Chickens Loosing Feathers? Managing Your Flock's Molt

By willowbranchfarm · Dec 11, 2012 · Updated Jan 10, 2013 · ·
  1. willowbranchfarm
    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

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Recent User Reviews

  1. ronott1
    "Excellant article"
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Aug 28, 2018
    Very good information on molting!
  2. Squeakles
    "Very useful information."
    5/5, 5 out of 5, reviewed Jul 28, 2018
    The photos really helped clarify the difference for me between hard and soft molts.
  3. Anonymous
    "Easy informative read."
    4/5, 4 out of 5, reviewed Jul 23, 2018
    Nice article on the process. Easy to read & digest.


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  1. Holly7900
    Her feathers aren’t growing back! Any ideas?
  2. Abriana
    They sometimes look like porcupines! My hen had a bare back from the rooster until about a month ago and she was a porcupine for a while. Now she’s beautiful! Great article!
  3. Toetwo
    Hi Willow Branch. Are you still there to answer questions about molts? My gals--three year olds--went through a molt and their feathers are very slow coming back. It is now frigid up here in Jaffrey NH--20 at night-- and my favorite, Ping, Dominque, is acting sick. We have an upcoming cockerel who is more aggressive than his predecessor Big Red who died a couple of weeks ago of cancer. Whatever any one says, I think the older hens, who grew up with Big Red, miss him. Not sure if Ping is just sad or dying of cancer, too. They free range and usually Ping is quite sociable with chickens and people but now she's just hanging out alone, and sleeping apart. She eats as usual, like a little pig. Maybe she's just cold because no feathers? She is shivering a lot. Should I bring her inside? I am sick at heart to think I might lose Ping so soon after Big Red died. Thoughts welcome. Toe
  4. Bird biz
    My chicken began molting about a week ago. I know this is a natural process but it doesn't make sense for her to be doing this when the temperatures are dropping and our first snow storm is hitting the mountains ( I'm in Colorado). I lined the chicken's sleeping area with plenty of straw but I still fear for her comfort and survival.
  5. beginnergirl
    Thanks so much for posting this! My hens are about 12 weeks old and have noticed large feathers on the ground which had me worried. I have never had chickens before. My easter egger even ate a small feather yesterday, so am trying giving them more meal worms and tried eggs for the first time.

    One hen appears to be thinner, though I don't know if an easter egger/ameracauna is supposed to be a thinner body type than the SLW and Barred Rock. Anyway, I appreciate this forum so much!
  6. NVChickenGrl
    First time chicken owner here! My girls are going through their first molt as adults, and it alarmed me! This article really helped me out. Thank you!
  7. Emilys Chickens
    What if my chickens are molting underneath ( point of chest to ********). I was researching about molting and they all said they are suppose to start on the head. Also they all are sneezing. What can I do??
  8. janetethridge
    I just got 4 hens in May (from my Dad) and 1 (Ginger the Rhode Island Red) looks like she may be starting to molt on her neck and her butt - I checked the coop (and clean it regularly) - and I didn't see mites or anything like that - and she lays nearly every day - but it's only the 1st week in August - should I be concerned?

    Also - the other 3 are Buff Orpingtons who were definitely pecked a lot by other chickens/rooster before I adopted them - they have severe feather loss - will they grow back? If not, should I get sweaters or something for them in winter? Thank you for your suggestions.
  9. jak2002003
    I was shocked to see some of those photos. I have kept chickens for years and the only signs of molting I notice are they look slightly scruffy and I find lots of feathers in the coop. I think if they are loosing huge patches like that and have big bald spots it could be they are not healthy?
  10. mlejneks
    crcarter - I have the same issue. I've been concerned too. Temps here have been at or below zero with wind chills in the -10s and -20s. It's warmer here this morning, +16!. My hen seems to be doing ok. She is sticking to herself more than usual, but is eating and drinking normally. I believe she is colder than the other hens, but she seems to be dealing with it. I'm not sure there is much we can do as this is a natural process.
  11. crcarter
    One of My "spring" chickens (hatched in Mid-April) has begun to loose tail feathers and now some feathers around her neck. It's been very COLD here in Eastern Pa these last two weeks. Is she molting? Is that normal for this time of the year? Should I do anything to keep her warmer? Help please!!
  12. mlejneks
    I have a hen going through a molt now. She is 9 months old. I feel bad for her, losing her feathers in Dec. We've had a very cold stretch in WI the last couple weeks. Seems like the right time to molt is spring, not the beginning of winter! The others in my small flock are the same age, but not showing signs of molting.
  13. curiositykt
    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.
  14. bahman
    Thanks very useful. grate info
  15. Fluffers
    okay, my chicken feathery is okay then
  16. rarebear
    Can I add pure protein powder to their warm oatmeal in the morning?
  17. momofdrew
    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
  18. threebabychicks
    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. :(
  19. backroomtreasures
    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.
  20. SconnieChicks
    Thanks so much for this info, I will worry a bit less about my poor "Aunt Jemimah".
  21. mg15
    Thank you very much.
  22. willowbranchfarm
    @jkraze- My productive hens laid first.
  23. jkraze
    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
  24. willowbranchfarm
    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.
  25. bobchell
    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?
  26. Mac14
    When I was getting chickens and looking up everything, all the sources I read said that molting only took a month! Ha!
  27. Sally Sunshine
    Thanks again! OMG zazous looks like they should be in the mummers parade!!!
  28. willowbranchfarm
    Its from the rooster mating with them. He holds on to their backs with his claws and it sometimes rips out their feathers.
  29. MeMotherHen
    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 it?
  30. seminolewind
    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
  31. chickenpooplady
    Great article! My girls are molting for the first time and it is nice to have this info.
  32. cluckcluckgirl

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