Mid-Winter Molting

sarak

Chirping
6 Years
Nov 7, 2013
16
5
67
Northern Wisconsin
I live in Northern Wisconsin where the winters get very cold. It seems like every year I have one or two chickens that molt in the dead of winter. They are usually OK, but this year I had a barred rock hen undergoing a hard molt in January. We got a cold snap (days and nights between zero and 20 below) while she had nothing but pin feathers. She seemed fine for several days, but unfortunately died last night.

I do not heat the coop. Based on what I have read it is a fire hazard and unnecessary generally. I also do not provide any artificial light. I had considered bringing her inside, but was afraid she would not be able to re-acclimate to winter temperatures after getting used to the warm indoor temps. Since she was eating, drinking, and roosting normally I thought it was best to leave her in the coop.

Any advice on what I should do if this happens again? Any way to encourage a fall molt rather than winter? Advice on reacclimating a hen to cold coop temperatures if I do bring her inside for a while? I am feeling pretty bad that this happened.
 

ChickenCanoe

Enabler
Premium Feather Member
10 Years
Nov 23, 2010
33,026
27,580
1,077
St. Louis, MO
I don't know how to encourage a fall molt other than to put the birds on low light and low feed. That's how commercial farms get the birds to molt all at once.

As for re-acclimating the bird. You could graduate her to a garage, cellar or other cool space. It only takes a couple days to re-acclimate them.

Depending on your heat source, fear of fire Is avoidable if you need to provide heat.

Another possibility is to get one of those hen saddles that protect the feathers from rooster breeding. That (coat) may provide enough insulation.
 

sarak

Chirping
6 Years
Nov 7, 2013
16
5
67
Northern Wisconsin
Thanks for that advice. I have read that they are very sensitive when the pin feathers emerge and that handling is painful. Do you think they could tolerate a saddle without it being too irritating?
 

ChickenCanoe

Enabler
Premium Feather Member
10 Years
Nov 23, 2010
33,026
27,580
1,077
St. Louis, MO
I don't know. I have a couple saddles I've been considering using since I have a couple hens with a bare back patch from the roosters. It was 6F last night but that is likely the coldest night for a while.
 

azygous

Enabler
11 Years
Dec 11, 2009
23,719
34,169
1,122
Colorado Rockies
You don't mention the age of this hen that died, apparently from molting and not enough insulation against the cold temps. She may have been in very poor health to start with, and the fact that molt also saps appetite, she may have been bordering on starvation, adding to the inability to generate body heat.

I had such a hen last winter. She was six then and went into a hard molt that didn't complete, resulting in partially re-grown feathers along with old tattered ones that couldn't insulate. She did okay at night, sandwiched between two other hens, but during the day, when it was in the single digits, I hung a heat lamp in the run for her to warm herself under. She really hogged that heat, believe me.

She went on to develop other complications and I finally had to euthanize her. Not all hens will tolerate a saddle, managing to shed it in short order. If this happens again, a better strategy would be to try to bolster the hen's nutritional reserves with Poultry Nutri-drench, high quality animal protein, BOSS, etc., anything to stimulate appetite and put weight back on.
 

sarak

Chirping
6 Years
Nov 7, 2013
16
5
67
Northern Wisconsin
She was about 21 months old. I do not believe she was in poor health prior to the molt/cold combo. She was in good health and one of the leaders of the flock.
 

rthepunk

Chirping
6 Years
Jan 6, 2014
37
15
74
I have one molting right now -- middle of February. She is only around 9-10 months old and has shed 1/4 of her feathers, mostly on one side. Husband said she had been sitting on the eggs, but I don't see feather around the eggs, so I'm thinking its a molt. BYW, her name is Igor-a, she is partially deformed and hunches a little to the side.
 

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