How to Make Use of Chicken Feathers

Chicken feather uses and gathering chicken feathers for sale.

How to Make Use of Chicken Feathers

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Eggs and meat hold a strong place in the poultry industry, but what are chicken feathers used for? And how can you capitalize on these chicken feather uses?

Feathers are one of nature’s most beautiful accents and perhaps one of the draws bringing people into the world of poultry. Bird enthusiasts and artists alike have long admired plumage for its intricate details and exotic colors.  

But feathers are good for much more than mere admiration; even experienced flock keepers may be unaware of the incredible potential of what to do with chicken feathers after slaughter. Besides being a staple in multiple industries, feathers can also be a form of passive income for backyard flocks.  

Unexpected uses for feathers 

Let’s walk through exactly what it is that makes feathers so unique. Feathers are largely made of keratin, the same material in our fingernails and hair. However, their fibers are similar to the cellulose found in plants, starch, wood, and paper. This makes them excellent insulators and protectants for the birds that own them.  

Work and research are currently underway to capitalize on how feathers can be used in the industrial sense. (Consider that of the billions of meat chickens produced in the U.S. each year, they make at least two to three billion pounds of feathers!) What do they do with chicken feathers? Besides traditional uses like feather meal, stuffing for pillows, upholstery, and blankets, we can also use them to create materials including plastics, insulation, and more.  

When it comes to costume design or home décor, absolutely nothing can replace the look and feel of genuine feathers. But what makes them especially of interest to the hobbyist is the crafting industry. Exotic breeds or specialty types like peafowl or pheasants have been especially sought after. Similarly, fishermen making handmade lures prize fancy-type rooster capes and saddles. 

what-are-chicken-feathers-used-for
Bright colorful tied flies to be used for fly fishing. Feathers and hook used to created homemade hand crafted fishing bait.

Washing and prepping 

There are two basic ways of collecting feathers. The one is to go the natural route and collect them by hand as birds molt or lose them throughout the year.  

The second avenue is post-mortem. If processing your birds, you can carefully remove the feathers from the skin and keep them that way. (The best way is to dip the bird in boiling water to open the pores, making removal much easier.) 

If you have roosters with capes and saddles, it may be worth learning how to remove and preserve those skin parts to sell the feathers to fly fishers. The base of the feather is essential for fly tying, which is why many enthusiasts prefer to buy entire capes or saddles with the feathers still in place. 

Groups of fly fishers and online tutorials are some of the best resources for doing this. There are a few different methods for removing and preserving the skin most satisfactorily. 

Even if you keep your coop and yard very clean, feathers are notorious for harboring pathogens and bacteria. Crafters and collectors often hail the simple mothball (with paradichlorobenzene) ideal for the first part of the cleaning process. A small handful of these in an airtight container full of feathers for at least 24 hours is said to be quite effective at killing mites and any other nasties lurking in the feathers. 

After this, soak feathers in a half-and-half mixture of hydrogen peroxide and isopropyl alcohol. These will oxidize and kill most bacteria, fungi and inactivate certain viruses. Bleach can accomplish this as well, but it can also weaken and degrade the feathers while washing out their vibrancy.  

To do a final removal of any remaining viruses and other impurities, wash the feathers by hand in a mild hand or dish soap with ample suds. After this, they should be rinsed thoroughly and left out on a flat surface to sundry. 

Be sure they are completely dry before putting them away for storage to prevent the buildup of any fungus or mold. After a simple fluffing, feathers should be stores in an airtight container. 

Finding buyers 

Some people get into selling feathers through crafty friends or friends of friends. But there are other ways to start building local in-person connections. Be on the lookout for any local crafting guilds or costumers in your area that might be interested in your chicken feathers for sale. 

what-are-chicken-feathers-used-for
Fly tying materials and tools

The internet makes it easy to extend your audience even further. Etsy is one of the simplest ways to set up your online store, but it can be challenging to grow an audience as the marketplace is competitive. However, if you have some particularly exotic feather varieties, this may be the best place to start. Feathers are also great to add at farmers markets, craft fairs, or even local shops and small businesses. Or, if you’re crafty yourself. you may find ways to develop your own handmade products. 

But who’s to say you need to sell? There’s a myriad of home décor, jewelry, and craft ideas you can find to incorporate your flock’s plumes. You may be surprised at how a simple feather can make a statement. 

Do you have other ideas? What are chicken feathers used for in your area?

Bibliography 

Originally published in the December 2021/January 2022 issue of Backyard Poultry and regularly vetted for accuracy.

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