Everything You Need to Know About Molting

Does it look like a pillow just exploded in your coop? Does you hen look like a pin cushion? Relax, your flock is just molting! Molting? Yup and it’s a natural and vital part of being a happy, healthy chicken!

You see chicken’s feathers are made up of tiny barbs and barbules that grow off the feather shaft and lock together like velcro to create a water resistant and windproof coat. Under the protective outer feathers are the downy feathers that have more flexible barbs and barbules that allow the chicken to fluff and regulate heat.

Over time, the feathers get worn out and lose their ability to be preened back into shape. Kind of like your coat getting a hole in it. You can still wear it, but it doesn’t do a very good job of keeping you warm and dry. While we can go to a store and buy a new coat, chickens have to go about growing their own. Molting is the process of discarding the old worn feathers and growing a nice new set of protective feathers that will carry them through the colder winter months.

When do chickens molt?

The first and most likely reason for your chicken to molt is the annual molt. If you raise chickens from chicks, the first time they molt will be around 18 months of age. From that point on they will molt once a year, usually in late summer and early autumn. Reduced sunlight due to shorter days is a natural signal to poultry that it is time to begin replacing their worn-out feathers. By molting in late summer and early autumn, chickens will be prepared for winter weather with a full set of new feathers to keep them protected from water, wind, and cold temperatures.

The second type of molt is the stress molt. Just like humans losing their hair when they are stressed, chickens will drop feathers during times of stress. Stress can include severe weather, extreme lack of food and water, illness, moving to a new location, new members being added to the flock, being broody, predator attack, and the list goes on.

How long does it take a chicken to molt?

Generally chickens take two to three months to complete a molt, but it can take more or less time depending on whether the chicken undergoes a “hard molt” or a “soft molt.”

Ester is a hard molter. She lost her entire tail in one day! These last two
fethers dropped off just minutes after I snaped this photo.

A soft molt is where a chicken slowly loses feather over time, taking up to five months to change out all the feather on their body. Most chickens are soft molters. You will see a feather here and there from time to time, but for the most part, the soft molting process isn’t that noticeable.

A “hard molt” on the other hand is where the chicken loses most of its feathers in a short time period. These are the chickens that basically explode everywhere and look naked. We have one hard molter and the first time she molted, I though a predator had got her! There was a giant pile of feathers in the yard and she was hiding in the bushes because of her naked shame.

How to help your molting chickens.

Given that feathers consist of 85% protein, feather production places great demands on a chicken’s energy and nutrient stores. The biggest thing you can do to help your molting chickens is to increase the protein content of your feed or adding extra protein treats.

Tasty Grubs!?!? Yup, they are better then mealworms in my book. Mealworms are small and rather light and airy, not a lot of substance to the the treat, kind of like a fast food meal. Tasty Grubs are bigger, thicker, and actually have some substance to them, like a sit down meal! And they are 38% protein! They are grown in the USA, no product or China here. They do not pay me to say these things. I tried em, my girls LOVE them and they are my go to protein treat. I have seen first hand how they help my girls through their molts.

Your egg production will drop during molting because a chicken’s body needs a lot of resources in order to grow new feathers. And despite what some folks say, molting can be a little painful. Pinfeathers (new growth) are sensitive, so avoid handling molting birds, saddles, and sweaters. I may joke about putting our poor naked hen in a sweater, but honestly, I am not a supporter of chickens wearing clothing of any sort. Exposed skin during molt can become a target for other flock members, so make sure to separate out any chickens that are being pecked.

While molting can be dramatic for some chickens, there really is no need for alarm. Remember, chickens have evolved to be amazing little critters who know what to do, when they need to do it, and how to get through it with just a little love from us. *wink*

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