March 2005, I arrived home to find that during that day, she'd had some loss of feather on the back of her neck. Over the next few days she had quite a drastic loss of feather from the top of her head behind her comb right the way through to her shoulders. There was absolutely no obvious reason for this loss.
During the following months she continued with this loss and now has no feathers underneath. She has no tail whatsoever, and her preen gland is exposed. During this time, she has remained very fit and healthy, and laying well with two episodes of broodiness.
I have consulted various experts who have looked at her feathers under a microscope and ruled out any form of mite. A calcium deficiency or a lack of protein have been suggested by two local experts. I have therefore introduced a small amount of grated cheese to give both of these, but with hardly any improvement. I had hoped that following a moult she would feather up normally.
My main concern isn’t only the severe loss of feather but that the feathers appear to be breaking off and the quills are very dry. I have today begun to add some cod liver oil to her layer’s mash and mixed poultry corn that I scatter late afternoon. I’ve also given samples of her feathers and details of her care to my local poultry society in the hope they may have some experience of this between them. I have enclosed a sample of her feathers and I would be most grateful if you could offer any advice.
I examined the feathers you sent under my microscope and the structure was very weak with fewer barbs and barbules (see diagram earlier) than I would expect, even for a Frizzle. I plucked a feather from my large Frizzle cockerel for comparison and he had many more barbs.
Frizzling is a characteristic where all the feathers curl towards the head and the wing feathers are ragged. This can be put into any breed – in the shows you can see not only the original Frizzle, but Frizzled Japanese and Frizzled Poland and no doubt there will be more made!
The pitfall with frizzles is that if enough generations of frizzled feathered birds are mated to other frizzled feathered birds, the structure completely disintegrates, so you need to keep a straight feathered, frizzle-bred bird for occasional breeding to boost the feather structure. As your Pekin started out with good feathering, it’s unlikely to be a genetic problem – if it was, she would have had weak feathers at her first adult moult.
You say you’re feeding mash and mixed corn. I’ve said before in this column that I’m not a fan of either – free-range birds are better with pellets as these still look like food if they hit the ground and maize is a very heating food, good only in severe weather.
I now discover that you’re new to poultry keeping and have been giving the hens treats which has diluted the balanced feed that they should have. I suggest that extra calcium or protein won’t necessarily help your bird, but Cornish Calcified Seaweed (CCS) definitely will. This is an agricultural fertiliser, but it’s organic and contains not only many trace elements, but a high proportion of iodine. The keratin (protein) in the feather is enhanced by iodine, and as this is contained in CCS, so you will be giving her the building blocks for her feathers. Suppliers of CCS advertise in CS.
So, the plan is to stop the treats, change to pellets and wheat and give CCS in a separate pot so the hens can help themselves ad lib. Once your Pekin has grown back most of her feathers, be very careful when you try and re-introduce her to the flock as the pecking order will have changed with her absence. The best way is to put her in a small house and run within the main run so that the others can see her and talk to her but not attack her. After about a week, she should be able to be integrated with the others without too many feathers flying. VR
Victoria Roberts BVSC MRCVS
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Disclaimer: The information and advice in this column is given in good faith. However, as the animals in question have not been examined by the author, no liability in respect of diagnosis or application of any treatments is accepted either by the author or by Country Smallholding