Chickens Loosing Feathers? Managing Your Flock's Molt

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.

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

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

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

If you have any questions please feel free to ask.

By WillowBranchFarm