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

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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.

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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!

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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!

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


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Saturday 10th of October 2020

I also feel I should add I love in Texas so we aren't really getting cold or anything. Still sitting in 80-90 degree weather.


Saturday 10th of October 2020

At less than six months is could be that they just aren't getting started yet. Egg laying and molting are related to day length, not necessarily temperature, so it could be that they start laying once days start getting longer again.


Saturday 10th of October 2020

I have 3 hens all ranging a out 5 1/2 months old. I recieved them from a family who couldn't keep them anymore a d that was the info she gave me age wise. I have a Rhode island red, black australorp, and a leghorn. Great birds. But they aren't laying eggs yet or showing any interest in their nesting boxes. I'm wondering if they are doing a light molt? My red is very full but I can see the (what I call) shell like casings on her feathers and there are a few feathers from all of them here and there. No major amount though. No brutal looking chicken crimes. Are they possibly too young to be laying yet? Or is it possible they are doing their "maturity" molt and it's kind of halting the eggs? My leghorn also has a tad but of yellowing in her comb which I've read could be a sign of molting?

jim hastings

Monday 17th of February 2020

My second wife and I had a small farm,three dozen chickens. We would get a dozen pullets every year(order them).The reason was we would get a different breed so as to keep track of their age. They had good feed and access to alfalfa, grass and any bugs they came across. They never molted. In the wild you do not see nor hear of birds molting. I do believe that it comes down to feed and lack of stress.


Monday 24th of February 2020


Fred Riley

Tuesday 26th of November 2019

All of my chicken have quit laying, feathers all over the place. Some of them have exposed skin where feathers have not come back. They eat well and are very active. This all started when I changed the brand of food I feed them. I just went back to the old brand and add cracked corn along with there feed. Any thoughts?


Tuesday 26th of November 2019

Unless you are having very cold weather, I would supplement them with sunflower seeds instead of the cracked corn. The extra protein should help them rebuild feathers.


Tuesday 29th of October 2019

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.


Tuesday 29th of October 2019

Keep a close eye on her, it could be something other than molting.