Emergencies/Illness Health Issues

Dealing With Broken Blood Feathers In Chickens

Feathers are made of keratin, which contains amino acids such as cysteine, lysine, proline and methionine. It’s the same material that comprises fingernails, claws, beaks, spurs and hair.

Each feather has a hard central shaft. The bottom of the mature shaft, a quill, is hollow where it attaches under the skin into the follicle.

Around each follicle are groups of tiny muscles that allow the feather to be raised and lowered, allowing the bird to fluff itself up.

The portion above the skin, where the smaller barbs extend from is called the rachis.

On both sides of the shaft are rows of barbs, and on each barb are rows of barbules. The barbules have tiny hooks along the edge that lock them together like a zipper to make a smooth feather. At the base of the feathers there are often barbs that are not hooked together, called downy barbs.

When the feathers start growing they are tightly rolled and look like pins sticking out of the chicken’s skin. They’re covered with a thin, white coating that falls off or is groomed off by preening. When the cover comes off, the feather expands to its full length and the vein dries up.

As the new feather, also called a blood or pin feather, emerges from the skin’s feather follicle, it looks like a spiky quill. Unlike mature feathers, developing ones have a vein in the shaft with a blood supply flowing through it. At this stage, if the pinfeather is damaged, it can bleed profusely.

Broken blood feathers can be problematic for a number of reasons:

  • Blood is an attractant for flock members to peck at the affected bird, which may cause significant injury.
  • Incorrectly pulling a broken blood feather can also cause life-threatening infections.
  • Blood loss can be fatal, if left untreated.

Split Feather (Vertical split, but not broken)

  • Apply direct pressure on the bleeding feather to try to prevent excessive blood loss.
  • Wipe away blood with gauze.
  • Apply 2- 3 coats of a blood-clotting agent (surgical glue, cornstarch, styptic powder/Kwik Stop or flour) along the area of the vertical split, allowing time to dry between each application.

Broken Feather

  • If the blood feather has matured to more than half its normal length, then it may be saved by applying white paper glue, corn starch, or clay paste at the site of the break. 
  • Apply direct pressure on the bleeding feather to try to stop further blood loss.
  • Coat with blood clotting agent (surgical glue, cornstarch, styptic powder/ Kwik Stop or flour) at the site of the break.
  • If the broken blood feather is bleeding significantly, it should be removed.

Removing A Feather

  • Hold your hand firmly around the base of the feather and gently apply pressure on the body to prevent tearing the skin.
  • Using pliers or tweezers, quickly pull the shaft straight out at its base (not at an angle or by wiggling it).
  • The follicle should look normal under the pulled shaft.
  • Apply pressure on the follicle with a piece of gauze.
  • If the feather follicle continues to bleed after five minutes, use a clotting product to stop the bleeding.
  • If you can’t stop the bleeding after significant attempts seek veterinary care.

Featured photo credit: Zebreana Rosenberger

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