Are Your Chickens Molting? Here’s What You Need To Know

 

Are My Chickens Molting-It looked like chicken carnage in the coop.  There were feathers everywhere, and my heart sunk.  I quickly did head count.  Everyone was present and accounted for, thank goodness!  Now to figure out whose feathers were everywhere, and why.  A little more investigation gave me the answer: the chickens were molting.

Want more details on how to keep your backyard flock at their healthiest in one easy to read source?  Check out our book Backyard Chickens: How To Have A Happy Flock!

The first time my hens started molting I started freaking out.  I thought they were sick or hurt or something.

Thankfully molting is perfectly normal and all they really need is extra protein added in their diet.

Unfortunately, while molting they stop laying because all available resources are being used for making feathers, not eggs.  Bummer!

(Sarah in the comments kindly detailed that they don’t stop laying BECAUSE they are molting but rather it’s two separate processes.  Thanks Sarah!)

Why Are Your Chickens Molting?

Usually adult hens of around eighteen months old begin to molt in the fall when the number of daylight hours decreases.

But stress, or withholding feed or water can trigger a molt at other times as well, and they also molt after being broody, (which is a sort of nature imposed withholding of food, I suppose).

If you use a lamp in your coop to extend daylight hours, Oregon State Extension suggests leaving it off for six weeks during the fall or winter will help your birds completely finish a molt and start laying again at top production.

Just  be careful with your timing so that you don’t leave your birds without protection if they go through a hard molt in extra chilly weather!

How long will this take?

If you raised your birds from chicks you may have noticed them molting when they lose their downy feathers in that awkward gangly stage around 4 weeks.

They have another molt around sexual maturity at about 20 weeks, although, that can vary depending on the breed.

These molts are not quite as dramatic as the annual molts, which can take anywhere from 2-6 months.

Chickens molting always progresses in the same order from the head, then down the neck, the body, wings, and lastly the tail.

Your chicken should actually never be completely bald when molting because the new feathers emerging is what pushes out the old feathers.

If your bird has bald spots, especially near the vent that’s NOT molting, it’s something else like mites.

Chickens do their best to prevent mites by dust bathing, but mites can be treated naturally.  Here’s more information on that from The Frugal Chicken.

Another cause of bald spots could be the birds picking on each other.  That’s a symptom of stress in your flock that needs to be dealt with immediately by increasing their space and quality of life.

You can actually tell by looking at the flight feathers how long your bird has been molting and how much longer it will take.

If you have a bird that starts molting early, and drops only one flight feather at a time it will take longer to complete her molt.

If you have a bird that starts her molt later. then loses multiple feathers at a time she will finish faster) and get back to laying breakfast faster as well).

What Should You Do?

You can help out your chickens during their molt by providing them with high quality protein foods.  Feathers are made of protein, so it takes a lot of it for them to manufacture new ones.

Some birds may even be able to continue laying if they are getting enough nutrients, although not all will do so.

Drop low protein snacks and filler foods, and up the quantity of protein.

Some good ideas are mealworms, black oil sunflower seeds, scrambled eggs, cat food, dairy products like yogurt, and tuna or other fish.

The newly growing feather are very sensitive.  They emerge through a shaft that can bleed quite profusely if damaged.

Try not to handle your birds as much as possible.  Make sure to be very gentle when you must pick them up.

It’s also a good idea to limit their stress as much as possible.  Molting time is not a good time to introduce new flock members or move them to a new home.  Let them regain their dignity first!

If you have more chicken questions, feel free to check out some of the chicken related books on our resource page!

Molting Chicken

5 Ways To Help Your Molting Chickens

  1. Switch to the highest protein food available at your feed store.
  2. Add black oil sunflower seeds to their feed.
  3. Add heat to the coop if it’s cold outside.
  4. Keep stress down
  5. Don’t touch them!

Share this Image On Your Site

I recently polled my Facebook followers on their favorite way to help their molting chickens and got some great suggestions!  William uses catfish food to boost the protein in his flock.  Nikki recommends boosting their fat levels ahead of time.  This helps them maintain enough preening oil and replace their old feathers quickly.  Debbie recommends a 20 % protein feed based on fish meal. 

And it’s a great idea to take molting time to do a quick health check of all your birds.  This gives you a chance to visually see potential problems you may not have otherwise caught.  Just make sure to handle them very carefully, so as to not disturb the growing feathers. 

Here are some chicken health related posts to help you do a quick exam and handle potential issues.

 How Do You Know If You Have A Sick Chicken? Chicken Diseases You Need To Know About Deworming Chickens- Do You Need To Worry About It Be Ruthless With Chicken Mites And Obnoxious Bugs   

The first time your hens molt it can be a surprise.  But once you know when chickens molt and how to help them through it, you don’t need to worry!

Sources:
Utah State Extension: Molting and Determining Production of Laying Hens
Keeping Chickens Laying Through Winter Podcast from The Frugal Chicken (molting specifically mentioned starting at 3:53)If you have ducks (I’m so jealous!), here’s an article on ducks molting from 104 Homestead
Molting – What It Is And How To Help Chickens Get Through It from Grit
Helping Your Flock Through Molting from The Cape Coop

 

Want To Grow Fruit In The City?

You can save money at the grocery store without a time intensive garden or committing to raising livestock. Sign up for the Backyard Orchards email course today!

Powered by ConvertKit

21 thoughts on “Are Your Chickens Molting? Here’s What You Need To Know”

  1. my hen has been moulting since december and the feathers have grown back but the other hens will not accept her in the run or coop. One of them in particular attacks her as soon as she sees her. How do I get her accepted again please. She’s still indoors with us at night!

    Many thanks’
    Brenda

    • After hens go through a molt, their pecking order changes. Sounds like she ended up on the bottom. Instead of removing the hen getting picked on, you can try pulling out the hen that is chasing her out for a few days and see if it changes their social structure at all. Also, make sure to add a couple extra feeders and waterers so that she can get enough to eat without being chased away. It also helps to add logs, or other things in the run that they can jump onto, or run behind to get away from a more aggressive flock member.

  2. I have a little bantam hen and she seems to be loosing a few feathers and growing new ones but she won’t eat and sits around all day with her eyes closed!!! Is she molting different because of her type??? Plz help me I’m so worried😢😯

  3. two of my hens Emily she came out of a molting she is still not laying what do I do and tilly my other hen she is light molting likes shes missing feathers but she’s growing back is that normal none of my hens are laying expect for Bella

    • This was extremely helpful!! Thank you!! Sadly, I had a hawk attack (I believe so, at least) the end of September…which I believe triggered one of my hens to begin molting. At the time I didn’t know…i thought it was stress. If they heard or saw crows….they ran into the bushes as far as possible scared for their lives (which was heartbreaking to watch as well)
      Now, I know we’re molting and things are getting back to normal and back on track. They’re getting fat and cute…as usual…and I’m over here hungry. The things we do for our chickens!!! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience!!

  4. Not really important, I’m just putting this here in case anyone is interested in some of the science…

    The egg production actually doesn’t decrease because of resources being put into feather growth. The decrease in day length towards the end of the year increases production of the hormone prolactin, which triggers regression of the reproductive system by changing levels of various other hormones. Some birds (not sure about chickens) go through voluntary anorexia when they get broody, which also triggers the reproductive involution and molting. Rather than reproductive changes (e.g. a halt in egg laying) being a side effect of feather replacement, these are separate processes that are simply triggered by the same changes in environment. Regression and subsequent remodeling of the ovaries and oviducts results in improved egg production and shell strength to prepare the hen for her next laying cycle.

    This is why the egg industry does scheduled induced molts – egg production gradually decreases to unprofitable levels, so they manipulate the environment to induce that reproductive change and refresh production. The actual feather molting just happens to go along with it.

  5. DO NOT GIVE CAT FOOD TO OTHER ANIMALS! IT IS DESIGNED TO MAKE CATS THROW UP HAIR BALLS AND ENOUGH OF IT WILL CAUSE OTHER SPECIES TO THROW THEIR STOMACH UP AND AT MINIMUM IT CAN CAUSE STOMACH UPSET AND BLEEDING.

    • I would be interested in seeing where you found this information. My understanding of cat food is that the formulation will upset a dog’s stomach because the higher protein levels are hard on a dog’s liver and kidneys.

      Hairball formulations of cat food are designed to prevent vomiting up of hairballs by adding in additional fiber to the food to help the cat’s digestive tract expel the fibers via the litter box instead.

  6. Our hen is old and the last of her flock. Quite a pet. I would think she is molting. White patches almost like dried paint along 2 inches up base of feather shaft but no apparent feather loss. She did not eat last night, nor today. She was in the back corner of coop in cold, misty damp, and open instead of her henhouse and quiet. Generally she is loud and always meeting us with complaints we weren’t there soon enough or leaving too soon.

Leave a Comment