You walk into your backyard and it looks like your chickens went on an intense weight loss journey. Feathers are everywhere and your hens look skinny and sickly without the full breadth of their beautiful feathers. Don’t panic, your flock is fine, they’re just molting!
What is molting in chickens?
When chickens lose and re-grow feathers it’s called molting and it usually starts when a hen is around 18 months old. It occurs every year when the days get shorter.
Molting is a necessary natural process where chickens lose old, broken, worn out and soiled feathers for new feathers or plumage. These new feathers provide protection for the elements, insulation and give your hens their beautiful colors and patterns.
During the molt, hens typically stop laying eggs and use this time to build up their nutrient reserves.
When do chickens molt and how long does it last?
Most chickens molt in the autumn months when the hours of sunlight decrease. It is a good time for the birds to prepare for winter when quality feathers are essential. Don’t be alarmed if some hens go against the norm and molt in summer.
Every bird is different but molting typically lasts for 8–12 weeks. Also, don’t expect all your hens to molt at the same time. Older hens seem to take a bit longer to grow their feathers back and can molt for 13–16 weeks.
What happens when chickens molt?
Shortly before a chicken begins molting, their feathers may start to appear more dull than normal. Once the molting process begins in a chicken, the new feathers will slowly begin to push out the old feathers, leaving small patches of missing feathers. This usually begins on the head and neck area and works towards the tail.
Did you know that feathers are made of 80-85 percent protein? Meaning, molting requires large amounts of protein for a chicken to grow new feathers. When you notice your chickens are losing their feathers, it is recommended to increase the amount of protein, probiotics, prebiotics and key vitamins and minerals in their diet.
Unfortunately, losing feathers and growing new ones can be a bit painful and stressful for a chicken. All chickens handle it differently. Some will act normal while others might become more aggressive and develop mood issues. The best thing to do is to take steps to help get them through their molt.
How to care for your chickens when molting:
Below are some simple, easy ways to help your flock through molting season.
Eliminate stress: Provide a safe shelter from the elements and limit stress events like deep cleaning the coop and adding to your flock. Do your best to separate any birds that are getting picked on.
Up their protein intake: You can find a higher protein feed at your local farm supply store, or you can supplement with other high protein sources like scrambled eggs, mealworms or sunflower seeds. It’s a good time to limit treats or unhealthy foods, so they get the nutrients they need.
Limit or avoid handling: It can be painful to grow new feathers. These new feathers called pin feathers are full of blood. If they break or are injured in some way, this can lead to other problems like pecking from other chickens or infection. It is best to avoid handling them.
Provide fresh, clean water with Flock Fixer™: Flock Fixer is a non-medicated fast acting water additive that contains prebiotics, probiotics, electrolytes, vitamins and oregano essential oils. It helps hydrate, restores vital nutrients and support bird immunity when your chickens are molting.