Helping your flock through molt

By chicken farmer · Sep 21, 2014 · Updated Oct 10, 2014 · ·
  1. chicken farmer
    It's late summer/early fall and your birds are half naked and the coop is full of feathers,at first if you don't know what is happening you might panic and wonder if there's a parasite or something attacked them but none of that it's molt. Birds shed there old feathers and grow new ones,molting occurs as summer daylight gets shorter and winter gets closer.

    As molting goes on egg production and energy levels will go down due to loss in protein and nutrients. Molt usually lasts around 7-8 weeks from start to finish but molt doesn't just happen in late summer/early fall it happens in any change in food,water,daylight hours. Birds will molt late summer/early fall,late winter/early spring,and any changes in food,water,and daylight hours such as broody hens. New feathers that are coming in have a vein filled shaft that will bleed if broken or cut so handling is not a good idea while molting is going on cause it can be very painful. The feathers have a waxy like casing around them that falls off as they are rubbed against something or the bird is preening which falls off a little later on in the feather growing process.

    There are ways you can help your birds out during molting that will help there feathers grow and get a little closer to better egg production:

    1.) Increase there protein intake by giving them higher protein food such as switching them to meat bird grower or special molting feed for about a month,give them higher protein treats such as canned and dry cat food,tuna,cooked hamburger,black oil sunflower seeds or other goodies.

    2.) Reduce stress in the birds by not doing a lot of loud work around them,adding any new birds,changing things around.

    3.) Less handling the better so you don't brake any feather shafts and rubbing them is painful so less handling for the molting period.

    4.) Add a heat lamp for extra warmth if your in a colder climate so your birds don't get too cold.


    As you can see here one of my black sex-link hens are about half way through her molt, as you can see there are some lose feathers and the waxy like casing over the new feathers coming in. Here it was cold out and while free ranging she came back to the coop for some warmth in the straw.

    Here she is after her molt with her new feathers and she's back to laying and being herself again,always great to see them laying and enjoying life

    If you would like put a heat lamp in the coop for some extra warmth while there in molt if your in a colder climate it might be a good idea so your birds don't freeze or get too chilled. Over all keep your birds happy,give them high protein treats/food,handle them as little as possible and add some extra heat in the coop if your in a real cold climate or area and your birds will be happy/healthy/and soon be back to laying those delicious eggs you love so much. And it's great to know your birds are happy and healthy while going through this molt. Hope this helps you newbies to molting and others that raise birds!!

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  1. Turnedfifty
    1zooman12 thanks for your suggestion, I was using a food processor to chop egg shell and they were pretty smart about eating around the bits. The coffee mill works great.
  2. Turnedfifty
    Thanks, this was very helpful. This is our first molt and the first morning it looked like a chicken bomb had exploded.
  3. thand141
    Smuch here is a video that really helped me start my small worm farm, let me know how it works out for you!
  4. sdetwiler333
    Go to the learning center, then search how to raise mealworms. Very good info.
  5. ampho
    Thanks for the tip on handling them, I did notice the new feathers are stiff, but did not know I could hurt them...!
  6. pnutj58
    I am curious ... What exactly is "expensive" for 3000 mealworms?
  7. Smuch
    thand141. Thanks for the tip. I buy meal worms at the farm supply store and they're expensive. Will try raising my own now. My girls love the meal worms--Sylvia my RIR, comes running whenever I go near the bag. It will be interesting to see how they like the live ones.
  8. SouthernStorm
    My 1 year old girls are in the middle of their first full molt right now. Their feed is a mixture of laying pellets and Nutrena Feather Fixer. I also supplement them with scratch, meal worms, black sunflower, kitchen scraps, and let them free range for about 8 hrs a day. They look pretty ragged and some have stopped laying eggs, but they are all still happy and healthy. Luckily we added 5 new girls this spring so we still get plenty of eggs from them. Never heard of giving chickens cat food, but I do occasionally treat them to a pan of scrambled eggs (still seems so weird though).

    ~To answer a few of the questions above~
    *Chickens do not molt until they are a full year old, so they should not molt this autumn if you just got them this spring.
    *A big bag of feather fixer pellets and scrambling a few of their eggs is far less expensive than beef, cat food, or meal worms for protein intake. Be careful not to give too much scratch or black sunflower (I only give 2 cups mixed to 14 hens daily, 1 cup morning and 1 cup evening) as it can cause fatty organs, and never mix it into the pellet food as they will pick through it for the treats.
    *A heat lamp (with the red bulb) can help with warmth and extend daylight hours. I used one last winter with my girls and often left it on all night when below freezing with a timer set to turn off at daybreak. It did not force my girls to lay unnecessarily (since winter is normally a low-laying rest period), was suspended from the ceiling of the coop so no danger of flying into it, and all of my girls stayed bright eyed and fluffy tailed all winter long. If you want to use one then have at it (keeping safety as 1st priority). I also stapled heavy duty plastic sheeting around the run and added bales of wheat straw when temps hit freezing. The girls loved their warm greenhouse and stayed toasty warm during the bitter cold months.
    *Lastly, be sure to add a little apple cider vinegar to your chickens waterers (not the metal kind as it will rust them). ACV offers loads of health benefits to your girls such as mite and parasite protection, and a balanced digestive system. Give raw pumpkin or cucumber seeds for natural worming benefits, and powdered garlic sprinkled into the pellet food gives organs a healthy immunity booster. All of these things can be purchased on the cheap at local discount stores.

  9. sdetwiler333
    I am supplementing my layer crumble with puppy food 27% protein. I also have an electric worm zapper so I can go out and gather earthworms & mix them in with grass W/ plenty of clover in it. they love it.
  10. Diannastarr
    to Henriettas Mom, in my experience with older chickens IVE HAD SEVERAL FLOCKS GIVEN TO ME , and they were all older, I have found that around 8 years old, they do tend to pass away from old age and yes mine were still laying, at that age to but not every day,maybe every other day, but yes i have found some dead im sure from old age, so that is about normal GOSH. sorry for your loss , i know how you feel since , every chicken i ever had in my life were ALL PETS and its hard to see them go. :( take care Dianna
  11. thand141
    i ordered 3,000 live meal worms about a month ago, changing the vegies, ( a couple carrot pieces) about twice a week, and putting the pupae (an intermediate phase that turns into a beetle) into a separate container is all the care I have given other than a 2 inch layer of quick oats. my girls love them its like a shark tank on chum day when they see me coming with the cup. the beetles are reproducing, so for minimal effort and expense I have a high protein treat for the girls. I have a light on a timer in the coop that comes on at 6am and off at 8pm. also free choice crushed oyster shell. hopefully this will help reduce molting. this is our first winter with chickens so praying for a good one!
  12. Pjchicks
    Thanks to BYC ...
  13. Pjchicks
    This will be my second wenter with my birds and have not had any molting. I do have one bird that lost all of her feather around her neck and they never came back ???
    I have to also say NO on cat food.
    Every day is a learning experience for me!!
  14. Vickis Girls
    Much appreciated and reassuring info. in this article! This is the second Fall for my three Spring '13 girls and I'm horrified at the way two of them look. Luckily Sophie hasn't lost many feathers and still gives us an egg every other day. I can't do much with three eggs a week, so I do scramble and mix them in with their spinach, dry cat food,tomato, and oatmeal treats. So glad to learn about the cat food problem. I'll stop that right away. When all of you give black oil sunflower seed, is it whole, or should I sprout them first? I"ll be crushing some unsalted peanuts soon, too. Thanks all for the great ideas!
  15. MommaYoung
    Thank you. this is our first fall with our girls and I was wondering if I should start making pillows with all the extra plummage and feathers on the ground.
  16. pnutj58
    Shortly after I got my chicks (spring '13), I attended a workshop on chicken ownership. One of the things that stuck most in my head was to stay away from salt (sodium). The guy said that it's really bad for chickens. So, when I read "cat food," my first thought was that it would have too much salt. I wouldn't have given it to them anyway, but it's good to know that even more in cat food is bad. My two girls get laying pellets in their coop. They roam my considerably large yard (almost 1/3 acre) all day. And, as soon as they get here, mealworms will be added to their intake. On a side note, it's been raining here after a long very dry summer and the earthworms come out at night. Occasionally one can be seen in the daytime and I watched one of my girls gobble one down a couple of days ago. It was a big worm and I was amazed at how she just chomped that giant down. I probably shouldn't have been surprised considering what birds like cormorants and pelicans can fit down their throats all in one piece.
  17. suellen123
    I have 8 chickens and for a time I was getting 8 eggs a day almost every day. The past month or so production started dropping to 4 or 5 eggs a day and then 2 or 3 than 1 or 2 and now I have had a few days with no eggs. I saw a lot more feathers in the coop than normal and the chickens started looking a little scrawny. As a first time Chicken mama of course I was thinking something awful was wrong with them even though I had heard the word Molt before. I thought molting was just loosing feathers and did not realize all the other side effects. I feed my chickens a lot of extra goodies. Oatmeal and Banannas, Watermelons, Wheat Noodles and Rice and veggies plus the usual Egg Layer. They also free range all day. I wipe down the coop and keep it as clean as possible and feel that I am doing the "right" things so I am so happy to get this post on Molting chickens as it has put my mind at ease that this is what is wrong with all my girls. Thanks for the timely heads up as I needed some reassurance that this is what was wrong with them.
  18. rachel9947
    My chucks vary as to how 'hard' their molt is. Some get really scraggy and some just flow through it. Talking to my avian vet he said that chucks need a high protein diet when growing the new feathers, as well as when laying, as it takes a lot of protein out of them. I give them mealy worms most of the year therefore! Also sunflower seeds which contain 25% protein, and peanuts (crushed) which contain the same level of protein. Normal layer pellets only contain 19% protein. Grain only contains about 12%. Soaked sultanas also go down well as they provide sugar and carbs to give energy. A chuck who has no energy won't forage for food and then goes down hill. A cheap alternative is to give them back some of the eggs, either raw or hard-boiled. They love them, and it provides a heap of protein. I only have 5 years experience of keeping a flock but none of mine have ever moulted until the second autumn after hatching.
  19. James Gielow
    Okay, this is the first I'm hearing about the molting phase. I'm a newbie and have yet to see a full year of chicken activity. Thanks so much for the pre-warning!!
    James Gielow
  20. Diannastarr
    im feeding back to my flock, eggs scrambled or hard boiled with the shells, for a good safe form of protein , I bought oyster shells a few weeks back but i never fed them yet , because their shells are sooo hard now we can hardly crack them really the US beef has to many drugs & hormones , and its a no on cat food , tuna has mercury, sooo what to choose...? and we are eating these eggs, so our safe good quality eggs are my choice for adding more protein into my girls diet & along with fresh daily table scraps.& black oil sun flower seeds , oats & grit along with the chicken feed they usually get, but if need be, i plan to go with the flow, to keep my girls in top condition...! i can always feel what my animals need, so im going with my own instinct ....! O and yes some nice home made corn : )
  21. NorthGAChick
    Worming them while they are molting is not good, but sometimes it must be done. I just had to treat for whip worms. Could never get rid of the worms because all wormers say 1x and then 10 days later and whip worms needed 5 days consecutive days. It was worth the $30 for the feces sample test to treat the worm appropriately. Whip worms compliments of the neighbors cat.
  22. chicktender
    Mine have not molted their first year. I have some that rotate in the molting area, some fall some spring. Different breeds seem to molt differently, loosing different feathers in different area. I have some that loose head feathers, some that loose butt feathers and again some that loose back feathers. I don't worry about it much. They all run to meet me when I come home and try to get in the car to go with me, so they are my pets as well as give me eggs. They sneak up and get any cat food they can, but I do not deliberately give it to them as I agree it's not the best alternative. Chickies will be chickies and the rooster "loves" each of them!
  23. MN Girl in MS
    Do chickens molt their first year? This will be the first autumn for my girls. I see no signs of it thus far.
  24. MN Girl in MS
    Do chickens molt their first year? This will be the first autumn for my girls. I see no signs of it thus far.
  25. plantlady
    HenriettasMom, if you're willing to take your girls to the vet they can give them "birth control" - which should stop them laying entirely. I considered this for one of my girls, who was pretty much "retired" but was laying soft eggs when she did lay, and also got one stuck in her (the vet pulled it out). (Obviously, my girls are "pets", not farm animals kept only for eggs).
  26. mirsy09
    One thing that helps hens keep laying thru the winter is to put a light timer in their coop. They need 12 hours of light each day. I put a light bulb and they love it as it also gives them warmth!
  27. smcottrell
    I'm confused about your views on heat lamps. Yesterday i read pn your blog not to use them in case of electric outage and birds flying into them. Otherwise, I appreciate most of the info. Thanks!
  28. Petula Cluck
    Agree: NO on the cat food!!!
  29. 1zooman12
    I agree about the potential problems using cat food. Besides, the last thing I want is for 50 or so birds wandering about the field not clucking but meowing instead. I still think the best alternative is 30% fat based hamburger. Meal worms (a beetle larva) are way too expensive and have an imbalance of fat to protein. Too much fat and not enough protein. I save my egg shells, run them through a pepper mill to create a calcium dust, sprinkle this on the hamburger and let them go at it. Feather production requires a modicum of Ca (consult the Periodic Table of the Elements) as well as the fat and protein components.
  30. georgetown chic
    You brought up a good point about nutrition during this time - I think I may have over done the treats for my girls. I let them free range for a couple of hours a day and give them about 2+ cups of scratch (8 hens) and some greens in the evening when I am putting them to bed (closing the coup doors). Should I give them more high protein foods like cat food instead of the scratch? My girls sometimes seem to wait and eat their treats instead of the dual purpose food I give them in the morning.
    They are healthy looking girls, but maybe I should be doing better - thanks.
  31. echix
    NO NO NO on the cat food people - coloring additives / etc. have been shown through research to cause CANCERS in POULTRY (chickens/turkey/etc.) that is found in cat food. ALTERNATIVE ==== MEAL WORMS. Higher or same in protein and made for chickens anyways. We get ours from and they are great - handful a day or two depending on size of flock 10-12 birds is enough to make them feather quickly, produce fat eggs, and super duper healthy! (Trust me on the cat food, had several die from years of giving it to them and lots of medical testing only to be told one day by the dean of animal sciences to read the research on the chemicals in cat food and bad for poultry - cancers. )
  32. Smuch
    Thank you. I've had chickens for a couple years but never had them all molt at the same time like they are now. This year they seem to be losing more feathers and I was worried but now I know how to help.

    To HenriettasMom: There are a lot of people on here who are sad for you. We love our chickens, don't we?
  33. 1zooman12
    I wonder if 30% fat hamburger might be a less expensive alternative to dry cat food?
  34. Barb53
    Is it possible for their egg production to stop altogether while this is going on? I have nine birds, ranging in age from 2 1/2 to 3 1/2. Their egg production slowed down in August, which is when I noticed the first bird in molt. Now there are feathers everywhere, and it appears they are all molting. It is Oct. 17, and I haven't gotten an egg at all since Sep. 26. I am waiting to see what happens once all the feathers come back in.
  35. 1zooman12
    Cat food diet supplement, you say? Do I also supply a cat box? (LOL) For a month, you say? Who gets the honor of paying this inordinate food bill; not me. Too expensive!
  36. mrclif
    My toms have already got their feathers back, my two oldestest hens have jus started hope they dont get too cold. They wont roost in the coops so I don't really have a way to get a heat light on them.
  37. HenriettasMom
    I was shocked the first time Henriette molted. I've kept birds most of my like (mainly parrots) and while they molt a couple of times per year, nothing like what Henrietta did. She lost almost all of her feathers and looked like crap for a few weeks.

    Unfortunately, we lost her last fall.. She was 7 years old (going on 8!) and still laying daily most of the year. She was fine one day then we found her dead in the hay loft the next. No sign of injury.
    I've learned Henrietta was a Silver Wing Old English Game Hen bantam. I'd like to get anopther next spring. I really miss her. Such a personality at the barn! I know thios probably sounds stupid s there any way to keep chickens from laying so many eggs? I think that contributed to her demise, even tthough she was well fed.
  38. LadyLoveBird
    Awesome post. Thanks for all your advise.
  39. chicken farmer
    No problem,glad I could help!
  40. ChickyChickens

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