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Chickens Loosing Feathers? Managing Your Flock's Molt

Chickens Loosing Feathers? Managing Your Flock's Molt

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Picture by key west chick

 

Why Is My Chicken Loosing Feathers?

     You may wonder why your chicken’s feathers are falling out or why it has bald spots. Don't worry this is a natural cycle that chickens will go through called molting. When a chicken is molting, it sheds its old warn out feathers and replaces them with new shiny, clean ones. Both hens and roosters will molt.

 

Why Do Chickens Molt?

     Chickens will molt when there is less hours of day light, their laying cycle has finished, or stressed induced. Molting also gives a chicken’s reproductive system time to rest. This process can be very stressful for chickens so keeping them happy and healthy is very important during this time. Getting new feathers also helps to keep chickens warm in the winter. After molting their hardier and more resistant to disease.

 

When Will My Chicken Molt?

     Chicks are covered with down so they don’t have any feathers when they hatch. Chicks will have mini molts about four times, when they are 1-6 weeks old, 7-9 weeks old, 12-13 weeks old, and 20-22 weeks old. During the last molt, the tail feathers grow. Fully grown hens and roosters will molt once or twice a year in the spring or fall. This usually last 2-4 months but some chickens are very slow when molting and will take a long time. The hens that molt fast will only take a couple months. Molting usually depends on when a hen started laying. A chick that was hatched seasonally will start molting in March-April and finishes around July.

 

What Causes Molting?

     The three main factors that cause molting are: exhaustion and or sickness, when their laying cycle is completed, (that means they are done laying eggs for a while) and reduced lighting.

 

What to Expect During Molting

     Feathers are 80-85% protein and eggs are around 13% protein so your hen has to make a choice to put protein toward molting or laying, there is not enough for both. Because of this, during molting, laying stops in hens and fertility drops or stops in roosters. While molting, chickens tend to look sick or lose weight. Be sure to keep an eye on your birds when they are molting because they lose weight in this process and could lose too much and become sick. When molting make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your bird healthy because their immune system isn’t at its best during this time. Your chickens comb might look very dull and very small when they are molting which is normal. Obviously expect a lot of feather loss. Chickens that are molting can be very moody and annoying. During molting if your chickens have bare spots others might try to peck at the skin breaking it and causing it to bleed and attract more picking. If they have enough protein this shouldn't be a problem.

 

Feeding During the Molt

     Since feathers have a lot of protein in them, it’s important to give chickens back protein. Some people don’t feed their chickens anything new while their going through the molt while others do. Feeding a high amount of protein like 20% and up or a Game Bird feed is a great idea (because it has a high amount of protein). Feeding this along with regular feed is a good idea. I also give my hens wet cat food, boiled eggs, and meal worms during their molt for some extra protein.

 

The Process

      The feathers that are coming in will push the old ones out. Chickens will start to lose their head and primary wing feathers first then the feather loss works its way down the body. Your birds may have a hard molt or a soft molt. A hard molt is when the feathers drop out very quickly but don't come back for a while. A soft molt is when the feathers drop out and new ones come in soon after. The new feathers that come in are called pin feathers and look like this.

 

 

 

Here are the pin feathers. These hold the new feathers until they break through. The hard covering will falls off when the new ones come in.

http://i38.photobucket.com/albums/e149/zazousemoon206/farm/nov2010/porky2.jpg

 

 

Here is a pretty bad hard molt. This roosters wings, tail, and thighs are almost completely featherless.

berry molting.jpg

Pictures by zazous

 

 

Here is a soft molt which is what you will normally see. This is what all of my hens have had.

http://i1085.photobucket.com/albums/j422/hannakat129/gabbywentpuff.jpg

Picture by hannakat

 

 

Here are my three buff orpingtons going through a soft molt.

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If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

 

 

By WillowBranchFarm

Comments (26)

Great article! My girls are molting for the first time and it is nice to have this info.
I think your pictures Really show some really awesome molts! I think I finally learned that it does take a long time to molt. Great article
I have 22 hens and one rooster and only a few of them seem to be molting only on their back...but now I might think this is just from pecking...is it?
Its from the rooster mating with them. He holds on to their backs with his claws and it sometimes rips out their feathers.
Thanks again! OMG zazous looks like they should be in the mummers parade!!!
When I was getting chickens and looking up everything, all the sources I read said that molting only took a month! Ha!
Can a chicken molt because of stress from a new environment? And do they move less and seem lethargic? And last question, can this happen in January during a cold snap?
bobchell-Yes stress is can be one of the main factors of molting. They can be, but keep an eye on her because it could be something else. Yes they can molt in January as strange as it seems.
Thanks for your article. One of my 6 Black Australorps just started moulting, and it's a disconcerting sight! I've also read that the less productive layers will moult first - is that your experience? Jay
@jkraze- My productive hens laid first.
Thank you very much.
mg
Thanks so much for this info, I will worry a bit less about my poor "Aunt Jemimah".
I have a couple of frizzles and they have lost so much of their feathers, more this year than the other 2 years. They look so bad, I call them the naked girls. They are still laying eggs pretty much every day. They have been this way since January. I made a "sweater" for them from a white sock, cut holes for the naked wings to go through and it works pretty well to keep them warm.
They are very frizzled and seem to lose their feathers so easy. I hope they get them back soon.
 Great information that I truly needed.. My Rooster is moulting.. and seems to be taking forever.. Seems like 2 months now.. Feel so bad for him.. Cannot see skin but his beautiful tail is gone and little white feathers in the coop everyday now.   :(
none of my birds have ever had a hard molt...the only way I know they may be molting is that there are a few extra feathers in the coop...I have silkies and cochin mixes
Can I add pure protein powder to their warm oatmeal in the morning?
okay, my chicken feathery is okay then
Thanks very useful. grate info
rarebear, I mix in greek yogurt with their morning warm oatmeal. Not only does it cool it down quicker, it's very high in protein. 
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