Have you ever gone out to your chicken coop and found so many feathers you had to take a quick head count to make sure all your chickens were still alive? Well it’s most likely that all those feathers are from molting chickens!
Even though it’s completely normal, your first time seeing this will likely worry you, so this article will give you all the details.
I’ve raised chickens my entire life and I still always worry when I see a bunch of bald hens running around. I always think the worst and look into all the problems that can cause feather loss and I worry that they won’t ever grow their feathers back.
But the reason is almost always due to molt and the feathers will come back!
What are Molting Chickens?
Molting chickens are chickens who are losing their feathers so that new feathers can grow in.
It is a natural process that happens to all chickens, but it is more severe for hens than roosters.
They lose their feathers in sequence beginning with their head feathers, neck, back, breast and thighs, and then ending with their tail feathers.
Then they regrow their new feathers in the same order.
When Do Chickens Molt?
The first molt is about 6-8 days old. They’ll lose all of their downy feathers and replace them with chick feathers.
At 5-15 weeks old they’ll start getting their primary feathers.
Then around 18 months old they’ll go through their first complete molt.
As the shorter days arrive towards the end of summer and beginning of fall, chickens will instinctively know that winter is coming and that will trigger the start of their annual molting process.
They will begin losing their old feathers so that fresh new feathers can grow in to keep them warm for the colder months ahead.
How Long Do Chickens Molt?
The molting process usually lasts for 8-12 weeks but can last up to 6 months.
The type of molt your chickens go through is mostly determined by their genetic makeup and they’ll have either a soft molt or a hard molt.
Hard Molt – A hard molt is when they quickly lose a drastic amount of feathers and have noticeable bald patches.
Soft Molt – A soft molt is a slow process of losing and regrowing feathers and you may not even realize it’s happening.
Why Do Chickens Molt?
Chickens molt so they can replenish their feathers for extra warmth in the winter months and to lose old feathers that are unhealthy and damaged.
You’ll forget how beautiful your hens can be until you see them with all their freshly grown in feathers!
How Often Do Chickens Molt?
Chickens can molt up to a couple times a year. Their main annual molt is in fall when the days start to get shorter. But they can also molt again in spring as the amount of daylight changes again.
Chickens can also go through stress molts. Stress molting can be caused by a lack of food or water, or a change in the amount of lighting they receive.
In commercial chicken operations this is what is typically done so that chickens will quickly get through their molt and begin laying eggs again.
Common Occurrences During Molt
Losing their feathers is of course the most noticeable effect of molt. But another very common occurrence is that their egg production will drastically decrease or even stop completely.
All of their nutrients is going into growing back their new feathers and so don’t worry if egg laying comes to a stand still for awhile.
Once they get through molt they will pick right back up. Although, once winter comes and the days are shorter that will slow down their egg production as well. So if you’d like to find out how to keep your hens laying through the winter check out:
Ways to Help Chickens During Molting Season
One of the most important things to do for your backyard chickens during molt is to feed them a high protein diet.
I stop feeding my hens layer feed during molt and switch their feed to Nutrena Feather Fixer (amazon) which is higher in protein.
A typical layer feed is about 16% protein and they should get a chicken feed that is 20-25 percent protein. Since all of of their energy is going into growing new feathers, the added protein is crucial.
You can also feed them additional high protein foods such as:
- Sunflower seeds
- Cooked meat
- Hard boiled eggs
- Cat food
Reducing stress in another very important practice during molt. It’s already a stressful time for them and so the quieter and more peaceful everything can be, the better.
You should also avoid handling them as much as possible. Handling them causes stress and can be painful.
Their new pin feathers which look like porcupine quills, are very sensitive and it’s important that they aren’t damaged.
The new pin feathers have a blood supply and so if one is broken or damaged it can heavily bleed. Which makes it even more important to be extra careful during this time.
Another thing to keep an eye on is how the flock members are treating each other. If one chicken has a sore on their bare skin the other chickens will likely peck at that chicken and make it worse.
So if you notice any problems, remove that chicken until they are healed. Or you can treat them with a medicine such as blue kote.
Overall, don’t be too concerned during molt. Do what you can to best help them through it. But remember it’s a natural process and it’ll eventually come to an end!
For more information on raising chickens check out my book the Beginner’s Guide to Raising Chickens.
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