So you’re noticing that your chicken flock looks a little rough and featherless. But don’t worry, it probably just means they are molting. Molting is a natural process that is marked by chickens losing feathers in order to grow new healthy feathers. Sometimes it looks like a massacre has happened in your yard when your chicken’s have a complete feather blow out. Other times, it happens gradually.
Seeing your chickens molting can be a little scary especially if you have never experienced it before. Read on to find out everything that you should expect when your chickens molt and how you can help to make it a more comfortable process for them.
If your flock looks or acts sick in addition to the feather loss, you should examine them for other possible chicken illnesses.
The Chicken Molting Process
Molting is the process of chickens losing feathers in order to grow new feathers. This happens every year between late summer and throughout the fall. Chicken molting occurs from the top down feathers. Birds will lose their feathers on their head and neck, followed by the back, breast, thighs, and the tail feathers. Sometimes they lose all of their feathers at once, other times it is gradual.
Often times, chickens who are not getting enough calcium in their diet will lose all of their feathers at once, very quickly. You can learn how to support them later in this post.
New pin feathers will grow back in the same order as they fell out. These new feathers grow through a vein-filled feather shaft that has a waxy coating. This waxy coating will eventually fall off, and the replacement feathers will emerge.
Molting takes a lot of energy, so you may notice a decrease in your chicken’s egg production. This will pick back up soon, so no worries! Your chicken’s disposition may be a little off during this time as well, because molting can uncomfortable or painful for them, so they won’t feel their best.
Soft Molt vs. Hard Molt
There are two different kinds of molt—a soft molt and a hard molt.
In a soft molt, adult chickens lose their feathers slowly. It might even be difficult for you to tell that they are molting. A soft molt tends to be easier on the birds, but it does take a little longer
A hard molt is a rough molting process in which chickens lose feathers all at once, and they may look naked and rough. This happens more quickly than a soft molt, and it is more stressful for the birds.
Why Do Chickens Molt?
After a while, chicken feathers start to wear out, become soiled, and break. This makes it more difficult for the birds to stay warm in the winter months, and to protect itself from the wind, rain, parasites, and infections.
When you notice your chickens losing feathers at the beginning of the molting process, they are simply getting rid of these old feathers in favor of new, stronger, healthier, feather growth.
When do Chickens Molt?
There are various different stages of molting when it comes to chickens.
Chicks go through a couple of molting sessions before adulthood:
- The First Juvenile Molt occurs around 6-8 days. In this first molt, chicks will lose their downy covering and replace it with their first real feathers.
- The males will go through a Second Juvenile Molt around 8-12 weeks. This is where they grow in their ornamental feathers.
Adult birds typically molt twice a year. The first adult molt usually occurs around 18 months of age.
The amount of sunlight in a day is the signal for chickens to start replacing their old feathers with new feathers for the new season. The main molt occurs with the onset of shorter days between late summer and early fall. A second softer annual molt happens in the spring as the days get longer.
You may also notice that your broody hens will molt after caring for their chicks.
How Long Does Molting Last?
Molting can last anywhere between 4 to 12 weeks, but it varies from bird to bird. Younger birds tend to go through this process more quickly. Some chickens will take weeks to lose their feathers and some will lose them overnight (See Soft Molt vs. Hard Molt).
How to Help When Chickens are Molting
When chickens start losing feathers, they are more susceptible to diseases and infections. This is mainly because their immune system is down. It is important to pay close attention to your birds during the molting process and do what you can to boost the immune system of your flock.
Avoid Handling as Much as Possible
Try not to handle your chickens during the molting process. This is because their new pin feathers are very sensitive and handling can be uncomfortable (or even painful) for your birds.
Reduce Stress Where You Can
Keep stress levels as low as possible when your chickens are molting.
- Don’t introduce new flock members during the molting process.
- Keep the chicken coop and nesting boxes clean to avoid infection and dirty feathers.
Increase Protein & Calcium Intake
Increasing the protein and calcium intake for your molting chickens is very important, because feathers are made of 80-85% protein!
Ways to increase the protein and calcium intake of molting chickens:
- Purchase commercial chicken feed with 20-22% protein content.
- Increase the protein and calcium filled ingredients (like black oil sunflower seeds) in your homemade chicken feed.
- Make high protein treats to give your hard working birds a little extra protein.
Other Causes for Chickens Losing Feathers
There are a few other potential causes of chicken feather loss. If your chickens are exhibiting other symptoms or you suspect that they aren’t molting, check your flock over to pinpoint the reason for bare skin on your birds.
1. Rooster Abuse
If you have too many roosters for the number of adult hens that you have, they will mount the same hens continuously which can cause feather loss among other issues. The ideal number of hens/rooster is 6-8.
2. Lice or Mites
If your chickens have parasites such as lice or mites, they will constantly be preening themselves to remove the bugs. They will pull out feathers when they preen and this can cause bald spots.
You can treat mites with essential oils
3. Picking and Pecking
Sometimes chickens will establish their pecking order by, you guessed it, pecking each other. This can cause feathers to come out and sores to develop on the chicken’s bare skin.
Birds can also pick their own feathers if the feathers are dirty or uncomfortable to them.
4. Broody Hen
Whenever a hen goes broody (tries to hatch eggs), she will often being losing feathers. This is partially due to her sitting on a nest all day and rubbing the feathers away. But it’s also because she lacks nutrition during that process.
If you have chickens molting, don’t worry! They will be back to their normal looks and disposition soon… plus they will have shiny, new, healthy feathers!